British firms build the new South Africa

Victims of UK slump grasp opportunities in Johannesburg
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The Independent Online
BRITISH architects and construction firms, hit by the slump in the building industry, are setting up in South Africa to cash in on a huge public and private building programme aimed at improving the country's tourist, business and residential facilities.

Broadway Malyan, Britain's fourth largest architectural firm with 180 staff, this week opens a Johannesburg branch after securing three design projects worth pounds 110m, including a pounds 40m complex of offices, hotel, sports centre, cinema and cafe. "Tourism has been ignored over the past several years in South Africa and now there is a drive to build hotels and leisure sites," said Brian Relph, Broadway's senior partner. "There is also a tremendous drive to replace township accommodation."

Bovis, the international contracting arm of P&O, the shipping-to property group, was one of the first to test the waters when it established a Johannesburg arm, Bovis (Southern Africa). Two months ago, the company joined forces with the Thebe Investment Corporation, a local firm, to form Thebe Bovis Construction Management. The joint venture will focus on building low- cost housing as well as sports and tourist sites.

Turner & Townsend, the construction consultancy and project manager, is well established in South Africa with 100 staff and three offices. The firm has won contracts to regenerate Johannesburg's central business district, construct a new light railway system and build schools in Soweto.

"The construction industry in the UK has faltered over the last three months, compared with an upturn in South Africa," said Bob Hewitt, Turner & Townsend's managing director. "There is a huge incentive for UK companies to seek work there. Hotels are going up all over the place."

British firms are keen to work in South Africa, not only because of the building boom, but because building standards are similar and most firms work in English.

"Since the elections last April, there has been a clear increase in the number of companies looking to South Africa as a possible market," said Richard Eyre-Wilson, vice-consul at the British Consulate in Johannesburg. "There's a lot of construction work at the moment, and we are encouraging British firms to take advantage of it."