Capable Able looks to a future with wind power

Driving forward business on both the Tees and the Humber, it’s busy times for Billingham-based Able UK.

Able UK
Able UK

IN business it’s vital to always be thinking about your next move.

You need to make sure you’re one step ahead of the rest and constantly be looking to the future.

That’s what Billingham-based Able UK has always tried to do - and it’s a philosophy it maintains today.

As the world starts to consider greener energy options for the future, the Teesside company recently announced multi-million pound plans for a Marine Energy Park on the banks of the Humber.

The £400m investment aims to turn the site into the centrepiece of the UK’s nascent offshore wind industry - which it is hoped will deliver up to 15% of our electricity by 2020.

“We are developing what primarily will be for the offshore wind turbine industry,” Peter Stephenson, founder and executive chairman of Able UK, explained.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. I’m very excited about it and there’s lots of interest.”

Over the years, Able UK has become one of the major players in a number of other fields.

They include property regeneration, site reclamation, and the decommissioning of marine structures.

The Humber development, which will cover nearly 2,000 acres, will turn its south bank into a marine energy park built around a 1,630 metre-long quay.

The plans include purpose-built facilities for the manufacture of offshore wind turbines and space to develop a biomass energy-generation plant - capable of supplying electricity for half a million homes.

It is set to create up to 12,500 direct jobs, as well as generating a further 10,400 indirect jobs in North Lincolnshire and another 2,400 in the wider region.

If all goes to plan it will be operational by 2013 and construction will be completed in 2015.

“The potential demand is huge,” Mr Stephenson added.

“For instance the three offshore wind areas of Dogger Bank, Hornsea and Norfolk Bank will require around 5,000 turbines to deliver their full capacity.

“If these are to be delivered by 2020, and shipping starts in 2015, it will require 19 to be shipped each and every week.”

Able UK had attempted to build a similar site on the Tees around eight years ago.

Instead it will now concentrate on attracting cabling and foundation specialists to its three sites on the Tees.

Despite now having such a major interest outside of the region it insists it will always be a Teesside company - and has no plans to operate from anywhere else.

Rather they believe the Humber development can offer a wealth of opportunities to companies and businesses from our region.

“It was never an objective to move away from here,” Mr Stephenson said.

“It’s gone down excellently there and people have been very supportive.

“But there’s lots of supply opportunities for Teesside businesses to get involved.

“There’s lots of opportunities for a lot of different people. The supply chain benefits are there.

“We are going to put some big manufacturers in and they need a big supply chain behind them.

“They are going to build everything onsite.

“There’s a lot of potential and there’s some really good opportunities.

“It’s a big site - it’s sometimes hard to appreciate. But there’s enough room for everybody.”

Able UK was founded back in 1966.

Peter Stephenson
Peter Stephenson

But it was July 2003 when the company hit the headlines announcing it had secured an £11m contract to recycle 13 retired US Navy vessels, built between the Second World War and the mid-1960s, at its Graythorp yard, near Hartlepool.

This site has now been renamed TERRC - Teesside Environmental Reclamation and Recycling Facility.

The move was met with protests and criticism from eco-groups amid fears the ships were contaminated with asbestos and other polluted material.

Protesters also argued that nations should handle their own waste as close to the source as possible.

After years of legal wrangles and an expensive inquiry, Able UK was finally granted permission to go ahead with the project.

But Mr Stephenson says the delay cost his company dearly - and Teesside as a whole due to a loss of employment opportunities.

“When we went for the contract we said then there was five years of solid ship breaking,” he said.

“Two or three hundred people would have been working there but that delay meant we had to renegotiate things.

“We incurred a tremendous amount of cost with the delay.

“Until we sell the scrap we won’t know how we have done.”

Despite the stress and strain of the so-called ‘ghost ships’ saga, Able UK says it is today fighting fit, even with the recent tough financial conditions.

The last couple of years have taken their toll on businesses across the UK and the world.

But through a mix of hard work and resilience Able UK says it has been largely unaffected by the economic downturn.

“We have not really felt a recession,” Mr Stephenson said.

“But I have been through two recessions before and I suppose one of the big differences nowadays is we are getting longer term investments and returns.

“There have been challenges there over the years but we have enjoyed them.

Able UK currently employs around 450 staff on Teesside.

Rather than give a complex and convoluted answer to what makes a strong company and workforce, Mr Stephenson believes it is a little simpler.

“We deliver what the client wants,” he explained.

“Our philosophy was always to get the client what they need.

“Sometimes we have lost money but we keep our clients and get it back eventually. Our people are passionate and enjoy working here. That makes the difference for us.”

Interestingly, Able UK actually took its name partly due to its prominence in alphabetical lists.

As in the past when businesses made their payments they would normally start at the top and work their way down.

“In the past what I found was that I was having more and more problems getting paid by clients,” Mr Stephenson explained.

“St was at the end of the alphabet and clients would start paying people by working down the list.

“Obviously Able appears high up the list and it also says you’re capable.”

Capable they are - capable of continuing to put Teesside on the map and capable of helping take the UK’s wind energy industry to the next level.

Title has helped us

PETER Stephenson beat business leaders from across the region to win a top entrepreneurial title earlier this summer.

The founder and executive chairman of Able UK was named as Ernst & Young North and Midlands Overall Entrepreneur of the Year.

And Mr Stephenson believes the award has already started to open doors for his company.

“My bank had been asking me to go for it,” he explained.

“It was hard to fit it in and a lot of work. But we have seen benefits as a company and it has opened doors.

“It’s certainly helped with the marketing of the Humber port and made people more aware of it and us.”

After emerging as the winner from a list of 15 business leaders, Mr Stephenson will now go onto the UK finals.

Able UK’s work is a far cry from the career path Mr Stephenson had envisaged as a child - with aspirations to go into the agricultural world.

“I was brought up as a farm child,” he explained.

“Initially I wanted to make some money so I could buy a farm.”

He then began his business life setting up in plant hire then moving into civil engineering, demolition, reclaiming and redeveloping disused sites and building a portfolio of river front multi-use port facilities.

Able UK was then established in 1966.

It now employs around 450 staff on Teesside. With its headquarters at Billingham it specialises in the dismantling and demolition industries, specialising in dealing with major industrial sites and the recycling of offshore structures and ships. It also has facilities on the Humber.

 

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