Brick manufacturing rises to meet housebuilding challenge

Published:  11 May, 2015

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released today (11 May 2015) reveal that 464m bricks were produced in the UK during the first quarter of 2015, a rise of 22m bricks or 5% from the same period in 2014.

This comes on top of a rise of 17% during 2014 (to 1.8bn bricks) compared to 2013 and demonstrates how the brick industry has reacted strongly to meet increased demand from housebuilders.

Four previously mothballed brick manufacturing plants were brought back into use during 2014 in Ewhurst, Accrington, Hartlebury and Claughton, with a new manufacturing plant also opened in Chesterton. As the impact of this additional capacity reaches the market the Brick Development Association (BDA) – representing 99% of the UK brick manufacturers – estimates that output numbers will rise to 2bn bricks in 2015. The recent announcement of plans to build a manufacturing plant in Leicestershire suggests that the brick industry is confident housebuilding will continue to grow over the medium term.

The majority of bricks manufactured in the UK go to new housebuilding and figures from the Construction Products Association conclude that the number of new houses completed during 2014 – at 140,072 – was 7% up on 2013.

At the start of the surge in housebuilding there was a shortage of bricks as manufacturers geared up production and customers rediscovered the discipline of forward-scheduling orders.

Current production numbers have addressed the majority of the shortages. Stock levels are stable and comparable with increasing production and there are now 415m bricks in stock, up 5% from a low point in 2014 – suggesting that manufacturing is now keeping pace with demand.

As supply issues tightened, the number of imported bricks has risen. Imported products, mainly from Holland and Belgium, contributed more than 400m bricks to the 2014 supply.

All the major political parties have suggested a target to build at least 200,000 houses per year, with housebuilding completions rising steadily towards this total over the life of the next government. With the brick industry able to deliver a rising number of bricks into the market in 2015, the manufacturers have demonstrated that they are able to make substantial investments in manufacturing plants to increase production, providing there is stable demand.

Residual challenges still face the industry, mainly for smaller contractors who may not be in a position to secure their orders in advance. With over 1,200 brick types in the UK, particular products may not be available, but there will generally be a suitable alternative available.

Simon Hay, chief executive officer of the BDA, said: “After a difficult few years for brick manufacturers in the UK it is heartening to see how quickly and how dramatically they have increased production to meet demand. It is also fantastic to see this vibrant and forward-thinking industry prepared to invest in reopening mothballed plants, and the recent news of an entirely new plant further demonstrates the brick manufacturers’ readiness to respond to the increase in housebuilding volume. When the volume of new housebuilding starts to grow closer to the 200,000 a year target, the brick industry will satisfy demand.”

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