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Weakness persists for heavyside building materials – MPA market sales survey

Mineral Products Association

3 min read Partner content

New figures from the Mineral Products Association (MPA) bring into focus the plight of a depressed British construction industry and the need for a robust growth plan.

The MPA has released the results of its quarterly members’ survey detailing 2024Q1 sales volumes for primary aggregates, asphalt, ready-mixed concrete, and mortar, collectively seen as an important barometer for the construction industry as a whole.

The survey highlights continued challenges within the construction industry, resulting in persistent declines in demand across key markets for mineral products.

Despite a modest increase in primary aggregates sales of 1.1% over the last quarter, the overall trend across all markets monitored remains subdued, reflecting the impact of UK economic stagnation, high interest rates and a diminishing pipeline of new construction projects over the past 18 months.

Extreme weather conditions, including storms and record rainfall, further compounded the situation at the start of 2024, impacting work on construction sites and demand for building materials. This is likely to result in extended project timelines, rather than any significant catch-up in demand during the spring.

Mortar– the cumulative impact of these trends means that mortar sales – critical for bonding bricks, blocks and masonry – have dropped to their lowest volumes since 2014 (excluding covid-impacted 2020Q2), with a 27.5% decline in demand since the most recent peak in 2022Q3. This is attributed to falling housing demand and the knock-on implications for new housing construction since the Truss-Kwarteng budget debacle in October 2022, which precipitated significant increases in mortgage costs

Concrete - similarly, ready-mixed concrete sales have plummeted to historically low levels, hit by the contraction in housebuilding, which compounded longer-term weaknesses in demand from new commercial offices and retail projects which have been subdued since 2017.

Asphalt - the road sector has faced significant cost pressures over the past two years, leading to project delays and cancellations on the National Highways roads programme, and strained road funding for local authorities, resulting in asphalt sales falling to levels last recorded more than a decade ago in 2013.

Aggregates - demand for primary aggregates has been supported by the requirement for bulk fill materials on major infrastructure projects, particularly from HS2, but the lack of significant new infrastructure projects outside of the country’s only major rail scheme remains a concern.

Commenting on the findings, Aurelie Delannoy, MPA Director of Economic Affairs said: "The latest survey results underscore the persistent challenges faced by the mineral products sector in Great Britain. Weak economic growth, high inflation, high interest rates and construction project delays have collectively contributed to subdued demand across all major areas of construction. There are signs that construction activity may be beginning to stabilise, but lingering concerns over high costs, uncertainties surrounding future construction plans, and rising contractor failures are expected to impede any significant recovery in mineral products sales until at least 2025.

“As the General Election approaches, MPA urges all parties to prioritise a robust return-to-growth plan, anchored by the timely delivery of the infrastructure pipeline. Streamlining planning processes for housing is important, but the Government must also tackle the significant cost pressures affecting infrastructure projects and local spending. Investing in local road repairs, upgrading transport networks, and delivering the housing, schools, hospitals, and energy infrastructure the UK economy needs are critical for both short-term and long-term growth, as well as advancing our goals to address climate change and sustainability. The mineral products industry stands ready to supply the essential materials needed.”

Figure 1. Mineral products sales volumes in Great Britain, 2014 Q1-2024 Q1

Table showing Figure 1. Mineral products sales volumes in Great Britain, 2014Q1-2024Q1

Table 1. MPA sales volumes in GB: change on the previous period (seasonally adjusted)

Table breaking down sales

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