Britain needs more bricks to fix the housing market

Britain needs more bricks to fix the housing market

The Bricks Report conducted by the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA), in conjunction with the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr), has revealed that the UK needs 1.4 billion bricks to fix the housing market, an amount equal to the number that would be needed for all the homes in Leicestershire.

A lack of bricks has played a key part in rising house prices over the last ten years, the report finds, with demand for homes continue to massively outstrip the available supply. 

Even if the will is there from contractors to construct new homes at a rapid rate, the UK's construction sector would still rely on 1.4 billion bricks to help resolve the country's housing shortage.

The housing shortage is believed to be around 264,000 units, based on demand and population. Building these homes – with an average UK property consisting of 5,180 bricks – would require the above deficit being closed. 

In theory, the bricks deficit the UK currently has could build some of the country's top attractions several times over, enough for 740 Big Bens, 40 Tower Bridges, 3,090 Manchester Town Halls and 4,540 Warwick Castles.

In all the talk of Brexit and the possible fallout from Britain's vote to leave the EU, one thing that definitely hasn't been spoken about is bricks. 

But June's historic vote could significantly worsen the supply of bricks in the UK, with 85% of all imported clay and cement (primary brick components) arriving from the EU in 2015. 

So, depending on the trade deal Britain strikes with the EU – which is likely to be unclear for a few years yet – the country's brick supply could be even lower thanks to Brexit. 

The shortage of bricks has been a long-term issue, though. Brick stocks steadily decreased between 2008 and 2013, with only a partial recovery in 2014 and 2015. 

Some two-thirds of small and medium-sized construction firms had to face a two-month wait for new bricks last year. Meanwhile, nearly a quarter were waiting for up to four months and 16% had to wait for six to eight months.

There are reasons behind this, not least the slowdown in house-building since the recession took hold in 2008. 

The Coalition government and the current Conservative administration have presided over the lowest level of house-building since the 1930s, although efforts are now being put in place to rectify this. 

The government has promised 1 million new homes by 2020, but whether or not this will happen is still very much for debate. 

The shortage of bricks also comes at a time when houses are smaller than ever – the size of the average UK home has reduced by about 46% in the last 100 years. 

In just the last decade, the size of the average UK home has shrunk by 9%. This can partly be explained by the reduction in size of families, which are generally smaller in the modern world and means that people therefore require less space.

 But financial pressures also have a part to play, according to the NAEA findings. With house prices rising so high in recent years – up by 45% in the last decade – those buying property are now resigned to settling for smaller abodes. 

Even with the smaller size of homes, there still aren't enough bricks to plug the gap. It might sound like a very silly and basic thing – how can there not be enough bricks to build houses? Can't we just get more bricks? - but a shortage has a very real effect and holds up the housebuilding process from start to finish. 

With the uncertainty being caused by Brexit, there are also concerns about where exactly the country is going to get their bricks from.   

Brexit could have another effect too, this time when it comes to skilled labourers. A skills shortage would threaten the number of new homes that could be built. 

Construction-based jobs are decreasing in popularity among domestic workers, with this skills gap often filled by workers from abroad, in particular the EU. It is still unclear what barriers will be placed on free movement of people from the EU, but tougher restrictions on foreign workers would definitely have an impact on the UK's ability to build the required amount of homes. 

Young people are not currently stepping in to fill the void, which has led to calls from trade bodies for government incentives to make construction apprenticeships more appealing. 

Until the shortage in bricks and skilled workers is rectified, any movement forward on building the number of new homes the country needs to resolve its housing crisis is likely to be severely compromised.