According to the Chinese proverb, “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”.
That sentiment seems appropriate to describe the moment the very first piece of earth was removed at Hinkley Point C – the first action marking a construction process that will take close to 10 years to complete at a cost of almost £18 billion.
“I’m very proud to say it was one of our excavators that dug that very first trench at the site some six years ago,” says Geoff Wyatt, project manager for Tier 2 Contractor Plantforce. “We’ve come a long way since those early days, although there’s still an incredibly long road to go.”
Plantforce was formed in 1999 and was originally based in Yatton, North Somerset, although the firm has now relocated its main headquarters into Weston-super-Mare.
In addition the company, which supplies everything from self-drive mini diggers all the way up to 52-tonne excavators and everything in between, has depots in Exeter and, more recently, Bridgwater at Junction 23 of the M5, just 30 minutes from HPC.
“Hinkley is easily the largest construction project the South West has ever seen and, as a local company, as soon as it was confirmed as going ahead we just knew it was something we had to be involved with,” says Geoff.
“It was a fantastic day when we learned we were successful, and from that very first day we’ve now been on site for six years.”
As well as registering on the Hinkley Supply Chain website, Plantforce’s team also embedded itself into the business community in and around the site, attending seminars and networking events held by Somerset Chamber of Commerce and forging relationships with other contractors.
“Business isn’t just about numbers and figures,” continues Geoff, “it’s about meeting actual people and building trust between you and them, and we did everything we possibly could to raise our profile.”
An example of that trust is illustrated by Plantforce making the biggest purchase of new equipment in its company history, spending millions on almost 200 new vehicles for its fleet, much of that dedicated to Hinkley Point C.
“This is a serious outlay and investment for Plantforce,” says Geoff. “But given Hinkley is now such a significant part of our total turnover it’s entirely justified and a sign of strength both of our standing in the plant hire market and towards the Hinkley Point C project.
As well as the clear direct commercial benefits of working on Hinkley, the stringent rules around health and safety have also made Plantforce, which employs about 80 people on the site, reassess the entire way it looks at operations.
“Whilst we have of course always had a focus on health and safety, working at Hinkley Point C has taken us to a whole new level,” explains Geoff.
“Plantforce has six years’ on-site experience in the nuclear industry, with a dedicated on-site health and safety officer.
“Beyond Hinkley Point C we have embedded the health and safety lessons learned at the site into our entire company, which makes us a stronger proposition when responding to other construction invitations to tender.”
Sticking with the theme of business development, Geoff says the mere fact Plantforce is connected to the Hinkley Point C project is a huge growth-driver, adding: “Hinkley Point C is the biggest construction project in Europe, and Plantforce is proud to supply kit to the very prestigious development and it’s a great addition to our portfolio.”