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House-building boosts construction activity but infrastructure projects fail to materialise

1 Feb 19 Surging mortar sales indicates that house-building in Great Britain remained buoyant in 2018 but faltering concrete sales suggest an industry in limbo, waiting for planned infrastructure projects to get going.

Mortar sales reached a record high in 2018
Mortar sales reached a record high in 2018

Latest data from the Mineral Products Association (MPA) show volumes of mortar sales at their highest level since records began in 2004.

The majority of mortar sales take place within six months of house-building projects starting, so increased volumes indicate that new starts also grew during 2018.

Year-on-year mortar volumes increased by 14.3%, despite dropping by 1% in the fourth quarter. This trend suggests more cause for optimism than other market indicators such as Office for National Statistics data on brick deliveries, which show just a 1.6% increase in the 12 months to Q3 2018.

Beyond house-building, the wider picture of construction demand for construction mineral products is more muted, reflecting an industry still waiting for major projects to get going.

Ready mixed concrete sales volumes fell 1.6% nationally in 2018, weighed down by reduced demand in London, where sales declined by 4.8%. 

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The MPA’s analysis shows that the southern regions of England and Wales led asphalt sales in 2018, indicative of roadbuilding and maintenance activity, contributing to a 0.7% growth nationally and offsetting declines in most other regions.  Many Highways England projects appear to have been pushed to the back end of the current spending periods. 

Aurelie Delannoy, director of economic affairs at the MPA, said: “Like many sectors, construction is awaiting the outcome of Brexit negotiations, but our data shows that Great Britain is still building despite the uncertainty. In particular, strong mortar sales indicate continuing new house-building projects in 2018.  Our analysis, based on actual sales and on-the-ground activity rather than sentiment, suggests this has been higher than forecasted by other metrics.

“Elsewhere, the picture for the industry is more muted as we wait for several major infrastructure schemes to make the leap from the planning phase to the construction site.  Policymakers and clients need to be mindful that the critical mineral resources that underpin our built environment don’t flow from a tap, and preparations to ensure a ready supply need to begin early in a project’s lifecycle.”

The MPA represents more than 520 companies across the £20bn sector.  Its sales data is seasonally adjusted and drawn from the MPA membership which covers 100% of GB cement production, 90% of aggregates, 95% of asphalt and more than 70% of ready mixed and precast concrete production.

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