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Heijmans makes a play for UK civils

FINANCEPurchase of Leadbitter puts Dutch contractor in strong position for British growth

DUTCH contractor Heijmans is looking to break into the UK civils market after clinching the acquisition of JB Leadbitter, the £100 million turnover contractor from Oxford.

The Eindhoven-based firm, listed on the Amsterdam stock exchange, reached a deal to buy privately owned Leadbitter last week and the two sides put pen to paper to confirm the takeover on Tuesday.

Berry Bemelmans, Heijmans chairman, said: 'The acquisition is a bridgehead for our expansion into Great Britain. Leadbitter has great growth figures with competent management for us to build on.

'We will ask their management to lead the way and we will be looking to acquire an English infrastructure contractor.'

The takeover, for an undisclosed cash sum, will give Leadbitter's owner and managing director Bob Rendell a place on the board of Heijmans, which is the third largest contractor in the Netherlands.

Leadbitter usually works on schools, healthcare and social housing but is also expected to try to break into the civil engineering market.

Mr Rendell, who had previously been approached by other UK and foreign firms about selling his business, said: 'There will be no meteoric growth strategy but we are looking at a low-key entry into the civils market.'

Heijmans will not be sending over any Dutch staff and Mr Bemelmans expects the business to continue running as normal.

He said: 'The cultures of the two companies are very similar and I don't think they need any help from us right now apart from money to expand.'

As part of the deal, Leadbitter's management has spent some of its proceeds on 225,000 Heijmans shares.

Leadbitter employs 330 staff at offices in Oxford, Bracknell and Bristol and almost doubled its turnover to £110 million in the year to July 2002 from £52.5 million in 2001.

Mr Rendell expects turnover to edge up to £118 million this year and pre-tax profits to rise from last year's level of around £3 million to nearly £4 million.