Costain Group

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

Costain Group plc
Public limited company
Traded asLSE: COST
IndustryConstruction, Civil engineering
HeadquartersMaidenhead, United Kingdom
Key people
Dr Paul Golby, Chairman
Alex Vaughan, CEO[1]
Revenue£1.728 billion (2017)[2]
£48.7 million (2017)[2]
£32.6 million (2017)[2]
Number of employees
4.000 (2017)[3]


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.[4] By the time of the First War, Costain had expanded through Lancashire and into South Wales, where it built houses for munitions workers.[5]

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.[6] 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.[4]

Several executive estates in the Croydon area were developed in the middle of the 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, which was completed in 1937.[4]

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.[7] 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."[8]

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.[6]

The Second World War saw Costain carrying out extensive military work including airfields and ordnance factories, and it was one of the contractors who built the Mulberry harbour units.[9] Some small estate development was undertaken, but it was not until the acquisition of Nottingham's Rostance Group in 1962 that private housebuilding resumed on any scale.[4]

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 beginning of the 1970s.[4] 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.[4]

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 end of the 1980s led to high gearing just as international markets were turning down, problems exacerbated by a disastrous explosion which killed ten people in 1989 at a Costain owned coal mine in the United States, for which the firm was fined $3.75m in February 1993.[10]

Substantial losses were incurred in the beginning of the 1990s, and asset sales followed, leaving Costain as a predominantly construction oriented business.[4] At a dramatic low point in April 1995, the demise of Costain was predicted, incorrectly, by broadsheets in the United Kingdom. It was not expected to survive as an operating company by the end of the century.[11]

21st century

In the early years of the 21st century, Costain worked on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, including the modernisation of London St Pancras station,[12] to accept Eurostar trains, and on the Thameslink,[13] and Crossrail projects in central London; on Crossrail, Costain's contracts included the Paddington [14] and Bond Street stations (both with Skanska),[15] and the north east network upgrade.[16] In 2010, Costain was named Contractor of the Decade by New Civil Engineer.[17]

Under Andrew Wyllie, CEO from 2005 to May 2019,[18] Costain invested in technology and consultancy staff, which in 2018 comprised a third (1,300) of the company's 4,000 employees.[19][20] Alex Vaughan succeeded Wyllie as CEO.[1][21]

In June 2019, a gloomy trading update following delayed and cancelled projects, led to Costain shares slumping over 35%.[21] In December 2019, a court ruling increasing Costain's liabilities on a Welsh road project led the firm to cut its full year profit forecasts; its share price fell 19% in early trading.[22]


Costain's activities are organised into two operating divisions: Natural Resources (water, nuclear process and oil & gas) and Infrastructure (highways, rail and power).[23]

Major projects

Projects undertaken by or involving the Company have included the Dolphin Square apartments in London completed in 1937,[5] a section of the Trans-Iranian Railway completed in 1939,[24] the West London Air Terminal completed in 1957,[25] Dubai International Airport completed in 1960,[26] the Deep Water Harbour at Bridgetown, Barbados completed in 1961,[27] the Thames Barrier completed in 1984,[28] the Channel Tunnel completed in 1994,[29] the Tsing Ma Bridge in Hong Kong completed in 1997,[30] the Cardiff Bay Barrage completed in 1999,[31] the Golden Jubilee wing at King's College Hospital completed in 2002[32] and the King's Cross Western Ticketing Hall completed in 2006.[33]

Costain is also involved in the redevelopment of Bond Street Station due for completion in 2018[34] and HS2 lots S1 and S2, working as part of joint venture, with main construction work to start in 2018/19.[35]



Costain was revealed as a subscriber to the United Kingdom'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 launch in 2013 of the Construction Workers Compensation Scheme,[36] condemned as a "PR stunt" by the GMB union, and described by the Scottish Affairs Select Committee as "an act of bad faith".[37]

In December 2017, trade union Unite announced it had issued High Court proceedings against twelve major contractors, including Costain.[38]

Late payment

In April 2019, Costain was suspended from the UK Government's Prompt Payment Code, for failing to pay suppliers on time.[39] It was reinstated in July 2019.[40]


  1. Lester, Ahren (7 May 2019). "Costain Confirms Trading In Line As New Chief Vaughan Takes Helm". MorningStar. Retrieved 7 May 2019.
  2. "Annual Report 2017" (PDF). Costain. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 March 2018. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
  3. "Costain at a glance". Costain. Archived from the original on 29 January 2015. Retrieved 28 March 2016.
  4. Wellings, Fred: Dictionary of British Housebuilders (2006) Troubador. ISBN 978-0-9552965-0-5
  5. 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).
  6. Costain, Albert Reflections 1987
  7. Company Prospectus 1933
  8. Bowley, Marion The British Building Industry, 1966
  9. Hartcup, p. 94
  10. "Company Is to Pay Big Fine for Mine Deaths". Associated Press. 21 February 1993. Retrieved 29 November 2018.
  11. "End nigh for bleeding Costain". The Independent. 29 April 1995. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  12. "Costain is on right lines with record set of results". This is Money. 11 March 2009. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  13. Carr, Colin (25 February 2015). "Thameslink". Rail Engineer. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  14. "Costain/Skanska save £100M from Paddington Crossrail contract". New Civil Engineer. 26 July 2011. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  15. Fitzpatrick, Tom (1 February 2013). "Costain Skanska JV wins £200m Crossrail Bond Street station". Construction News. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  16. Carr, Colin (30 June 2016). "Crossrail - The deadline is looming". Rail Engineer. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  17. "Our History". Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  18. Prior, Grant (6 March 2019). "Andrew Wyllie to retire from Costain after 14 years at helm". Construction Enquirer. Retrieved 6 March 2019.
  19. "Costain thinks smart to stay ahead". Construction Index. 1 March 2018. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  20. Prior, Grant (22 August 2018). "Tech savvy workforce key to Costain's future". Construction Enquirer. Retrieved 24 January 2019.
  21. Jolly, Jasper (28 June 2019). "Costain shares plummet after HS2 and M6 contract delays". Guardian. Retrieved 1 July 2019.
  22. Prior, Grant (12 December 2019). "Costain profits slashed after road row ruling". Construction Enquirer. Retrieved 12 December 2019.
  23. "What we do". Costain. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  24. Costain history Archived July 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  25. Hobhouse, Hermione, ed. (1986). Survey of London: Kensington Square To Earl's Court. 42. London County Council. ISBN 0485482428.
  26. Costain: Did you know? - item 27 Archived July 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  27. Deep Water at Bridgetown - Film by Richard Costain Ltd British Film Institute, 1961
  28. Environment Agency Archived September 17, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  29. "Channel Tunnel". Structurae. Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  30. Vorderbrueggen, Lisa (9 August 2013). "Costs of 14 of the most expensive suspension bridges across world". Mercury News. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  31. OnlineWales Internet Ltd. "News Wales > Environment > Cardiff Bay Barrage Report". Retrieved 22 March 2015.
  32. "Building work starts on London hospital". 13 July 2000. Retrieved 22 April 2018.
  33. New Western Ticket Hall opens Archived 2009-01-11 at the Wayback Machine
  34. "TfL awards £300M Bond Street contract to Costain/Laing O'Rourke JV". New Civil Engineer. 4 August 2010. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  35. "HS2 contracts worth £6.6bn awarded by UK government". the Guardian. 17 July 2017. Retrieved 13 October 2017.
  36. "Construction blacklist compensation scheme opens". BBC News: Business. BBC. 4 July 2014. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  37. "Scottish Affairs - Seventh Report Blacklisting in Employment: Final Report". Scottish Affairs Select Committee. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  38. Prior, Grant (4 December 2017). "Unite launches new round of blacklisting legal action". Construction Enquirer. Retrieved 4 December 2017.
  39. Morby, Aaron (29 April 2019). "Industry giants shamed over late payment". Construction Enquirer. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
  40. Prior, Grant (26 July 2019). "Costain reinstated to Prompt Payment Code". Construction Enquirer. Retrieved 29 July 2019.


  • Hartcup, Guy (2011). Code Name Mulberry: The Planning Building and Operation of the Normandy Harbours. Pen & Sword Military. ISBN 978-1848845589.
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