Civils 2006 Review
November 28-30th saw Civils (2006 Limited Edition) set up camp in the bowels of the wrought iron cavern known as Olympia in that London and duly summon engineers, specifiers, designers and contractors to brave the fickle transport system that keeps the capital crawling to see what's what and why.
Why? I really don't know! Of all the trade shows, exhibitions, seminars, presentations and whathaveyou that I've attended over the years, Civils 2006 is, without doubt, the biggest waste of space, and that disappoints me. Several of the exhibitors that were here last year have deserted, and the one or two new faces are, generally speaking, underwhelmed by it all. In just two years since its separation from Interbuild, this event has come to hover perilously just on the fresh side its own anus. It has become a corporate schmooze-fest with far too many suits attending as a way for getting a day out of the office, all out for a chance of a free nosh-up and the opportunity to bugger off into that London after lunch to do a spot of Christmas shopping. The ground floor of this bi-level bilge bonanza is dominated by the big corporate civils practices and their besuited drones flirting from flower to flower in search of some form of elusive but seemingly addictive corporate nectar.
It's understood that much of our national and international civils work is handled to a greater or lesser degree by these established names, but what do they honestly expect to achieve by staffing a stand at a show such as this? It's pretty unlikely that some government wallah is going to unexpectedly waltz in and sign-up for a multi-million pound contract. They're here because their competitors are here, and because they know that there are a sizable number of mid-ranking desk pilots that will be eternally grateful for the opportunity to skive off for a day or two.
And when you get past the corporate civils crowd, the bulk of ground-floor exhibitors seem to be either geo-tech companies with yet more membranes, anchors and stabilisation products, or they are data-mapping geeks on a mission to enable gadget-obsessed surveyors to log the precise position of their gonads with a GPS satellite somewhere over Baluchistan. Too much of the very same thing.
So: what was there that was worth seeing? From a hard-landscaping point of view, not very much at all. I know that hardscapes are but a small slice of the civils cake, yet their presence at this show is not so much icing on the cake, more like those sugar strands that are used to decorate the icing – they might not amount to much, but they don't half make the whole thing look far more appetising.
Formpave are regulars at this event, and it's good to see that a change of ownership has not affected their commitment. As ever, the visually appealing stand was ably manned by show stalwarts Peter Johns and Steve Spikes, assisted on the second day by new MD, Brian Garrett, along with sales exec for the West Country, Roger Poole. Even more of a treat, they had Dr Steve Coupe with them to handle all the permeable paving FAQs, which was handy, as most of their visitors were keen to learn more about what is very much the industry zeitgeist.
Along with the affability and availability of Dr Steve, Hanson Formpave (as they are these days) are now offering a free specialist design service for their permeable systems, including the industry leading Aquaflow. Speaking of Aquaflow, Formpave chose to endow it with the honour of adorning the sponsorship pennants for the expanded "Network Zones" (tables, chairs and over-priced butties) that had proliferated since last year, when it did seem to be one long game of musical chairs trying to get somewhere to rest your bones for a few minutes.
The only other concrete paving manufacturer to show their face publicly were Charcon , and, according to marketing supremo, Fraser Higgins, they had picked up on my comments of last year and included far more paving in this enlarged and much-more-prominent stand. So, the SUDs-in-a-perspex-box display was supplemented with a generous display of the revamped "EcoPave" flags, the lovely, sparkly, shot-textured granite agg flags that used to be known as Appalachian. In what can only be described as an astute bit of re-branding, Charcon have decided that the "green credentials" of this product, such as its use of reclaimed aggregate from the China Clay industry and the copper slag that creates the intriguing obsidian-black flecks, really ought to be flagged up (excuse the pun!), so Appalachian been given the deed poll treatment and shall, henceforth, be known as EcoPave.
The new-ish washed blocks, Andover, were lined-up alongside the EcoPave, and the contrast in texture between two seemingly similar "prestige" products was all the more evident. Personally, I feel the Andover blocks would benefit from a small chamfer to the top face. When they're laid, it's all-but-impossible to hide the joints, so why not make them a feature? Too much of a chamfer, anything more than a couple of millimetres, would make them look too "blocky" and be counter-productive, but a subtle fettling could make all the difference by gently emphasising the segmental nature of the product.
On the kerb front, they chose to show their more innovative products, namely the K-Lite lightweight road kerb that enables 'traditional' concrete road kerbing that falls within the HSE manual handling weight limits, and the award-winning Kerb-Drain combi unit that we now take for granted.
The only other paving to be seen was the few square metres of granite setts and flags installed by CED on their first-floor stand (I hope they used the lift and not the stairs!) This was a first showing for CED at this event, and while it is certainly welcomed by me, I can't help wondering if they feel it was worth it, given the rather sharply-dressed, soft-handed types that form the bulk of visitors.
As you'd expect, the stone on display was glorious, despite the limitations of space, but the big news from CED is that they've picked up the Nidaplast cell paver that has been floating around the hardscape market for a few years without ever really making an impact. While a plastic cell paver might not seem a natural product line for a company such as CED, with their long tradition of being at the better end of the stone industry, when you think about it, the facility to provide both the cell system AND the gravel with which to fill it is probably a stroke of near genius. There is no shortage of these cell jobbies on the market, but by offering contractors and clients the opportunity to purchase the cells along with a wide range of selected decorative aggregates, there's a good chance that Nidaplast may at last start to make inroads.
And to go with the CED setts, David Burton of Stein-Tec was on hand to resolve all your sett and flag jointing and bedding headaches. David had the honour of presenting the first of the free seminars on Tuesday morning, a talk and presentation pointedly devoted more to the dos and don'ts of stone paving than to pushing the Stein-Tec product. Sadly, an administrative cock-up had David's debut listed for another venue, which adversely affected the attendance, but those of us that made the effort, and located the right place, found it to be worthwhile, especially the extended after-show debate and discussion that continued well into the next presentation.
Turning to drainage, Aco were proudly showing-off their winner's award, "Best New Product", for their Qmax slot drain. At first, I was baffled how Qmax could win an award for "Best New Product" when we all know that's it's been causing something of a stir in the industry for well over a year. Luckily, Marketing Executive Charlotte Irons was on hand to explain that it was actually the genuinely-new 600mm version that had won the award, rather than the Qmax range as a whole.
However, most intriguing item on the Aco stand was, without doubt, the new "Wildlife Kerb". You see it, and you see the name, but you can't for the life of you figure out what the bloody hell it has to do with wildlife. It's a polymer concrete kerb with a giant groove gouged out of the face – how does that make it a wildlife kerb? It took the verbal dexterity of soon-to-depart Joe Bordas to explain how the kerb is intended to be used adjacent to a road gully. Apparently, frogs and other critters that accidentally stumble down the kerb face and can't get back up onto the footpath or verge, proceed to hop, crawl, scamper or slither their way along the kerbline looking for an escape route, whereupon they inevitably come to a road gully, and fall through the grating to a watery grave. The new Aco Wildlife kerb, with its clever groove, allows them to skirt around the back of the gully, and so continue their search for refuge on the far side of the grating, and with no danger of slipping through the grid.
Fewer opportunistic snacks for Ginny Green Teeth (a horror that was said to live down the gullies of Lancastrian streets and roads, dining almost exclusively on children who had ventured where they shouldn't in pursuit of a dropped sixpence) and a genuinely innovative product, albeit one with limited appeal. Congrats to Joe for managing to explain it all without making me suspect a wind-up, and best wishes for your new job in the roofing industry.
Staying with drainage, another repeat exhibitor from last year are HoofMark , the people who bring you the renowned Golpla Cell Paving, the D-RainTank storm crate, and a host of other Germanic bloody-good-ideas. Two products in particular caught my eye: firstly, a 150mm plastic screw-in saddle for concrete pipes that enables neater, faster and more reliable connections to existing pipelines. Basically, you core-drill into the existing pipe, push in the new saddle fitting (with invaluable assistance from a handful of the special drainage KY Jelly), pump the voids full of that expanding foam gunk, and tighten-up the whole lot with a big spanner. A leak-proof connection in minutes instead of hours, and pounds instead of hundreds – bound to be a winner!
Secondly, "TruckPave" a heavy-duty 100mm format of the familiar Golpla cell paver that is big enough and beefy enough to withstand the weight of trucks, wagons, lorries and all your other HGVs. Returning to my hobbyhorse of permeable paving systems (PPS), I think this product has real potential for freight yards and lorry-parking areas, as it provides a robust, cheaper alternative to concrete or clay PPS for those areas where aesthetics are of secondary relevance.
Last up in the honourable mentions come Probst , yet another repeat exhibitor, and the only real "tool" exhibitor at the show (if you discount all the GPS Earth Station techno-bobbins toys for surveyors and site engineers). Again, I can't help feeling that most of the 'suits' at this show wouldn't have the slightest idea of what these tools do, or how useful they are to us contractors – in fact, you have to wonder how many of the suits would know which end of spade to hold, but that's the way the show has gone since its divorce from Interbuild and its move to that London.
Paul, Neil and Nigel are planning to unveil some new Probst goodies early next year, but for now, pride of place on the stand goes to the brand-spanking-new VM 204 mechanical laying machine sold to Mark Read at On Level Paving, and painted up in his company colours. Paul reckons it will be delivered to Mark any day now, just as soon as he gets his own driveway finished!
Yes: there were many more stands that I could have visited, but their connection to paving and drainage was tangential or non-existent, or they had nowt new to see or they were flogging some sort of 'service' that I simply don't need. I'm sure they're relevant to someone, but that someone isn't me.
I spent two days at the show, and, to be brutally honest, I could have seen what I needed to see, and spoke to those whom I needed to speak to in no more than a day. It's great to meet up with friends and contacts from the industry, and it's almost impossible not to make new contacts at these events, but I'm finding it hard to justify two days (plus travelling) away from my desk, for an event that has very little to interest someone from the hard-landscape sector. Unless the exhibitor list for next year's show at the new venue of Earls Court reveals a marked improvement on the current roster, I'll be sorely tempted to leave all those suits to their schmoozing, their skiving and their idiosyncratic transport system. Personally, at this time of year I've far better things to do with two days and three hundred quid.