Brick bounces back
Construction was badly hit during the recession and many brick factories were closed or mothballed during the downturn. However, the sector is now on the up and growth is expected to continue this year.
Construction Products Association Economics Director, Dr Noble Francis, says, ‘Construction output is forecast to increase 5.5% in 2015, which is more than double the rate of growth for the UK economy, due to growth in the three key sectors of construction – private housing, commercial and infrastructure. There has been a slowdown in the general housing market but house building continues to drive construction industry growth.’ This is reflected in brick factories being brought back on stream to meet demand.
Wienerberger has created 40 jobs at its Ewhurst brick factory in Surrey, which was reopened by Minister of State for Housing and Planning Brandon Lewis in March, having been mothballed in 2008. As well as producing Terca bricks, the Ewhurst site will make tiles under the Keymer brand, which was added to the Wienerberger portfolio in 2014. Lewis said, ‘To see something so traditional, so quintessentially British, having a life so that it can continue in the future is fantastic.’
The reopening was part of a £25 million investment by Wienerberger to increase its brick production by 200 million units a year. The company had already opened its brick factory in Hartlebury in Worcestershire, invested in technology upgrades, added shifts and new jobs throughout its 14 UK operations, and imported bricks from the continent to boost availability.
Wienerberger UK Managing Director Harald Schwarzmayr says, ‘By investing in materials and individuals we are confident that the housing sector will be able to reach its annual target of 250,000 new properties.’
Government initiatives such as the Help to Buy scheme have boosted the sector, and companies are responding to the upswing. Hanson restarted production at Accrington in January after investing £1.6 million, seven years after the company closed the facility. It had already reopened its Claughton Manor plant near Lancaster and added additional shifts at its factories at Kirton, Desford and Wilnecote in the Midlands. Ibstock has invested more than £22m to redevelop its factory in Chesterton and reopen a manufacturing site in Leicester, adding 125 million bricks to the company’s capacity in 2014.
Michelmersh Brick Holdings has undergone a £2.2m expansion project at its Freshfield Lane brickworks in Sussex. Annual production capacity at the plant has risen by 20%, from 30 million to 36 million bricks. The project includes a new clay preparation area, an additional brick-making machine, extended drier capacity and a new clamp for firing the bricks.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK produced 1.8 billion bricks in 2014, up by 20% on the previous year. Although the 2015 General Election has caused some uncertainty in the sector, Francis adds, ‘Overall, the Construction Products Association forecasts construction output surpassing the pre-recession peak next year, and expects output in 2018 to be 17.9% higher than in 2014. For this to materialise, however, the industry will need to work together with the new government to address the need for greater investment in capacity and skills.’
Housing developments afoot
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