ENGINEERS FROM Ove Arup and Taylor Woodrow went into war-ravaged Serbia this week on a fact finding mission 'for the collective good' of UK construction firms.
One engineer from Arup and two from Taywood will independently assess damage to infrastructure caused by Nato bombing. They will also talk to key players in the Serbian construction industry and investigate the possibility of forming Serb-British partnerships.
Taywood chairman Bruce Russell and Arup deputy chairman Nigel Thompson agreed to fund the visits after the Department of Trade & Industry ruled out an official trade mission. Both are members of the Government-backed Kosovo reconstruction taskforce and have pledged to share any information they gain with other British companies.
The European Commission has refused funding to rebuild Serbia while President Milosevic is still in power. But Thompson said it was vital for British firms to establish early trade links.
'We would be crazy to ignore Serbia because that is where all the real construction opportunities are. If we wait until Milosevic goes, everybody else will be in position and Britain will be too late,' he said. Engineers from Austria, Greece, Switzerland and Germany are understood to have been in the country for weeks already (NCE 1 July).
A spokesman for Taywood said its engineers would stay in Serbia 'for as long as it takes' to form good relations. He added: 'Generally speaking the feedback has been good and we think there are opportunities there.'
However, engineers interested in working in Serbia expressed doubt that Taywood and Arup would stick to their agreement to share information.
'Serbia has been tagged on to the British taskforce's activities by verbal agreement rather than a written remit. No-one in their right mind would spend thousands of pounds on this exercise and then give the information away,' said one.
A seven-man team of British civil engineers funded by the Department for International Development left for Kosovo this week. They will spend 3-4 months repairing the water system, power transmission network and district heating systems.
A second team of five power specialists led by Mott MacDonald's Brian Stone and funded by British Trade International also left for the region and will spend a month investigating ways to rehabilitate Kosovo's two biggest power stations.
The Hiberna consortium, led by defence firm Hunting Engineering and including Mowlem, WS Atkins, Mace Shipping and Hunting Contract Services, has been awarded a three-year contract to provide temporary field accommodation for 5,000 British troops in Kosovo (NCE 24 June). The £100M project will house 2,000 troops in portable Kudos Kabins by the end of October, with the remainder housed by the end of the year.