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Balfour Beatty: The '80s

The 1980s saw a revival of Balfour Beatty’s entrepreneurial spirit, as the firm captured the “can do” attitude of the decade by diversifying into new markets.

The building division that had started in the 70s in Scotland expanded dramatically both sides of the border, including ventures into refurbishment, housebuilding and property development. By 1989 the firm had built more than 800 homes and had a property portfolio worth over £100M.

The decade also saw the acquisition of building services company Haden and a 50% stake in US construction management firm Heery International, (now wholly owned by Balfour Beatty).

By 1987 Balfour Beatty had moved significantly from its core business, describing itself as a “broadly based and well balanced construction, engineering and development company”. The firm had a £1bn turnover and a portfolio that boasted some of the biggest and most significant projects of the day.

In the UK these included the THORP nuclear reprocessing facility, sections of the M25, subsea cables between England and France, and electrification of the East Coast Main Line. Overseas the massive Victoria Dam in Sri Lanka was completed, work started on the Cairo wastewater system and the firm built thousands of km of new roads in Oman and Tanzania, as well as Dubai Airport.

Consolidated position

The ’80s consolidated Balfour Beatty’s position as a major league player, but, with the firm landing one big project after another − culminating in 1986 with the deal to build the Channel Tunnel, as part of Transmanche Link.

In addition to winning many high profile contracts under traditional procurement methods, the company was also one of the first contractors to see the potential of design/build contracts, landing a £58M contract to build the BBC’s new HQ at White City in 1988 and, soon after, the M8 St James Interchange west of Glasgow − the largest D&B contract let in the UK at the time. It was during the 80s that the company also started to acquire assets − something that continues today through its PFI activity. In 1987 it took a 30% stake in Devonport dockyard to run for seven years, and one year later, formed a joint venture to own, finance, build and operate power stations, starting with Barking Reach in east London.

The crash that was to follow the 1980s boom put paid to many of the company’s non-core activities, but many new ventures instigated during the decade set the scene for the way the business is run now.

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