Can Britain produce the bricks needed for 250,000 homes?
Brick manufacturers in this country are increasing their output to help politicians from all the main parties deliver on their promises to build up to 300,000 new homes every year by 2020.
But the stark truth is that this country no longer has the capacity to produce the 2 billion bricks needed to build the 250,000 homes every year that are needed to solve the country’s housing crisis.
This is because about 30 brick manufacturing plants in the UK have closed or been mothballed since the housing market crash of 2007/08.
In 2014, brick production in this country increased by more than 17% when compared with the previous 12 months, according to the Office for National Statistics.
For the first time since 2009, over 1.8 billion bricks were produced in the UK last year. And that figure is expected to grow by a further 10% in 2015.
To put this into context, only about 1.5 billion bricks were produced in the UK in 2012.
The increase in brick production over the past few years has been kick-started by a recovery in housebuilding. Official statistics show 137,010 homes were started in 2014, a rise of 10% on 2013 but only about half the number of new-builds needed.
Since the Barker Review of Housing Supply was published in 2004, it has been widely accepted that the UK needs at least 250,000 homes per year to meet demand.
While commitments from both the Conservative and Labour parties to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020 fall short of economist Kate Barker’s recommendation, it does means Britain will be in the midst of a building boom for at least the next five years.
The brick industry has responded by reopening four previously mothballed plants since the turn of the year and made substantial investments to increase capacity at other facilities.
Brick manufacturer Wienerberger, for example, reopened one plant in Worcestershire last summer and a second in Surrey last month. With both factories back on stream, Britain’s brick manufacturing capacity increased by 200 million units – the amount needed for about 25,000 new homes.
The Brick Development Association, which represents the UK and Ireland’s clay brick and paver industries, acknowledges the steps taken to meet the anticipated demand for more bricks are a significant undertaking for individual manufacturers.
“The planning and construction of a new manufacturing plant is likely to cost around £50m,” explains BDA chief executive Simon Hay.
This means politicians’ attempts to increase the number of homes in Britain could come at a high cost. A skills shortage in the British labour market is already seeing bricklayers command wages of £1000 a week and it will be difficult for UK brick manufacturers to resist the temptation to raise their prices when demand for their products outstrips supply.
But for the whole UK construction industry to gain maximum benefit from politicians’ attempts to get Britain building its greatest amount of new homes for a generation, we must charge a fair price for our services and products.
Any other response will see brick manufacturers in Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands take advantage, or the funding for mass building programmes run out and the politicians’ brave bid to provide the affordable homes that Britain needs scuppered.
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