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Claytech 2015: UK housebuilding to boost clay demand

By Liz Gyekye
Published: Thursday, 19 November 2015

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has recently announced plans to construct new homes for the country's growing population. Expansion in the construction sector and a rebound in house building, which grew 18% last year, will fuel demand for minerals such as fire clay, kaolin and alumino-silicates consumed by the sector.

The UK government's plan to build 1m new homes by 2020 will provide a boost for industrial minerals, such as clays and pigment minerals, needed for the production of construction materials, industry experts told IM today  at the Claytech Conference in Stafford, UK.

house construction Concrete Forms flickr 
A planned house-building boom in the UK is expected to boost demand for clay minerals (source: Concrete Forms). 

Speaking to IM on the sidelines of the conference, Industrial Clay Technology Association (ICTa) chairman, Guy Armitage, said that the clay industry is expanding, with new opportunities appearing along the entire supply chain, from quarrying to the brick-making.

"Ultimately, the mood is a lot more positive than it was four to five years ago. There is not only good demand but new investment in the industry," Armitage told IM. "The country needs more houses and the economy is picking up."

Fire clay, kaolin, ball clay and alumino-silicates are among the industrial minerals typically consumed by the housebuilding brick market.

US-based Prince Minerals Ltd colours the clays used in brick production, and the company's UK managing director, Craig Cherry, told IM that demand for the company's products had increased since the 2008 financial crisis, adding that the sector was picking up again.

The uptick in demand, Cherry said, was reflected in the recent reopening of a brick manufacturing plant in the south of England.

In the north of England, meanwhile, brick maker Hanson Building Products reopened its Lancashire factory in Accrington after shutting its doors seven years ago.

Construction was one of the worst hit sectors in the UK during the last recession, with government figures indicating a 13% contraction of the industry in 2009 and housebuilding falling to an all-time low.

The sector has since picked up however, following a rebound in house prices and continued population growth, and the housebuilding sector grew 18% in 2014, driven by new housing starts as a result of the UK government's "Help to Buy" scheme.

Focus on quality 

However, while demand is increasing, The Red Mason brickwork consultant, Gerard Lynch, warned that the UK needed to raise the bar with craftsman apprenticeships. He described existing programmes as being poor in quality, which is leading to a shortage of bricklayers. 

He added that some bricklayers were not doing justice to the products produced by brick makers and that new craftsmen were needed to replace an ageing workforce.

Elsewhere, British Gypsum's mineral and estates manager, Jeremy Elvins, said that the company was benefiting from mining engineers returning home from working abroad due to the global economic downturn. 

The Leicestershire-based company told IM earlier this year that it makes a concerted effort to reach out to  graduate students via open days and placements to attract the best candidates. 

Although many students choose to go overseas, properly engaging them can make a difference. According to  Dr Andrew Wetherelt, programme director for undergraduate mining at the University of Exeter in the UK: "It’s a good time for the UK industrial minerals market because the numerous overseas opportunities are not currently there."

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