During my recent trip to the ConExpo exhibition in Las Vegas, I had the great pleasure of running into Ricky Webb of East Coast Demolition based in North Carolina. Ricky is young and dynamic; keen to pioneer and to do things the right way. He has recently invested in the OilQuick system (we met on the OilQuick stand). And he said that his decision to convert his equipment fleet was inspired by watching the UK demolition sector from afar.
I hear this a lot on my travels. I hear that British demolition is seen as the Gold Standard; that it is the nation to emulate in all aspects of demolition.
And it is true that, if anyone hosted a global invitational contest to find the very best proponents of the noble art of demolition, about half a dozen UK contractors would surely be first on the list. Our demolition engineers are not just sought after but revered; an IDE membership would open doors in Melbourne, Miami and Munich just as readily as it would in Melton Mowbray.
But is that still based in reality?
Certainly, to our US cousins, Didcot, Longannet and Redcar are just funny words that probably do not carry with them the pungent whiff of death that they do here. Maybe demolition contractors in Australia do not realise the frequency with which their UK compatriots dump scaffolding in the nation’s streets. And maybe news of the recent collusion scandal has not travelled beyond UK shores, ensuring – rightly or wrongly – that the Great remains in Great Britain.
For all of this, those that live and breathe the intoxicating air of the UK demolition industry would quietly admit that much of the sector’s reputation leans heavily upon past glories. Certainly, while early outings of the World Demolition Awards were all roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, more recently the flavour has switched – justifiably – to pasta, burgers and sauteed kangaroo as the Italians, Americans and Australians have caught us up. Is that because of a sudden surge in the skills in other parts of the world; or has the UK demolition scene’s longstanding leadership race just slowed?
Either way, the UK demolition industry has a chance to regain its crown. In the face of some of the most stringent safety and environmental legislation in the world, the sector has no choice but to pioneer safer and cleaner methodologies. Faced with some of the world’s highest fuel costs, the industry will need to adapt to reduce its fuel consumption. And with a skills shortage that shows no signs of abating, the industry will need to find new ways to attract, train and retain staff.
It might be that all of these changes are forced upon us. But the result could be a leaner, cleaner and greener industry. British demolition could yet be great again.