Founding Director Retires from ABG Geosynthetics

35 years ago, as a young civil engineer, Alan Bamforth saw the opportunity to start up in business as a Consultant Supplier, acting as the interface between the new rapidly developing geosynthetics industry and the UK Civil Engineering fraternity. The issue then and still to this day, is that traditional materials are embedded in the system via standards, codes, regulations and trusted methods of working. The utilisation of geosynthetics in major projects required specialist expertise and trust from an influencer. An early success for ABG was the incorporation of fin drains as Clause 514 of the Specification for Highway Works.

After a couple of years, things took an unexpected direction when a UK producer of geocomposite drainage closed down and offered the manufacturing equipment for sale and after a brief alliance with a partner, ABG became a producer of geocomposites for sub-surface drainage of ground water. In 1995 the proposed draft Landfill Directive gave an opportunity for Alan to promote the use of geocomposite drainage into containment systems by producing the World’s first wide width geocomposite. The steadily expanding firm required additional expertise and Goran Erak, Peter van Ruiten, Alek Jovetic and Liz Bamforth joined the senior management. Another World first came in 2000 with the development of a tunnel invert drainage system for a project in Hong Kong and this system is now used worldwide.

It was obvious that the use of geocomposites in major civil engineering projects was saving time and cost but Alan knew that they could also help to benefit the environment, particularly as an essential part of green roofs on buildings. Through participation in WRAP and a CIRIA steering committee, guidance in the form of Report MRF116-001 and C644 Building Greener was launched and this together with a revamp of BREEAM points and strong planning controls in cities such as London and Sheffield, led developers to embrace green roofs in the UK. To capitalize on this and promote the benefits of geocomposites, ABG formed a division led by Stephen Humberstone to focus on applications in buildings and green roofs. Geogreen was also created as a contracting company specializing in the installation of green roofs.

So far, ABG was focused on ground water but Alan also took a great interest in the work on SuDS at Abertay University. Surface water drainage by traditional methods employed gullies and pipes leading to outfalls to rivers. This Victorian system was no longer Fit for Purpose due to climate change and urban expansion. The new concept of SuDS offered a solution whereby rainfall was controlled at source and the responsibility for surface water rested with the developer. Surface water drainage was now focused on attenuation rather than transportation. Scotland’s lead was followed by England and Wales and participation on another CIRIA committee led to guidance in the form of the C753 SuDS Manual. ABG was now able to develop and patent a blueroof system that held stormwater on the roof of a building. Investment in a TRM production line also gave ABG a unique position in the UK flood defence and soil erosion control market.

The scientists and governments of the World took time to agree that climate change is happening and that humankind is the root cause, but at last everyone is now aware of the need to control carbon emissions. The early work by WRAP had identified the carbon savings of geosynthetics compared to traditional methods. Richard Heritage, whilst at ABG, took this a stage further and produced a market leading LCA for the ABG range of geocomposites. Based on this work, Alan gave the 2019 BGA invitational lecture, illustrating how the role of geocomposites had changed during the course of his career. The focus of the world is now on carbon but ultimately for survival, the focus will have to turn to population reduction.

For 35 years, work and life have been intertwined for Alan (and Liz) and leaving ABG will mean that new ideas will have to be focused in other areas. Building a company has been challenging at times but on the whole, working with soil and water whilst pioneering geocomposite drainage applications around the world has been fun. It has never been a sole effort and ABG has great products, a great team and a great reputation. There will be further innovations and future successes as ABG continues to provide trusted advice and designs into the future under the leadership of Andrew Leech.