property Stantec engineers a brighter future

Paul Reilly, managing director of infrastructure and buildings at Stantec, UK, talked to The Business Magazine about how Thames Valley-based Peter Brett Associates became part of the Canadian global design and consulting giant

He emphasises the importance of bringing new blood into the engineering sector and enthuses about opportunities for more community-focused developments in a post-coronavirus world.

It’s possibly no surprise that the acquisition of Peter Brett Associates (PBA) by multinational Stantec two years ago went largely unnoticed beyond industry observers. “That’s typical of us,” said Reilly. “We tend to keep our achievements to ourselves and don’t spend time shouting about them. We just focus on solving planning and construction challenges and supporting our clients.”

Iconic projects

That said, Stantec’s portfolio of projects completed under PBA’s name – particularly in the Thames Valley – is certainly worth noting. Reading’s Thames Valley Park and Green Park are among the most prominent. Together with Reading Station and major highways schemes along the M4 they have contributed significantly to the local economy. “We design business parks to have strong environmental credentials with attractive spaces for employers based at them,” Reilly explained.

On a smaller scale, Reading’s Christchurch pedestrian and cycle bridge linking Caversham to the town’s railway station captures an ethos to blend the functional – reducing car journeys in this case

Green Park

– with attractive designs that give a sense of place.

No surprise, then, that the original founder Peter Brett was the structural engineer behind Henley’s eye-catching post-modern Royal Regatta headquarters on the Thames. And when you’re next at London’s King’s Cross train station, take a few minutes to admire the Granary Square fountain. As part of an extensive regeneration project spanning 20 years, PBA designed the water feature to soften the urban landscape with entertaining rhythmic water jets. It has become a tourist attraction in its own right.

The company focuses on regeneration, residential and commercial developments, including offices, industrial, business, science and logistics parks including Segro in Slough. Another speciality for its clients is restoring former military airfields to benefit local communities by cleaning them up, bringing in road and rail links, and designing workplaces to attract investment.

Stantec’s Reading and Oxford offices are particularly busy. “The Thames Valley is estimated to have added about 100,000 jobs in the past 20 years. That’s a large population needing homes, workplaces and infrastructure to move around,” Reilly observed. “Opportunities in the UK as a whole are phenomenal, with the prospect of around £350 billion of investment in infrastructure committed over the next four years.”

Perfect fit with Stantec

While you might think PBA had been targeted and swallowed up by an acquisitive Stantec, the deal actually happened the other way around.

Reilly took up the story: “We had reached the point where we were well known for our community development projects, supporting residential and regeneration schemes, and our innovative planning and transport infrastructure work. Our strategic insight and vision for places were highly regarded. But as we became more engaged in larger scale project delivery, we found we weren’t always able to match the scale of our competitors. We were looking for an older sibling with an appetite to fund our growth ambitions to pursue more large-scale infrastructure projects nationally and internationally,” he said.

An extensive global search took PBA across the Atlantic. The first visit to its potential new partner confirmed Stantec was the right choice. “When we visited their Boston and Edmonton offices we could have been walking into our own. They have the same community focus, an ambition for growth, a multi-disciplinary approach and a commitment to developing younger staff,” said Reilly.

For Reilly and his team, the cultural fit was essential. “We needed to know our staff and clients would be happy. We wanted to retain our culture and identity while tapping into Stantec’s global capabilities. It was also really important that, like us, they were committed to smaller as well as large-scale projects. Every client matters.”


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