7 key points on international demolition work

19 April 2023

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In 2017 I spoke at the World Demolition Summit, majoring on the importance of considering demolition’s future beyond domestic markets. Six years on, here are some reflections on how the market for demolition has developed since that time.

Richard Vann, managing director RVA Group Richard Vann, managing director, RVA Group. (Photo: RVA Group)
1. Some of the United Kingdom-based delegates who attended that London event had already ventured into international territory.

But most – from talking to them later that day - seemed comfortable with the idea of UK work alone.

There is nothing wrong with that.

2. For decades, British demolition professionals have worked hard to change the face of what’s possible in their country.

This has ranged from bulldozing buildings to meticulously dismantling high hazard, multi-hectare industrial sites, piece by piece, for maximum material recovery and sometimes plant reassembly elsewhere.

These projects – and our evolving methods – have seen us thrive as an industry.

3. We have been busy.

We have been there when the economy needed us.

We have changed the UK landscape by demolishing coal mining sites.

We have removed fleets of municipal incinerators when the European Union (EU) deemed them environmentally unacceptable.

We have cleared coal fired power stations when the market has moved on. We’ve demolished chemical plants when technological innovation has left operations obsolete. We have stepped in during emergency situations when structures have sadly been rendered unsafe.

4. Collectively, we have safely brought thousands of industrial assets to the ground to pave the way for something new, something different. That is an incredible story to be a part of.

However, it is not to say the story is over.

The demolition of both large and small sites will continue on a domestic level.

Markets will advance and incumbent assets will need upgrading. The demand for “new” will continue. Structures will deteriorate and plants will still become redundant.

5. But the biggest UK industrial sites – perhaps nuclear and offshore oil or gas aside – have diminished as prospects for the demolition industry.

It is something we have known and talked about for some time. However, during a recent trip to the Middle East, I was reminded once more of how different things are.

I travelled to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with a colleague, to complete a costings study for a power plant owned by the full-service integrated utility provider Marafiq.

This front-end engineering exercise – which began around a year ago – saw us undertake investigative assessments surrounding the residual useful life and future options for several assets.

The client will now use our evidence-based findings, to make informed decisions that will underpin the next steps for the site.

We also marked the start of a new project with petrochemical giant S-Chem, who sought our help to plan and coordinate a decommissioning project in Al Jubail.

It was a productive and memorable trip, including visits to many other facilities.

6. One thing that stood out in the Middle East was the scale of the sites we saw.

I would go so far as to say we toured one of the biggest demolition undertakings, on a single site, that I’ve ever seen.

This is largely because the industries we have already said goodbye to in the UK, for example, are at a different stage in their journey in many other countries.

The size of investment varies in different parts of the world too, as evidenced by the colossal nature of the site we saw in Saudi Arabia.

These are the projects that so many demolition professionals globally, not just in the UK, would love to undertake.

And Saudi will not be an isolated example.

The underlying point to note here is that vast industrial projects do still exist, but they won’t all be on home turf.

7. Working overseas presents barriers and challenges.

There are different laws. Different cultures. Different skillsets. Different benchmark standards. Different protocols and procedures. Different technologies.

And for UK firms working in the European Union, it has become a whole lot tougher as a result of Brexit. I can say this from my own painful experiences. We have even set up overseas subsidiaries to accommodate the “new” requirements.

Because all these challenges can be overcome, they don’t take away from the opportunities that also exist.

Our expertise is sought, so why keep it to ourselves?

Why not push beyond geographical boundaries?

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