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Stormy skies loom for BAA contractors

AGENDA - COMMENT

AIRPORT operator BAA is construction's biggest and most progressive private client. Its £1 billion a year airport modernisation programme has yielded a priceless dossier of best practice and has promoted new thinking throughout the industry. BAA is at the vanguard of better construction, which in many respects makes it our most prized asset.

But there are real fears this will change under new ownership. Spanish construction giant Ferrovial's recommended bid raises serious concerns about the future.

The Spanish firm, which owns contractor Amey, has had to dig deep to come up with the £10 billion offer, leaving it lumbered with heavy loans to pay off. So how safe are BAA's current investment plans?

T5 is nearly finished and obviously secure. But the same cannot be said for the expansion of Stansted or Glasgow or for that matter the £1.5 billion plan to redevelop Heathrow's Terminal 2 in time for the Olympics. There must be a strong temptation to throttle back spending.

This would be harmful not only to construction but to the country as well because it would inevitably undermine the UK's reputation as the world hub for air travel.

What must also be worrying contractors is the real possibility that Ferrovial will use a self imposed spending hiatus as an opportunity to strengthen in-house contractor Amey so it can take the front seat on all future building work.

This is a far cry from the present situation, where a culture of collaboration, innovation and training on BAA jobs has reverberated across the construction industry.

Of course, the aviation industry is closely regulated, which means Ferrovial is not free to do exactly what it likes. But the future of our airports and perhaps the agenda for modernising construction now rest in the hands of the Civil Aviation Authority.