Hanson Bath & Portland Stone - a separate division within Hanson plc, the world's largest quarrying group - now employs 140 people. It has two masonry works and 10 quarries - five on Portland, two in the Cotswolds and three underground in the Bath area.
'Our philosophy, ' says general manager Jonathan Pitt, 'is to provide our building stone customers and clients with a high level of service and a commitment to meet their particular needs.
'To ensure we can offer customers flexibility we are investing heavily in new plant and machinery, both for our quarries and masonry works. It means we can supply block stone to other masonry firms or give clients a design, masonry manufacturing and other services if required.'
Indeed, this investment will amount to a £3.5 million spend on upgrades and purchases. Progressive improvements at its Portland and Keynsham masonry works are under way. The company has already doubled its potential capacity for ashlar products and has recently installed a six-axis wire saw, costing £250,000.
'We are now the largest supplier of limestone block and masonry in the country, ' says Pitt, 'and we have a big capacity for supplying detailed stone work, too.'
The company's supply capability is firmly based on planned reserves built up over a number of decades, primarily through acquisitions. The reserves are particularly impressive for what are probably the most famous British limestone building stones, Portland and Bath.At Portland the company has more than 40 years of unquarried stone while its underground reserves at Bath outstrip the life of present planning consents - running to 2042 - by many decades.
'I'm keen to kill off this myth that seems to have developed in some quarters that Portland stone is not available and that large sizes cannot be obtained, ' says Pitt. 'We have recently supplied stone for the British Museum and the Paternoster column, part of a major development in London. The blocks we used from our Coombefield quarry weighed up to 30 tonnes each and were over 2.5m in each dimension.'
Part of the investment referred to is going into the development of the company's three Bath underground quarries: Monks Park, Hartham Park and Westwood.
Hartham ground stone is particularly sought after by masons while Box ground stone, also found at Hartham, will be available within the next year.
Over the past year, major contracts using Portland stone have been completed in London: masonry for the Merrill Lynch European headquarters building in King Edward Street; also for an office building at 25 Cannon Street (see opposite). Stone for the British Museum was used in the restoration of the north-east and west porticoes of the Great Courtyard. The company also gained recognition in the Millennium Stone Awards, being associated with four of the main winning entries (see right).
Hanson Bath & Portland Stone is also committed to ensuring investment in environmental improvements to its operations, including restoration of its limestone quarries. Additionally, the Hanson Environment Fund, using landfill tax credits, has been able to support local community activities in Dorset to the tune of £1.2 million.
'We are committed to partnering and supporting our customers and have built many strong client relationships, ' says Jonathan Pitt. 'It is an approach that works because we can save clients time and money as well as prevent headaches for ourselves. Of course, we have the advantage of the credibility of the Hanson name and the associated financial back-up but it also means we have to work harder to impress on clients we care about the smallest detail on a project.
'I believe we have the best portfolio of UK limestone of any supplier selling in the country and, if demand is such, I am prepared to ensure we reinforce that with other building stone materials in the future.'
Hanson Bath & Portland Stone trading manager Colin Goble reports: 'There is currently high demand for Bath and Portland stone, both for new build and restoration work. This demand is here to stay, with future orders on the increase.
'It's also good that in contact with architects and other specifiers we are able to introduce the full range of Hanson products which includes bricks, blocks and other precast concrete products.
'It's our way of making sure a customer can get the full Hanson service.'