Adrian Hopkins from The Combe Haven Defenders tells Corporate Watch about some of the companies behind the road in Bexhill-Hastings. In July 2009 a joint venture between construction companies HOCHTIEF(UK) and VINCI was awarded the contract by East Sussex County Council to design and build the Bexhill-Hastings Link Road (BHLR). The contract was awarded on an Early Contractor Involvement (ECI) basis, a type of contract that involves the contractor in the planning, procurement and design stages.
Both companies are within the top 10 biggest construction companies in the world. VINCI, a French owned multi-national, is the highest ranking non-Chinese company (#5) and HOCHTIEF is Germany’s largest construction firm (#10). They both have complex corporate structures and extensive global networks of subsidiaries and concessions.
HOCHTIEF(UK) is a subsidiary of HOCHTIEF SOLUTIONS, itself the management company of the European Division of the HOCHTIEF GROUP. It describes itself thus:
“HOCHTIEF is one of the leading international providers of construction-related services. With more than 80,000 employees and a sales volume of EUR 23.28 billion in FY 2011, the company is represented in all the world‘s major markets. With its core competencies in development, building and operation, the Group delivers services for the entire life cycle of infrastructure projects, real estate and facilities. The focus of the related business activities is on four strategic areas: energy infrastructure, transportation infrastructure, major cities, and resources. With its subsidiary Leighton (HOCHTIEF share around 54 percent), the Group is market leader in Australia. In the USA, the biggest construction market in the world, HOCHTIEF is the No. 1 general builder via its subsidiary Turner and, with Group company Flatiron, ranks among the most important players in the field of transportation infrastructure construction. Because of its engagement for sustainability, HOCHTIEF has been listed in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes since 2006. ”
As a group the company made before-tax profits of ?626 million in 2011. The UK subsidiary is a relatively small component financially. According to its 2009 financial report HOCHTIEF(UK) had a turnover of over £43m and a net profit before tax of £0.5million.
In East Sussex HOCHTIEF have been involved with the construction of the Newhaven incinerator, which has recently become operational, as well as an incinerator at Allington, Kent. The Newhaven project received more than 16,000 objections (in a town with a population of 12,000) and has been widely criticised.
As a point of history, HOCHTIEF was involved in infrastructure projects in the Third Reich, including buildings for Hitler himself and a centre for nazi rallies in Nuremberg. The company acknowledges its use of forced labour during this period.
The VINCI group is a French-owned construction and concessions company, involved as both constructor and operator of large infrastructure projects. It runs a large proportion of French autoroutes as ‘concessions’. From its website:
“VINCI is the world leader in concessions and construction, employing close to 183,000 people in some 100 countries. We design, build, finance and manage facilities that improve everyday life: the systems that transport us, the public and private buildings in which we live and work, the urban developments that create and improve our communities, and the water, energy and communication networks vital to human existence.”
According to the 2011 financial reports the VINCI group had a turnover of ?37 billion (+10.7%) with a net profit of ?1.9 billion. VINCI plc – The UK division – had a turnover of £1.1billion in 2011, with profits of £22 million. VINCI plc HQ are in Hertfordshire.
There is a French campaign and blog that has been set up to fight Vinci and their involvement in large-scale PFI style ‘mega-projets’ in France and elsewhere, including nuclear fusion installations at the Cadarache nuclear research centre near Marseilles, uranium mines in Niger, a high speed rail link and and an international airport near Nantes. The site at Nantes where the airport is to be built has turned in to one of the largest squatted protest camps in the world, named ZAD (Zone á défendre), and protests against the VINCI led project have mobilised a vast coalition of farmers, locals and activists from far and wide.
VINCI and the Khimki forest
VINCI concessions is the lead partner in a consortium of companies that comprise the North-West Concession Company (NWCC). This consortium has been contracted to build and operate a controversial 43km stretch of the Moscow-St.Petersburg toll motorway. This stretch passes through the Khimki forest, an old-growth forest of significant ecological and social value.
Since surveying work began in 2007 local people have led a campaign against the ecologically destructive road. They argue that there has been no genuine public consultation and many alternatives to the route exist. There is a general assumption that the road is an attempt to open up the forest to further development and property speculation. There are significant signs of government corruption on various levels, including the awarding of the tender to the NWCC consortium.
In opposing the road many activists have been attacked and beaten, often by private security guards, and sometimes by unknown assailants suspected to be hired fascist thugs. Activists have also been arrested on bogus charges by the police as they have attempted to halt the construction works. High profile cases have been those of local journalist Mikhail Beketov, who had written extensively about the road, and was severely beaten in 2008 resulting in the loss of one leg and leaving him permanently disabled. Similarly, journalist Oleg Kashin and activist Konstantin Fetisov were savagely attacked by unknown assailants in 2010 for their involvement in the campaign against the road. Also in 2010, one of the leaders of the movement, Yevgenia Chirikova, was threatened by the State Guardianship and local police that her children could be taken away from her.
The campaign has made strong claims that VINCI subsidiary NWCC has been hiring non-uniformed security guards to physically and violently stop protestors as they attempt to protect the forest. All this and much more is documented fully on the campaign website along with extensive information about the campaign and the history of the road.
The Khimki forest campaign is now attempting to put pressure on VINCI – as a company of the ‘west’ – to pull out of the scheme, since its efforts to stop the road by putting pressure on the government have not been successful. From its website:
The Russian Government refuses to change the chosen route for the highway, explaining that in case of any changes huge penalties will need to be paid to Vinci. So, presently, Vinci is the main reason (at least officially!) for not choosing one of the better options. Vinci is clearly aware of its role, since the representatives of the concessionaire were proven to have taken part in the Governmental Commission meeting that took the decision to proceed with the option through the forest in December, 2010.
It seems that one of the reasons, why the review of the routing after Medvedev’s halting of the works in summer 2010 resulted in no change to the route, was the fact that the Chairman of the French Chamber of Commerce in Russia, Emmanuel Quidet, intervened and appealed to Medvedev to resume the road construction. As Vinci is the main French company involved in the motorway project, it is safe to assume that it was Vinci that requested this intervention.
Even the Russian President has called the chosen route option the worst possible and has agreed that it was chosen in favour of private commercial interests rather than public ones. Thus, the Vinci company is causing huge damage both to the Russian environment and civil society in Russia.
The campaign is asking for international support and solidarity and has already gained over 25,000 signatures to an online petition to stop the road.
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