The Great British Build-Off: Mitigating supply pressures

Lisa Richardson, glass mineral wool product manager at Knauf Insulation, discusses how the housebuilding industry can reduce the impact of product shortages in a time of political uncertainty.

The construction industry is no stranger to product shortages. They’ve hamstrung the industry’s ability to meet ambitious targets, even during some of its most crucial moments.

At the peak of the recovery, contractors and housebuilders faced a significant shortage of bricks. The costs of bricks rocketed by more than 30 per cent and some projects had to pause for as long as four months during 2014 because of the shortfall.

The housebuilding industry is under considerable pressure to deliver homes at a pace it hasn’t achieved since 1978. While the housing crisis becomes a national political issue, the industry can’t afford another shortage of this scale. Emerging supply shortages could act to compound existing pressures from land availability, planning policy and the construction skills challenge.

Yet, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors’ UK Construction and Infrastructure Market Survey for Q1 this year highlighted that more firms are worried about a lack of materials this year than they were last year.

The UK currently imports 62 per cent of all building materials from the EU, according to ONS statistics for March of this year. Our over-reliance on imports has never been more affecting, either. Continued political uncertainty and the weakened pound is set to create its own pressure on prices.

Concerns within the industry about the issue are well-placed. Recently, there has been a shortage of polyisocyanurate (PIR) insulation, leaving many housebuilders in limbo while they attempt to find replacements.

If developers are to deliver the homes needed to meet government targets, we need to take a two-pronged approach to addressing materials challenges. There needs to be a switch to home-grown manufacturing, and a movement by UK manufacturers to secure supply of the raw materials needed.

We believe the manufacturing industry should work closely with customers to help them achieve their aims, and ensure that product shortages don’t become the downfall of meeting targets. Assessing where there are opportunities to mitigate against shortages, and providing alternatives where possible, is crucial.