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Cuddy Group breaks into a higher league

DEMOLITION

Cuddy Demolition has stormed up the contractor ranks to become one of the world's biggest specialist demolition outfits, yet is only just starting to venture beyond its traditional south Wales heartland. Paul Thompson crosses the border to meet the new Welsh Dragon

ANY LINGERING thought of punching Mike Cuddy because he is two hours late for our meeting is dismissed as soon as he gets out of his car.The joint managing director of Swansea-based demolition and engineering company Cuddy Group is a very big lad.

Mr Cuddy is immediately apologetic for his tardiness and quickly moves to shift the blame.His personal assistant Elenor is at fault - for being on holiday.

'She is off work this week and without her I am really disorganised, ' he says as he climbs into his swanky Porsche 4x4 Cayenne Turbo and screams off to a site meeting on the outskirts of Swansea.

On the way to the meeting it soon becomes clear why Mr Cuddy is so late.He has been stuck in a two-hour meeting down at the rugby club.

Not your average beer-soaked rugger club for Mr Cuddy though.He is joint managing director of Celtic League rugby union side The Ospreys, a team that had seven of its players in the starting line-up for Wales in a recent six nations game against France, including Charlotte Church's beau, Gavin Henson.

Mr Cuddy fields calls from bosses at the Welsh Rugby Union and fans, looking for floral tributes to send to a friend's funeral as he glides through the Swansea traffic.

These rugby distractions have not stopped Mr Cuddy and his brother John build up the company that bears their name into a £21 million turnover business.

Under their stewardship it has become one of the world's largest demolition businesses and boasts an impressive list of clients, including Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus and chemicals group BP.

But it is one particular scheme that helped push the group into the demolition big league, says Mr Cuddy.

The Taff Merthyr colliery, near Merthyr Tydfil, began producing coal in 1926 but by the 1990s was struggling. British Coal closed the pit in 1993 and Cuddy's fledgling demolition arm won the £1 million-plus deal to end coal production in the area.

'We had started doing demolition work in the late 1980s but in hindsight it was the Taff Merthyr job that was key. It was our first contract over £1 million and it proved we could handle the big stuff, ' says Mr Cuddy.

From tiny acorns mighty oaks do grow and the demolition and asbestos removal side of the business has become its mainstay. It is working on the demolition of Corus' steel works in Llanwern near Newport and has a contract at its Port Talbot production site.

The 18-month Llanwern job is due to finish at the end of 2005 and involves the stripping of about 90,000 tonnes of steel from the former plant then transporting it back to Port Talbot for Corus for recycling, thanks to the booming price for scrap steel.

'Scrap steel is about £150 a tonne so it makes sense for Corus to do that. It works out to £12 million to £13 million for that scrap so the demolition will not have cost them money in the long term, ' says Mr Cuddy.

Pembroke Dock is another source of work and it is carrying out asbestos stripping work and the removal of more than 20 km of pipeline at a petrochemical plant.

Much of the work the company does is around an hour from its traditional centre in Swansea, but Mr Cuddy is beginning to recognise the importance of moving away from areas of strength to boost growth.

'I like to work close to home so that I can get back to the family.Our traditional catchment area is anywhere from Bristol down but we have recognised that we have to follow our clients around the country and abroad.To throw away relationships because they are not close enough to home would be madness, ' he says.

Opening a Southampton office should help the group expand and it has already taken large contracts in Portsmouth and has 50 workers stripping asbestos from the former cruise ship SS Rotterdam in Gibraltar.

'It was planned to do the strip in the Bahamas, where the ship was laid up, but the logistics of that were just too difficult. It was then decided to tow it to port in Gibraltar and work on it there, ' says Mr Cuddy.

And he knows that the glut of demolition work in south Wales will not last for ever. Further expansion into different areas of business is already under way.

'There are not too many sites like Llanwern left in south Wales and we are not naïve enough to think that the large demolition jobs that have been available in Wales over the past few years will continue, ' he says.

The introduction of the aggregates tax, tightening landfill legislation and rising scrap steel prices has encouraged Cuddy to look to the recycling sector.A 2,000 sq m indoor recycling facility in Port Talbot is due to come on-line this year.

But it is not just the demolition and allied sectors that are of interest. It is due to move into house building through the development of a site in nearby Neath.

'We have our first residential site just up the road.There will be 81 units when we have finished, ' he says.

And with that Mr Cuddy sweeps in to the car park of the new White Rock stadium in Swansea.When it opens in a couple of months it will be home to Swansea City Football Club and The Ospreys.

'Do you fancy a quick look?' he asks.The eyes have gone as he gazes out over the yet-to-be-laid turf.'It will be bloody brilliant when this place is open.'

Perhaps Cuddy Group will have to do without him for a couple of seasons when it does.

Cuddy words of wisdom

The UK demolition sector: 'It is the most stringently enforced discipline in construction now.We are the safest place to carry out demolition work in the world and part of that is due to the movement away from working at height.Demolition contractors are true engineers.'

How much of Cuddy Group's business comes from non-demolition work? 'I would not have a bloody clue to be honest with you!'

Site meetings: 'I hate them. I get bored half-way through. I try not to go to them if I can help it.'

Club rugby: 'I always sit on the bench.The players think I'm daft.'

The resurgence of Welsh rugby after years in the doldrums: 'It is all about organisation.You get the grass roots right and the rest will follow. I was in Paris for the victory there and Cardiff too? what a night.'

The sudden decline in fortunes for English rugby: 'The problem is that there are too many players playing for English clubs that are not eligible to play for the national team. Something like 54 per cent.That does not help the game at a grass-roots level.'

Driving an executive 4x4: 'Take it for a spin if you like? you've got a licence haven't you?'