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Chinese firm's removal from Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon was 'positive step', says former construction head

The removal of China Harbour Engineering Company from the £1.3bn Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon was a “positive step for the project”, the scheme’s former construction director has said.

Andrew McNaughton, who headed up the project’s construction team until last month, told Construction News the decision would make the scheme more financially viable and more attractive to the government.

Tidal Lagoon Power reassessed the cost-effectiveness of the scheme, after the government launched a review into UK tidal power in February.

“In taking up the review, we looked at the packages to determine which contracts we needed to take further action on to get the best possible price; it was [when assessing] the marine contractor that we saw the possibility for improvement on this,” Mr McNaughton said.

CHEC was appointed to carry out the £300m marine works in June 2015 but was removed in May due to “limited workability” around its designs.

Mr McNaughton said Tidal Lagoon Power would have to look overseas for a replacement contractor, adding that there wasn’t a UK contractor or organisation with enough marine plant or equipment capable of delivering a project of this scale.

CHEC’s exit came at the same time Mr McNaughton revealed he would be stepping down from his role as construction director.

He will continue to work with Tidal Lagoon Power in a part-time technical advisory role until the government’s review into tidal power concludes in the autumn.

Mr McNaughton described his move away from a full-time post as a “natural next step”.

“I joined Tidal Lagoon Power to prepare Swansea for going to site and getting to a position where the government was predisposed to support tidal power in the future,” he said.

“With the government launching its review, both these had been achieved. With the agreement of Tidal Lagoon Power, I thought it was time to look at where I could deploy my broader skills in the delivery of infrastructure.”

Mr McNaughton has joined French transport consultant Systra as its chief operating officer to lead the company’s expansion plan into the UK.

Systra’s expansion plan

Andrew McNaughton joined as French consultant Systra’s chief operating officer as part of the firm’s plans to grow its turnover to €800m (£637m) by 2018.

Mr McNaughton believes “a good proportion” of this will come from the UK. “Currently the UK business is worth about £100m,” Mr McNaughton said.

“One of the reasons I joined was because of my knowledge of the UK to ensure we can structure that growth organically or through acquisitions.”

He intends to build on the firm’s “successful UK rail work” but also develop a greater presence in other transport areas. “The capability exists in the business and there is no reason why it can’t broaden out further to other transport areas,” he said.

Systra is currently working as a design partner for the Balfour Beatty/Vinci/Bemo HS2 JV. Mr McNaughton hopes this could result in longer-term partnerships in the future. “We are currently working on a project-by-project basis but would we want Balfour Beatty as long-term partner? Yeah, absolutely, why not,” he said.

The consultant, which is part-owned by French transport groups RATP and SNCF, aims to raise its overall turnover from €527m (£419.7m) to €800m (£637m) globally by 2018, with a significant part of this growth coming from UK opportunities.

Mr McNaughton said projects such as Crossrail 2, Network Rail’s digital railway programme and future urban metro systems would contribute to the company’s organic growth, but did not rule out future acquisitions of UK firms.

“The UK is one of Systra’s key countries for growth [so] it would be naïve to say that further acquisitions were not a possibility.”


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