Claytech 2015: UK housebuilding to boost clay demand

By Liz Gyekye
Published: Monday, 30 November 2015

Rebound in house prices lifts new home starts with industrial clay consumption set to rise in UK.

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 at the Claytech Conference in Stafford, UK.

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 co-mpany’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."