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Page last updated at 16:03 GMT, Friday, 19 September 2008 17:03 UK

Fewest UK bricks made since 1940s

By Dhruti Shah
BBC News

Pile of bricks
There is less demand for bricks because of the credit crunch

Brick production in the UK is set to drop to its lowest levels since the 1940s, according to industry experts.

Two of the biggest companies, Ibstock and Wienerberger, have announced that they are closing plants and axing jobs.

They blame the pressures of the credit crunch and the downturn in the housing market resulting in fewer builders buying bricks.

Experts believe fewer than 2bn bricks will be made this year - the first time this has happened in over 60 years.

For the past two years, the figures have stood at 2.4 billion.

Job losses

On Thursday, the UK's biggest brick manufacturer, Ibstock, announced it would close factories at Roughdales in Merseyside and Funton in Kent.

Its factory in Ellistown, Leicestershire will be mothballed.

The same day, the UK's third biggest brick manufacturer - Wienerberger - announced that 71 jobs face the axe at its plant in Kidderminster.

Up to 27 workers will be made redundant from another plant in Eldon in County Durham.

Further shutdowns of plants are expected between Christmas and February. The company had already mothballed two sites in Devon and Surrey in June this year.

Pat Furr, operations director of Wienerberger UK, said the company could not rule out further closures and directly blamed the poor housing market and rising energy costs as the reason behind it.

His words were echoed by Hanson's communication manager David Weeks, who said the UK's second biggest brick manufacturer was in exactly the same situation.

He told the BBC: "The house-builders have put up their shutters and gone home. This industry relies on a conveyor-belt system. The builders used to take the bricks on a daily basis.

"But as soon as it comes to a standstill, we have no chance."

Unaffordable

In August, Hanson shut down its brickworks in Measham in Warwickshire because it could not afford to keep it open any longer.

The business will come back when consumer confidence rises but until then we'll just have to wait
David Weeks
Hanson

It was originally meant to close in 2010 and is being replaced by a new 43 million plant on the same site, but not all its workers will be able to stay on.

Hanson also announced 76 job losses because of the closure of its brick factory in Steerforth, near Barnsley and 13 jobs at its Kings Dyke brickworks in Whittlesey, near Peterborough.

In May, 50 workers lost their jobs at the company's Caernarfon site - it was the last clay brick factory in Wales.

Mr Weeks said: "Our company alone used to produce 1.8 billion bricks but we can't do that because there is no demand.

"The business will come back when consumer confidence rises but until then we'll just have to wait.

"We're in uncharted waters because the effects of the downturn in the market have hit us so quickly."

However, all of the manufacturers said they felt they would be able to supply their clients' needs.

Dr Noble Francis, economics director of the Construction Products Association which represents British manufacturers, said he was not surprised.

He said: "The housing market has been hit incredibly hard and the number of homes built is at its lowest since 1945.

"There has been a domino effect and bricks form a critical part of the building process. Everyone is affected from the house-builders through to the manufacturers."




SEE ALSO
End of an era as brickworks shut
01 May 08 |  North West Wales
Fifty jobs axed in works closure
31 Mar 08 |  North West Wales
Town's name built on red bricks
29 Feb 08 |  North East Wales

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