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Suffolk: National shortage of bricks slows housebuilding in county

18:23 26 September 2014

Shortage of bricks

Shortage of bricks

Suffolk is running out of bricks, a leading construction expert has warned.

Housebuilding has picked up at its fastest pace for a decade, prompting a boom in the construction sector across the UK and a national shortage of materials needed to complete the work.

And here in Suffolk, the crisis has reached an all-time high with many projects being halted as a result.

Robert Norman of Framlingham-based Robert Norman Construction, said the dwindling availability of core building materials along with a shortage of skilled labourers posed a serious threat to the future of the sector in the region.

“We are experiencing a period of strong economic growth but brick suppliers are struggling to keep up with the increasing pace of demand after years of stagnation in the industry,” he said.

“Demand for bricks fell dramatically following the recession and housing market crash, putting many suppliers out of business. And others had to cut down dramatically on the amount they were making.

“This spells trouble for us here in Suffolk, where we now have limited suppliers on the doorstep.”

The brick-making industry slumped from 80 brickworks in the UK in 2007 to 50 following the economic downturn.

The last remaining brickworks in Suffolk – Aldeburgh Brickworks – closed in 2011.

Mr Norman said: “Now it can take up to 10 weeks for bricks to make the journey from quarry to lorry which is causing major delays on building sites in the region. We are also suffering hugely with a skills gap.”

When the recession hit, construction contracted by 16.5% in the just three years and more than 350,000 bricklayers, electricians and site managers lost their jobs. In response, the industry cut back on training.

But when the sector began to recover and the Government introduced plans for new housing along with the Help to Buy scheme there was plenty of work – and nobody to do it.

Recent data has revealed the number of vacancies in the industry has risen almost 40% in the past year.

Mr Norman said: “The general consensus in the industry is that there is a real and vital need to recruit. But money is tight and many companies are still struggling to commit to apprenticeships and training after what has been a number of lean years.”

As well as investing in new talent, he said building experts needed to look at expanding their repertoire of building techniques.

“The brick shortage is pushing developers to seek alternative construction methods such as a return to the traditional timber framed buildings and the use of concrete,” he said.

“These are also cost-effective and flexible routes to shorter build times and reduced carbon outputs which we utilise a lot.”

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