Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Counter-terrorism helps boosts markets for Townscape
THE heightened terrorism threat in Britain has been good to Jonathan Goss's company Townscape.
Since 1974 the Sutton-in-Ashfield business has been making "street furniture" – bollards, seats, tree guards etc – for customers such as local authorities all over the country.
But these days Townscape also has a reputation for manufacturing rather more robust items of urban paraphernalia – the kind designed to foil terrorist attacks. Townscape's range of 2.2 tonne blocks are intended to prevent what are euphemistically referred to as "unwanted vehicle incursions" at airports and other important buildings in the national infrastructure.
These squat "CT blocks" (meaning, counter terrorist) have so far been installed outside Gatwick's north terminal and all three Manchester airport terminals as well as the airports at Belfast, Cardiff and Bournemouth.
Another recent customer has been the Titanic Centre in Belfast. Buildings used in this year's London Olympics have also benefited from Townscape's security measures.
And with a continuously heightened awareness of terrorist and other security threats in Britain today, there would appear to be no shortage of further potential Townscape customers.
Mr Goss, Townscape's managing director, hints that a big local customer in the transport field may also be receiving some help with warding off unwanted vehicle incursions in the near future.
Although he says that the figures are very approximate, Mr Goss believes that manufacturing of security measures has grown from 5% of Townscape's business to around 30%.
And the big incident which first began to drive demand was the Glasgow Airport attack in 2007, when a car loaded with propane and petrol was driven straight into the main terminal front doors. "After that there was a greater push towards recognising the potential of terrorist attacks," says Mr Goss.
"The Government recognised it by increasing the national alert level, but there was also a much greater awareness among organisations that they had a duty of care to their people and property. Organisations do not want to be negligent in their security."
Talk of terrorism, though, seems to be a far cry from the other side of Townscape's business, which is the manufacture of more innocuous bollards, seats, cycle shelters and fencing.
It all started with company founder, the late Terry Davies, whose family still owns the business. Today, with a turnover of £2.5m and 30 employees, Townscape's wares can probably be seen in the streets and campuses of every part of the UK, says Mr Goss.
"Just walking around Nottingham today I can see that almost every tree guard (the circular fence that protects the trunks of young trees) is Townscape-supplied," he says. "We also manufacture cycling shelters, which is another growth area because of the increasing popularity of cycling.
"Campuses are also expanding and so we make the tunnels that link building together, particularly for Disability and Equality Act requirements. That is an important part of our work."
It's a highly competitive and complex market, he explains, and one where Townscape has been affected by the downturn in public expenditure.
Yet making Townscape's street furniture out of 'Performa-Cast' has its benefits. Items such as bollards and fencing, for example, are made from a steel core with a polymer coating that prevents rust. This is attractive to local councils because it brings down their maintenance costs.
The CT blocks are different. They're made from UK-sourced aggregates and are designed to withstand the impact of a 7.5 ton vehicle driven at them at speed.
That's interesting, but how on earth do you test something like that?
"The blocks are tested in Reading by having a 7.5 ton driverless vehicle driven at them," he says. "If you drove a transit van at one of these blocks, trust me, there's not a lot of the van left and the driver would be killed."
Manufacturing and winning contracts to supply items like these has been important to Townscape.
As Mr Goss says, any business which is counting on public sector expenditure to maintain its health these days is "delusional."
At the same time, he is keen to stress that Townscape's counter-terrorism blocks are just one of more than 100 different product lines that also include seating for golf courses, fencing and planters for flower displays.
"If we are approached by Government agencies to help protect facilities then we will make products that help.
"But the next day I may get a phone call from an old lady asking if she can buy a planter. That would give me just as much satisfaction."