En­gi­neer­ing firm boss on build­ing for the fu­ture

Do ran con­sult­ing’s ian long talks about fight­ing through the re­ces­sion and why leav­ing theeu will ham per long-term in­vest­ment in the prov­ince

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - @news­mulg

Belfast firm Do­ran Con­sult­ing is the en­gi­neer­ing team be­hind huge UK projects worth as much as £450m.

But man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Ian Long, who has been with the com­pany since 1987, said he doesn’t see any “pos­i­tives” em­a­nat­ing from Brexit, and says it re­mains a con­cern whether UK and EU trade “keeps up”.

And he said he feels the un­cer­tainty of Brexit is ham­per­ing long-term in­vest­ment in North­ern Ire­land.

The 52-year-old heads the civil and con­struc­tion en­gi­neer­ing busi­ness, which dates back more than 60 years to 1953.

It started in south Belfast, with a smaller team, but has grown its team to more than 100 staff at its Great Vic­to­ria Street of­fice.

“We cover a range of sec­tors within the con­struc­tion in­dus­try and one of our key ar­eas would be build­ings,” he said.

“We have a lot of work in the health sec­tor. We have just fin­ished Omagh Hos­pi­tal, and we are work­ing on Alt­nagelvin Hos­pi­tal.

“We also do a lot of schools, pri­vate de­vel­op­ments, apart­ment and of­fice blocks. We also have spe­cial­ism in bridge de­sign.

“There is also a lot of ma­rine work — ports and har­bours.

“We do wa­ter and waste wa­ter, and other civil en­gi­neer­ing such as sports pitches and road.”

The busi­ness has also seen an up­take in work in the en­ergy and re­new­ables sec­tor, with a growth to­wards green — or greener — en­ergy.

Mr Long said around 90% of the com­pany’s busi­ness is from re­peat cus­tomers, ei­ther through ten­ders or ne­go­ti­a­tions.

At the mo­ment, its work­load at home in North­ern Ire­land in­cludes a £40m project at Alt­nagelvin Hos­pi­tal in Lon­don­derry.

“We would be work­ing with an ar­chi­tect, a build­ing ser­vices en­gi­neer, and we would do any­thing that is re­lated to the struc­ture, which is the foun­da­tions, the frame, we also do the drainage ... we don’t gen­er­ally sub-con­tract out.”

The com­pany has 1,300 “ac­tive com­mis­sions” for work, in­clud­ing multi-mil­lion pound projects, as well as gen­eral small main­te­nance deals.

“The big­gest we have the mo­ment is £450m, on site, in Wok­ing in Lon­don. It’s a mixed use, a bit of a Vic­to­ria Square-type project.

“It’s a lot of re­tail, three high­rise blocks, and a lot of car park­ing. That is keep­ing us busy at the mo­ment.”

That sig­nif­i­cant project is worth a seven-fig­ure sum for Do­ran Con­sult­ing, Ian re­veals.

The com­pany is work­ing with other firms, in­clud­ing a con­struc­tion busi­ness, to de­liver the scheme.

And other on­go­ing projects in­clude an en­ergy-from-waste plant in the north of Eng­land, which has a to­tal value of around £200m, an elec­tric­ity in­ter-con­nec­tor, for SSE, in the north of Scot­land, and it has just fin­ished Omagh Hos­pi­tal, in a deal worth £75m.

But while the busi­ness re­lies on the UK for much of its work, the con­cern is that its work for EU clients — which is ac­tu­ally tak­ing place in the UK — could be hit, caus­ing a slow­down.

“Prob­a­bly around 5% of our work, is from the Repub­lic of Ire­land. We would like to do more, but it’s a very com­pet­i­tive mar­ket in the south.

“Be­ing a pro­fes­sional ser­vices or­gan­i­sa­tion, we are not trans­port­ing things across bor­ders, ma­te­rial and things like that.

“If a tar­iff ap­peared, it might cause us a bit of a prob­lem, but it’s a rel­a­tively small part of the busi­ness.

“In the UK, my con­cern — and I don’t think we have been im­pacted by it yet — is the un­cer­tainty.

“It would ap­pear to be ham- per­ing long-term in­vest­ment in North­ern Ire­land.”

And he said that fac­tor will in­hibit the pipe­line of work which Do­ran Con­sult­ing will face in the home mar­ket — and in­ter­na­tional clients who have work in the UK will also be feel­ing the strain.

“We have clients based in Swe­den, Den­mark, Ger­many and Switzer­land, but we are do­ing projects for them in the UK.

“How easy it will be for the them to in­vest and carry out work in the UK is a bit of a con­cern.”

“Most of our clients are Euro­pean-based — the sort of ar­gu­ment that we are go­ing to de­velop all of these new re­la­tion­ships with Brazil and the Far East ... we don’t have a client base there, we don’t see those peo­ple com­ing in for the most part, and in­vest­ing.

“I’m strug­gling to see the pos­i­tive from our point of view. I’m just hop­ing that trade be­tween the UK and Europe will keep up, post-brexit.”

Do­ran Con­sult­ing is also be­hind all the civil and struc­tural work for the City Quays de­vel­op­ment at Belfast Har­bour.

That in­cludes the two cur­rent of­fice build­ings, the new AC by Mar­riott ho­tel, and a large 900-space car park.

Ian says that work could be worth roughly £200,000 for his firm.

In Lon­don, Do­ran is also work­ing on a new project at Lu­ton air­port — the to­tal value of the scheme is worth around £40m to £50m.

Around 50% of the firm’s busi­ness is in North­ern Ire­land, with around 40% else­where in the UK.

“Our main com­peti­tors would

❝ If a tar­iff ap­peared, it might cause us a bit of a prob­lem, but it’s a small part of the busi­ness

be multi-na­tion­als. And with around 100 staff, we are in a good po­si­tion to com­pete with them,” Ian said.

“We pro­vide a good ser­vice, and that’s re­flected in our re­peat busi­ness.”

Look­ing back, the firm, like many other com­pa­nies, was hit by the rav­ages of re­ces­sion.

“It was quite dra­matic. We would have had 80 or 90 staff in 2007. We dropped down to just over 60. Our turnover plum­meted.

“But what saved us was the breadth of our skill-set.”

He said work in ar­eas such as apart­ments and of­fice block de­vel­op­ment “dis­ap­peared al­most overnight”.

“But some of the staff I had were re­de­ployed into the bridge sec­tor, which was strong dur­ing the re­ces­sion ... where we lost work in some sec­tors, we were able to com­pen­sate in oth­ers.”

“Un­for­tu­nately, we had to make peo­ple re­dun­dant. That was just a nec­es­sary step to keep us afloat at the time.

Speak­ing about the com­pany’s post-re­ces­sion turn­around, he said: “In five years, our turnover has in­creased by around 120% and our staff num­bers have in­creased by around 50%.

“At the end of the re­ces­sion, we would have had about 60-65 staff, and now we are up to around 100.”

Do­ran Con­sult­ing now turns over be­tween £7m and £8m a year.

Ian grew up in east Belfast, his fa­ther, Wil­liam, a ship­yard worker. “My late mother was called Emily, and came from east Belfast. It was a very typ­i­cal work­ing-class fam­ily,” he said.

Ian at­tended the then Grosvenor High School, be­fore mov­ing on to study en­gi­neer­ing at Queen’s Uni­ver­sity.

“My fa­ther was quite keen that we go to uni­ver­sity,” he said.

He started out work­ing in the in­dus­try at the age of 22, start­ing with Dr I G Do­ran Part­ners — as it was known — at its for­mer base at Der­ryvol­gie Av­enue.

The busi­ness then in­cor­po­rated in 2005.

He is mar­ried to Ali­son, who had worked as a teacher, and has two chil­dren, son Michael (24) and daugh­ter Sarah, aged 21.

A keen run­ner and Arse­nal fan, Ian is also an el­der in Knock Pres­by­te­rian Church.

“Out­side of work I am very in­volved in my church,” Ian said. “I am an el­der in the church and heav­ily in­volved.

“They are con­sid­er­ing a de­vel­op­ment project. Some of their halls and ac­com­mo­da­tion are from the 1960s and 1970s, so I’m tak­ing a lead in that, with the ex­per­tise I have to make a bit of a con­tri­bu­tion to that.”

And while Belfast is wit­ness­ing a raft of build­ing and de­vel­op­ment, in­clud­ing sev­eral ho­tels and of­fice schemes, Ian takes a dif­fer­ent view and says it’s a “mixed pic­ture”.

“I’m not quite sure it’s as pos­i­tive as the es­tate agents are say­ing,” he said.

“There is a rea­son­ably strong de­mand for of­fice space ... the other stuff go­ing on around the city is en­cour­ag­ing. I don’t think we are back to pre-re­ces­sion, and I don’t think we ever will be back to that level.

“I would de­scribe it as a bit frag­ile, and I don’t think it would take much to push it one way, or the other.

“It’s con­fi­dence in terms of peo­ple want­ing to spend money. I’m look­ing at a lot of press cov­er­age of big com­pa­nies in Eng­land, go­ing to Dublin, Lux­em­bourg and Frankfurt.

Tra­di­tion­ally, we would have the likes of Citi com­ing in here, and busi­nesses like (global law firm) Baker Mcken­zie, and the ques­tion is, will they con­tinue to come in af­ter we have left the EU? Will it be as at­trac­tive?”

And while a num­ber of ma­jor ho­tels and am­bi­tious of­fice de­vel­op­ments have been ear­marked for Belfast, Ian doesn’t be­lieve all of them will ac­tu­ally get over the line.

“I think it’s peo­ple with sites, who are try­ing to gauge in­ter­est and get a bit of trac­tion be­hind it. I’m not overly con­fi­dent that all those de­vel­op­ments will take place.”

❝ I don’t think we are back to pre-re­ces­sion, and I don’t think we ever will be back at that level

Ian Long at his Great Vic­to­ria Street of­fice

Ian Long , man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Belfast-based com­pany Do­ran Con­sult­ing

Ian Long of Do­ran Con­sult­ing at his desk and (in­set) with his son at Arse­nal’s Emi­rates sta­dium

Ian Long with his wife Ali­son, and their chil­dren Michael and Sarah

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