UK brick imports are on the rise, as construction firms struggle to find brick supplies. With domestic brick makers unable to satisfy the nation’s ever-increasing demands, the UK is relying on imported bricks to keep the country building.
The UK’s reliance on imported bricks is historical. Domestic brick production halved as a result of the 2008 recession, with many plants mothballed, or closed permanently. When the housing market picked up in 2014-15, bricks were already in short supply. By 2019, the UK was the largest importer of bricks in the world, importing $33.4 million in bricks from the Netherlands, Spain, France, Denmark, Portugal and Turkey.
In June 2021, Government figures reported that brick inventories had plummeted to a 20-year low. This year, the UK will import bricks to an estimated value of £135.8 million. UK production capacity cannot meet the demand for bricks and roof tiles, and is unlikely to for at least another year, Construction News reports.
The Covid-19 pandemic temporarily halted construction work. The pandemic resulted in delays at shipping ports, which are likely to continue until late 2022. A shortage of drivers added to the transport challenges facing suppliers of construction material.
Increasing inflation and rising energy costs have already forced brick manufacturing plants in Spain, Italy, and Portugal to cut production, and with further volatility in the natural gas markets due to the Russo-Ukrainian war, further plants may cease to manufacture. Material costs rose every month between September 2021 and September 2022, and the trend continues: according to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, contractors were paying an average of a fifth more for materials at the beginning of 2022, than in 2021. Add to these challenges the shortage of skilled labour available, and it’s easy to see why so many construction businesses have suffered.
Noble Francis, of the Construction Products Association, said:
“In terms of skills shortages, in some hotspots of activity where house building, refurbishment and infrastructure is buoyant, there have been shortages of skilled (and even unskilled) construction labour since Spring 2021. This has been exacerbated by the fall in EU labour. Most construction trades are not on the government’s Shortage Occupation List.”
The National Federation of Builders (NFB) and House Builders Association (HBA) say material shortages are obstructing the government from realising its house building and construction ambitions. Both bodies are calling on the government to allow greater flexibility on which construction materials can be used.
Building a future
The UK is bringing on line three new brickmaking plants and production is likely to commence in 2023/2024. By then, the combined annual output is anticipated to be at an estimated 150 million bricks.
In the meantime, the industry must continue to rely on imported bricks from the EU. As well as further afield including India, Pakistan and the Asia-Pacific region.
“We have quickly developed a global network of manufacturers that we work closely with to develop brick types which are made to look olde-worlde or reclaimed.”
Dean Royle, Managing Director
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