Is there any such thing as a “pure” demolition contractor these days?
I don’t mean one that has been filtered through volcanic rock over countless millennia. I don’t mean like a sandy beach or a blanket of snow devoid of footprints. And I don’t mean clean from sins of the flesh. I mean pure in the sense that they “just” do demolition and nothing else.
I have thought about it long and hard and I honestly can’t think of one. Every demolition contractor I can think of dabbles in other fields of endeavour. Some are active in asbestos removal; others have become adept at recycling and materials recovery; a few now offer land remediation services. In fact, some firms have strayed so far from their demolition roots that it’s now questionable whether they should even be considered demolition companies any longer.
And who can blame them? We have seen interlopers slipping quietly through the demolition industry back door for many years, stealing work, stealing workers, and diluting workloads.
So maybe it’s about time that demolition firms went in the opposite direction and began treading upon the toes of waste management, asbestos handling, remediation and groundworks companies.
Certainly, the timing could not be better. Clients are increasingly seeking a one-stop-shop solution to their needs. Demolition contractors are regularly the first on site, so sticking around a bit longer to carry out other specialist tasks potentially makes logistical and environmental sense too.
But the biggest reason why the time might be ripe for some strategic diversification is that there is likely to be an increased threat to demolition workloads because of fears over embodied carbon and sustainability.
And if anyone believes that I am overstating the threat of planning restrictions due to sustainability concerns, you need only look at the decision to block the construction of the Tulip Tower in London.
In a 210-page report, the Government’s planning inspectorate laid out the reasons for its decision to block the landmark. The first two reasons were that (a) the setting would harm views of nearby world heritage sites such as the Tower of London, and (b) it would stand out as (different and less cohesive” beside other local buildings. Such arguments ring somewhat hollow since the Tulip was supposed to be built alongside The Gherkin and just a short walk from The Walkie Talkie and Cheese Grater buildings.
It is the third reason given, however, that seems to carry most weight and the greatest sense of foreboding: “Using vast quantities of reinforced concrete for the foundations and lift shaft was highly unsustainable.”
Bearing in mind its location and scale, The Tulip was probably going to cost upwards of half a billion pounds, a small proportion of that likely going towards some localised demolition works. With the sweep of first Sadiq Khan’s pen and then the pen of Michael Gove, that landmark development has been unceremoniously rejected.
If a major tourist attraction can be blocked with such apparent ease, that must surely cast doubt over the planning process when it’s applied to “lesser projects”.
Against that background, now might be the time to explore further diversification and the acquisition and honing of new skills. Those skills might yet prove to be the salvation of any remaining “pure” demolition companies.