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Sat 16 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Putting up a sound barrier

Fencing and site hoarding started off as a niche market, but as Hugo Berger finds out, the sector is experiencing a huge growth in popularity.

Fencing and site hoarding started off as a niche market, but as Hugo Berger finds out, the sector is experiencing a huge growth in popularity.

As the number of construction projects rises across the GCC, there is an increased demand for fencing and hoardings for the sites of construction.

This particular sector of the market is growing at a rate keeping pace with the rest of the construction industry.

We source all our materials locally, so it does give a lower carbon footprint to start with, and it’s not discarded after use.

Until about four years ago, most firms would mark off their sites with wooden fencing. But, as the market matured, developers began to realise the importance of having aesthetically pleasing, uniform hoardings to border their projects.

One of the companies which helped bring about this change is S&B, which bought its steel fence system to the region.

Paul Grundy, managing director, S&B, says: "In Abu Dhabi they were using a system which was highly unstable and huge, which if it had fallen on somebody would have killed them instantly."

"If it landed on a car or hit anyone, then it would have been Goodnight Vienna."

"It took on average six strong men to lift one section of this, whereas with our system one man can lift it, although two guys usually do just for ease of handling."

As well as being easily moveable, the fences can be sprayed with company logos, giving the site a smart, uniform appearance.

But even if its coating has been eroded away by the elements, it can be recoated and refurbished at minimal cost, says Grundy, unlike timber which could need replacing a number of times during a project.

Grundy says that developers are beginning to realise that good fencing can help create interest in a site.

"If you have a load of timber around the site, which is falling down, then would a potential homebuyer want to buy an apartment in the building?

"If you are not bothered about what the outside looks like, then what's the quality of work inside going to be like?

"In the GCC there isn't such a big problem with theft and pilfering like there is on UK sites, or with keeping children out for health and safety reasons.

"Here the aims are to secure the site so no one else builds on it and also to screen off all the excavations and other building work."
But, perhaps mostly importantly, with the current vogue for sustainability in the construction sector, Grundy says the product has a range of environmental benefits.

"To start with, our products are green-friendly because of the re-usability and the product cycle," he adds.

"We source all our materials locally, so it does give a lower carbon footprint to start with and it's not discarded once it's used."

It can be recycled, reused or refurbished, so there is little waste.

"I totally agree with all these sustainability laws, after all I recycle at home so why shouldn't I do it at work."

"There's not enough recycling done here and it is a good policy."

"The speed of construction means there's a lot of waste coming out of the sites, and something needs to be done with it."

"And a range of new innovations would help make the system even more effective," he says.

"We use a number of technologies and all the manufacturing will eventually be local which will incorporate technology from the military and space stations."

"It is all zero-carbon footprint materials, with new innovations in concrete and panels and it is totally recyclable."

"But, until we have all these agreements in place, we can't give much more away."

But with success comes the proliferation of imitators. Grundy insists that building firms should not be tempted to go for the cheaper option.

He says: "We have a big problem with counterfeiting. Our systems are registered and patented, but we are having a big problem with enforcement at the moment."

"Come the summer, that problem should be resolved and some people could end up having to pay infringements."

"So we do all the innovation, but then we get the ‘copy cats' producing inferior products with inferior materials which are lower grade, and this is giving our industry a bad name."

"We have been doing this now for 15 years, so we know the game inside out as to what is the best way to maximize efficiency of production, which materials will work the best."

"We can also calculate wind loads and what amount of concrete to use for that."

"Companies that are producing copies don't know that. They couldn't work out the wind load effect on a 4m-high hoarding, so would use too much concrete."

One of S&B's main competitors in the region is Logical Fencing, a division of Logical Contracting.
The firm advocates the use of plastic fencing and hoarding, which Al Ghattaura, the company's group sales director, says has a number of key advantages over other products.

"As it's made of plastic, you don't have to cut down any trees. Also the price of steel keeps increasing, so plastic is more cost-effective."

Ghattaura says that Logical's system was not only important in environmental terms, but was also helping maintain Dubai's appeal as a tourist destination.

He says: "It's ecologically friendly, so it's fully recyclable, and helps improve the look of Dubai, so you haven't got a shabby-looking shanty town.

"The hoarding will look nice, and people coming here will see it as a nice city, rather than just one big building site."

"If you have a developer that's constructing a one billion dollar project the developer wants to be known. It's all about image in this region and we can help them improve that."

And with the huge amount of noise generated from building sites, Ghattaura claims his product could help reduce this.

The plastic system is lightweight and is non-flammable, unlike wood fencing, and is impervious to corrosive exposure from salt and moisture while also being easy to fix.

And these advantages are helping Logical to become one of the major players in the fencing market.

He says: "When we first started the company it was hard to get known, but now our client base is 200 plus and we are working with a large number of top construction companies in Dubai."

"The challenge is that in Dubai each week you think things are slowing down, but more and more projects just keep being released."

"And as soon as the client gets their land they want you to mobilise."

"For example, I had a meeting with a client today to discuss one project and they said ‘we need to do another project' that required the installation of 6km of fencing the following day. We are just rushed off our feet at the moment."

It seems almost every day more and more new projects are announced in Dubai and the numbers of building sites are increasing, yet the city still tries to push itself as a tourist destination.

So the fencing and hoarding industry has an ever-more important part to play in preserving the aesthetic appearance of the city.

And as the environmental impact of the construction sector becomes more important, it is clear that there will be greater scope for firms like S&B and Logical Fencing to implement innovative technology to help the drive.

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