Costain Group

Costain Group plc
Public limited company
Industry Construction, Civil engineering
Founded 1865
Headquarters Maidenhead, United Kingdom
Key people
Dr Paul Golby, Chairman
Andrew Wyllie, CEO
Revenue £1,316.5 million (2015)[1]
£33.2 million (2015)[1]
£22.2 million (2015)[1]
Number of employees
4,000 (2016)[2]

Costain Group plc is a British construction and civil engineering company headquartered in Maidenhead. It was part of the original Channel Tunnel consortium and is involved in Private Finance Initiative projects.


19th century

The business was founded in 1865 when Richard Costain and his future brother-in-law, Richard Kneen, left the Isle of Man and moved to Liverpool as jobbing builders. The partnership lasted until 1888 when Richard Kneen left and Richard Costain's three sons (Richard, William and John) joined him.[3] By the time of the First War, Costain had expanded through Lancashire and into south Wales where it built houses for munitions workers.[4]

20th century

After the First World War, Costain began to develop housing estates in Liverpool on its own account, primarily to offer continuity of employment to its workforce.[5] With housing sites in Liverpool in short supply, Richard Costain sent his son William down to London to find new sites. He purchased the Walton Heath Land Company and in 1923 the separate business of Richard Costain & Sons was formed. Several executive estates in the Croydon area were developed in the mid-1920s. In 1929 William died: the other two brothers remained in Liverpool and William’s son, Richard Rylands Costain, was sent to run the London Company. Under him, Richard Costain & Sons expanded its housing building large estates all around London, the largest being a site for 7,500 homes in South Hornchurch, started in 1934. Perhaps the best-known development of all was Dolphin Square completed in 1937.[3] In 1933 the London-based Richard Costain was floated on the London Stock Exchange; the Liverpool business was not part of the flotation. By then, Costain had completed over 4,000 houses in the London area, some at prices up to £4,000.[6] Costain continued to expand its private housebuilding and it was described as "one of the largest speculative housebuilders and estate developers in this country before the war."[7]

Following the flotation, Costain moved into civil engineering and worked first on the Trans-Iranian Railway and then at Abadan, Iran for BP. Losses on the railway, on Beckton sewage works and the costs of Dolphin Square caused financial problems, and Costain had to look for alternative funds when Barclays withdrew its overdraft facilities.[5]

The Second War saw Costain carrying out extensive military work including airfields and ordnance factories, and it was one of the contractors building the Mulberry harbour units. After the War, building controls precluded any substantial return to private housebuilding and Costain took its wartime construction expertise overseas: by the mid-1950s as much as 60% of turnover was overseas. Some small estate development was undertaken but it was not until the acquisition of the Rostance Group of Nottingham in 1962 that private housebuilding resumed on any scale. Helped also by the acquisition of the Blackpool firm of R Fielding in 1969, Costain was building around 1,000 houses a year by the early 1970s.[3]

The substantially increased revenues that accrued to the oil-producing states led to a construction boom in the middle east in the 1970s. Costain was a major beneficiary, particularly in the Emirates, and within a decade profits increased from little more than £1m a year to £47m. In the face of such overseas largesse, domestic housing activity declined. In the 1980s, recognising that exceptional middle east profits could not continue, Costain sought to redeploy its extensive cash balances into coal mining, international housing and commercial property. However, over-expansion in the late 1980s led to high gearing just as international markets were turning down, problems exacerbated by a disaster in Costain’s American coal mine. Substantial losses were incurred in the early 1990s and asset sales followed leaving Costain as a predominantly construction-oriented business.[3]

At a dramatic low-point in 1995, the demise of Costain was predicted - incorrectly - by broadsheets in the UK. It was not expected to survive as an operating company by the end of the century.[8]


Costain's activities are organised into two operating divisions: Natural Resources (water, waste, nuclear process and oil & gas), Infrastructure (highways, rail, power and airports).[9]

Major projects

The Tsing Ma Bridge built by a Joint Venture involving Costain

Projects undertaken by or involving the Company have included the Dolphin Square apartments in London completed in 1937,[4] a section of the Trans-Iranian Railway completed in 1939,[10] Dubai International Airport completed in 1960,[11] the Deep Water Harbour at Bridgetown, Barbados completed in 1961,[12] the Thames Barrier completed in 1984,[13] the Channel Tunnel completed in 1994,[14] the Tsing Ma Bridge in Hong Kong completed in 1997,[15] the Cardiff Bay Barrage completed in 1999[16] and the King's Cross Western Ticketing Hall completed in 2006.[17]

Costain is also involved in the redevelopment of Bond Street Station due for completion in 2017.[18]


Costain was revealed as a subscriber to the UK's Consulting Association, exposed in 2009 for operating an illegal construction industry blacklist. It was also later one of the eight businesses involved in the 2014 launch of the Construction Workers Compensation Scheme,[19] condemned as a "PR stunt" by the GMB union, and described by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee as an "an act of bad faith".[20]


  1. 1 2 3 "Annual Results 2015" (PDF). Costain. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  2. "Costain at a glance". Costain. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Wellings, Fred: Dictionary of British Housebuilders (2006) Troubador. ISBN 978-0-9552965-0-5
  4. 1 2 Norman Kipping, “Costain, Sir Richard Rylandes (1902–1966),” rev., in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, ed. H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison (Oxford: OUP, 2004), (accessed March 7, 2007).
  5. 1 2 Costain, Albert Reflections 1987
  6. Company Prospectus 1933
  7. Bowley, Marion The British Building Industry, 1966
  8. "End nigh for bleeding Costain". The Independent. 29 April 1995. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  9. Costain: business model Archived May 17, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  10. Costain history Archived July 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. Costain: Did you know? - item 27 Archived July 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  12. Deep Water at Bridgetown - Film by Richard Costain Ltd British Film Institute, 1961
  13. Environment Agency Archived September 17, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. "Channel Tunnel". Structurae. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  15. " Community - Travel Blog". Community. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  16. OnlineWales Internet Ltd. "News Wales > Environment > Cardiff Bay Barrage Report". Archived from the original on 22 May 2011. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  17. New Western Ticket Hall opens
  18. "TfL awards £300M Bond Street contract to Costain/Laing O'Rourke JV". New Civil Engineer. 4 August 2010. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  19. "Construction blacklist compensation scheme opens". BBC News: Business. BBC. 4 July 2014. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  20. "Scottish Affairs - Seventh Report Blacklisting in Employment: Final Report". Scottish Affairs Select Committee. Retrieved 7 September 2015.

External links

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