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Mabey is building bridges with a new set of clients

PLANT HIRE - Mabey Support Systems has been supplying its particular range of specialist services for over 80 years but it is continuing to move with the times, as its boss Jim Day tells Steve Menary

THE RANGE of kit hired out by specialists is getting wider and more esoteric as they look to serve new niches and expand their businesses.

But car parks? That is what Mabey Support Systems hopes to be trialling next year, as managing director Jim Day explains.

'Our next venture is modular temporary car parking aimed at doubling the capacity of existing car parks by adding another level, ' says Mr Day, whose Yorkshire accent is still evident despite six years in Lancashire.

Mabey is perhaps best known for temporary bridges, falsework and temporary support systems manufactured at parent Mabey & Johnson's factory in Lydney, Gloucestershire.

And that is where Mr Day hopes to have the first temporary car parks available for demonstration in the first quarter of next year.

Mabey's biggest clients are generally contractors on roads jobs. These include companies such as Edmund Nuttall, Balfour Beatty, and Alfred and Sir Robert McAlpine. The f irm is also work ing with Australian giant Multiplex on the giant White City scheme in west London and with demolition contractors such as John F Hunt.

Moving into the supply of modular car parking will take Mr Day's business, which turned over about £8 million in 2004 and employs 84 people, into an entirely new arena with a whole new set of new clients.

Instead of contractors, Mabey is looking to local authorities and car park operators such as Meteor and NCP to hire the single-storey units.

Rail operators are another target but Mr Day accepts that his company's normal leasing agreements, which range from four-week to one-year deals with most cont ractors, would have to change.

'Network Rail franchises are for a finite period and the franchisees might not want to leave behind a capital asset like a permanent car park, ' says Mr Day.

'That's why we're looking at leasing arrangements and offering the whole turnkey approach ? including management.' This will be a big leap but, as a former rugby union player in his native Yorkshire who regularly watched his local Wakefield rugby league side, Mr Day knows about crossing big divides.

Or iginally based at Rothwell near Leeds, his business has been through a number of changes since he arrived as a project engineer in 1977.

Mabey & Johnson was founded in 1923 and quickly developed a reputation for the temporary Bailey br idge used by m ilitary forces across the world.

Over the decades, Mabey expanded into other areas such as bridge jacking systems and developed modular frames to support building facades while refurbishment work was carried out.

The original support was known as a Mass 50 and a lighter version, the Mass 25, has more recently been marketed.

Having grown substant ially, in 1988 the Rothwell site was sold and the business relocated to Garswood, near Wigan.

The following year the Mabey family demerged Mabey Bridges into separate bridging and shoring arms to start chasing deals to supply temporary bridges in Europe and the Third World.

This was a time that Mr Day recalls as difficult, with a number of redundancies pushed th rough as the industry collapsed into recession.

'Bridges were effectively taken away as falsework shoring was growing so fast, ' he says.

'When that happened, it halved our turnover from about £6 million to £3 million.' In 1995, the Mabey family bought the stock of Stockport-based engineering manufacturer Thomas Storey, which had ceased production.

Mabey bought all Storey's Unif lote modular pontoons and a 200-tonne heavy propping system for bridges known as Super Prop, but all the bridging business went to M&J.

The bridges and shoring businesses were reunited in 1999 and Mabey Support Systems was created, with Mr Day installed at the helm, the following year.

'The UK and Eu rope br idging businesses all came back and almost put the Mabey Bridge Company back together again, but the industry had changed, ' he says.

That change has seen the industry embrace a less abrasive approach, with initiatives such as partnering and frameworks. These have filtered down the supply chain to Mabey through long-term arrangements.

As examples, he gives a deal with the Amey/ Mouchel Parkman team running the Highways Agency area 13 maintenance concession and the Amec/Alfred McAlpine joint venture working on a £102 m illion widen ing of the M60 near Manchester.

Mr Day cites the agency as leading the way in getting his business involved early, but feels this is not always the case elsewhere. He is too polit ic to give specific instances but says: 'It's essential that we get an accurate brief. We need to be called in by a main contractor at an earlier stage than a normal subcont ractor. That's because we need a lot of information about the existing structure if we're going to hold it up in a way that it has never been designed to be held up in. If we're involved early, we can steer the design to the equipment we've got. If not, we have to make assumpt ions and that's where we're at commercial risk.' His business does not solely hire k it manufactu red by Mabey and is leasing portable galvanised steel barriers that are supplied in 12 m, one-tonne sections ? a truckload can cover 200 m.

These barriers are manufactured in Holland and Mr Day is convinced his business can add value instead of just hiring out the barriers like a normal plant hirer.

'We're presented with a problem that we solve using our products. We supply kit designed to solve that problem, then take the equipment away, as most of ou r work is temporary, ' he says.

'We've got our own products but we're effectively a mixture between a specialist contractor and a plant hirer.'

CV: Jim Day RAISED in West Yorkshire, Jim Day is a White Rose man living in Red Rose land.

He was fast streamed through A levels and started a civil engineering degree at Bradford Technical College ? now Bradford University ? in 1964.

After a year out with a local consultant, he graduated in 1968 and joined West Riding County Council's highways and bridges department to get chartered status with the Institution of Civil Engineers.

'I got that in 1974 but it coincided with a local government reorganisation and I decided I should see the other side of the coin, ' Mr Day says.

He took a job with contractor A Monk & Co. By 1977 he was fed up with living in a caravan and joined Mabey & Johnson, then based in Leeds.

Four years later, M&J hived falsework into a separate arm that slowly migrated across the Pennines and in 1991 Mr Day was made engineering director.

In 1999 chairman David Mabey suggested if Mr Day moved to Lancashire he would become managing director ? a position he secured the following year.

'That was a difficult time as my son was leaving university but I think I did the right thing, ' he says. His son and daughter remain in Yorkshire but he moved near to Southport in 1999.