29 Jun 2015

The traditional building block of British homes fell out of favour – but now bricks are making a comeback. What’s behind their remarkable fall and rise in popularity?

The conveyor belts are running again. The kiln is fired up to its maximum temperature of 1,025C. Machines stretch clay, cut it into brick shapes and shrink-wrap the the final product in plastic.

Staff in high-visibility jackets ensure quality is maintained. Duds, chipped or smashed, go into skips. Eight million pristine bricks are stacked in the yard, in pallets of 468, ready to transport to builders across the UK.

It wasn’t always like this at Hanson Building Products’ Huncoat brick works, just outside Accrington, east Lancashire, which began operating in the late 19th Century. Huncoat re-opened this January after closing in 2008. For almost seven years only pigeons, security guards and maintenance staff visited.

Huncoat had fallen victim to the same forces that affected the entire UK brick-making industry. When house prices slumped in 2008, so too did demand for building products. And for years bricks were considered old-fashioned by many cutting-edge architects, who often favoured glossier, sparklier finishes.

But they are once again in huge demand. UK manufacturers produced 464 million of them in the first three months of this year – up 5% on the same period of 2014, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This followed a 17% rise from 2013 to 2014.

Bricks and mortar” is synonymous with housing. This persists even though other materials – glass, steel and concrete among them – are available.

“We live on an island that’s quite damp,” says Simon Hay, chief executive of the Brick Development Association. “It also has extremes of temperature. Bricks can withstand it all. That’s why you see so many brick Victorian and Edwardian buildings, which have hardly needed any maintenance since they were built – maybe a bit of re-pointing at most.”

Wood cladding is a feature of many modern buildings but, Hay says, this can wear more rapidly, sometimes becoming unsightly if not maintained.

“At the creative end, for architects, bricks are an incredibly open-ended material, allowing all sorts of interesting designs,” Hay says. Brick buildings, for years overlooked in architectural competitions, have started to figure more prominently. “Of course, most bricks go into housing,” says Hay, “but they’re also becoming more sought-after for top-end design. They’re fashionable.”

To cope with current and anticipated national building demand, brick works have also re-opened in Ewhurst, Surrey, Hartlebury, Worcestershire, and Claughton, north Lancashire. A new plant has started in Chesterton, Staffordshire.

UK brick stocks more than halved from 702 million bricks in 2010 to 349 million last year, according to the ONS. Shortages caused architects to report delays to projects, some taking as long as five years to get completed. But the stocks have recovered a little since then, suggesting brick makers are coming to terms with the situation

The last batch of bricks made at Huncoat in 2008 remains un-emptied in an old, disused shed, its load a ghostly reminder of the building’s former purpose. “There’s nothing as eerie as a deserted brick works,” says Paul Wingfield, manager of the manufacturing plant. “It seems so devoid of life to be in a large building with no one in it.”

But now a new, larger shed next door houses two production lines. Hanson Building Products decided last autumn to re-open the plant. “We had to turn things around in a few months from being a mothballed site to a fully functioning brick works,” says Wingfield. “There’s been so much goodwill towards the place. Lots of people who lost their jobs have applied to work here again, even if they’ve already got jobs elsewhere.”

Bricks from Huncoat are famous for their extreme hardness, allowed by the chemical make-up of the clay gathered from the neighbouring quarry. They became known as “Nori” bricks. The name originated when the word “iron”, denoting their strength, was painted upside down on the works chimney. The resulting misapprehension led to a joke which became a widely used nickname.

Or maybe it was because the moulding of the word on the bricks themselves was back-to-front. No one seems to know. Either way, the name stuck and the quality of Noris became a source of east Lancashire pride. They constituted the foundations of the Empire State Building and the Blackpool Tower. “Next time you visit New York, think Accrington,” novelist Jeanette Winterson, who grew up in the town, has recommended.

These days, most demand for Huncoat’s bricks comes from the domestic market. The plant is about to raise its production to 140,000 bricks a day, about 46 million a year. The workforce is expanding from 32 to 54 next month, the operation moving to 24 hours a day. The procession from clay to finished brick takes about a week

  • Different clays extracted from a number of areas across the country often dictate the colour and properties of the finished brick, providing a clear indication of the clay’s origin
  • Clay bricks and pavers are made up of a great variety of natural clay deposits which together with the firing characteristics of the manufacturing process govern the resulting properties of the brick or paver
  • The clay is crushed and mixed with water to form a pliable material which can be moulded into different shapes and sizes
  • Once fired to a very high temperature it reaches a hard and weather-resistant form
  • Brick Development Association

Huncoat’s re-opening coincided with the design world taking a renewed interest in brick, a material thought to have been invented in Turkey or the Middle East 9,000 years ago.

One of the short-listed entries to Royal Institute of British Architecture’s Stirling Prize last year was the brick-faceted Saw Swee Hock Student Centre at the London School of Economics, which necessitated the manufacture of 6,000 specially shaped bricks to create its irregular shape and latticework. The winner was Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre, which also combined modern design with traditional materials, including an auditorium made from 25,000 reclaimed bricks.

The short list for this year’s Royal Institute of British Architects National Awards – effectively the preliminary stage of the Stirling Prize – shows brick continuing to excite. One nominee, the redevelopment of St Mary of Eton Church in east London, uses a modern red-brick design, interspersed with blue and white, for the exterior of flats. On Wednesday, the Brick Development Association held its first Design Day Brick Works in London. Architects and artists gathered to “celebrate brick as an artistic medium”.

Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne visited Huncoat in January. Osborne called its restart “the strongest possible evidence” of an economic revival.

“If you’d said this time last year that we’d be in this position by the middle of 2015, I would have called you optimistic at best,” Wingfield says. “In brick terms, the Nori was always regarded as a Rolls-Royce and we’ve kept that quality going at Huncoat. It remains to be seen how far we go.”


29 Jun 2015

Government reforms on apprenticeships could indicate a new ‘age of the apprentice’.

According to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), the latest proposals are a positive step. The statement comes after an announcement by Skills Minister Nick Boles MP, that the term ‘apprenticeship’ will be legally protected from misuse. Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “Apprenticeships simply don’t have the status they deserve. The Government’s latest apprenticeship reforms are a positive step – in particular, giving legal protection to the term ‘apprenticeship’ should help tackle its blatant misuse by some organisations in some sectors.

“High quality apprenticeships should be viewed by society just as favourably as university degrees and protecting the term from misuse will help ensure this is the case.” Mr Berry continued, saying the government’s target of three million apprenticeships over the next five years is ‘suitably ambitious’, with reforms required to ensure the proposal is delivered. He said: “As construction accounts for around 7% of GDP, it means our sector should be responsible for around 210,000 of these apprenticeships, which equates to 42,000 a year over the next Parliament. “Given that the industry only achieved 16,000 in 2013/2014, there is a lot of work to be done.”


08 Jun 2015

One million new recruits needed to hit housing targets

Consultant EC Harris claims companies will need to recruit one million new workers by 2020 to meet Government house building targets.

The key trades in demand will be bricklayers, plasterers, scaffolders and roofers while quantity surveyors and architects are in shortest supply among the professions.

Site management will also need a massive boost in numbers to prevent “market failure – where too many firms chase too  few resources – disrupting production on site and  contributing to an inflationary wage spiral.”

EC Harris experts believe that access to labour and money is more important than planning and land availability in determining how the housing crisis should be resolved.

The whitepaper People and money – fundamental to unlocking the housing crisis, focuses on the limits to current house building capacity.

Mark Farmer, Head of Development at EC Harris, said: “Across the UK, approximately 300,000 units need to be constructed each year in order to meet demand.

“We need to think seriously about how we fully enable, at a national level, the development, investment and construction sectors to work together for mutual benefit to radically solve the housing crisis by doubling its output.

“As the industry is currently structured, existing business models make this impossible.

“With the for-sale market constrained by low levels of transactions, the industry has sized itself to deliver no more than 150,000 – 170,000 units a year.

“Only by diversifying demand and by smoothing the cyclical nature of the for-sale market will the necessary incentives be in place to develop new housing products and expand the capacity of the industry.”

The report states the industry employs 1.5 full time workers per dwelling, meaning that delivery of a further 80,000 units – to take UK production up to 230,000 units per annum – will require 120,000 more workers.

But due to growth elsewhere in the industry and high rates of retirement, construction overall faces having to recruit 1 million new people by 2020.

With barely 20,000 trainees entering the industry each year and unemployment at lower levels than in 2007/8, housebuilders will either have to find new sources of skills – for example, sourcing from outside the industry, training new entrants, or migration – or will need to reduce their labour requirements by changing the product using manufacturing techniques.

Farmer said: “This is now about the need for fresh, radical thinking from both industry and government, which respects the existing housebuilding model but also seeks out viable routes to large-scale, additional delivery.”

08 Jun 2015

Government announces new degree apprenticeships in surveying and engineering

The prime minister David Cameron has announced plans for nine new industry designed degree apprenticeships, including in chartered surveying and engineering.

Businesses, universities and colleges will work together to develop practical degree courses that combine the academic knowledge of a traditional university degree with practical experience.

Apprentices will split their time between normal university study and get a full degree, while earning a wage and getting real on-the-job experience in their chosen profession.

Degree apprenticeships will be offered in chartered surveying, electronic systems engineering, defence systems engineering and power engineering among others.

They are co-designed by employers to boost the employment prospects of apprentices.

Some of the courses will also lead to professional registration or chartered status with a professional body.

So far, more than 100 companies are working with 20 universities, and 70 universities have expressed an interest in offering degree apprenticeships in the future.

Degree apprenticeships are expected to be suitable for small and large businesses, giving SME firms better access to graduate talent.

They will follow the apprenticeship trailblazer funding model, with the government contributing two-thirds of the total cost of the degree course and employers contributing the other third.

Mr Cameron said: “Degree apprenticeships will give people a great head start, combining a full degree with the real practical skills gained in work and the financial security of a regular pay packet.

“They will bring the world of business and the world of education closer together, and let us build the high-level technical skills needed for the jobs of the future.

“I want to see many more businesses and universities begin to offer them.”

01 Jun 2015

Welcome to the latest edition of Construction Infonet

Construction Infonet is a free eBulletin from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to provide a regular update on health and safety issues for all in the construction industry.
Hard hats

1. CDM 2015

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM 2015) came into force on 6 April 2015.

HSE has received many enquires on CDM 2015 and we will be updating our webpages with further information in due course. In the meantime, here are a couple of answers to some frequently asked questions.

Maintenance & Facilities Management (FM)

Q.        Does CDM 2015 apply to all maintenance work?

A.        The definition of maintenance work has not changed. If the task in hand looks like construction work, requires construction skills and uses construction materials, it is construction work. General maintenance of fixed plant which mainly involves mechanical adjustments, replacing parts or lubrication is unlikely to be construction work.

If the maintenance work is construction work, and there is only one contractor, no Principal Contractor (PC) or Principal Designer (PD) appointment is required. If more contractors are brought in, then a PC and PD need to be appointed for that particular project.

All construction work under CDM 2015 requires planning, but the plan for smaller jobs should be simple, short and proportionate to the risks.

Q.        I have a term contract with a maintenance or FM contractor. (Typically 1- 3 years). Do I need to notify this as a project under CDM 2015?

A.        A term appointment by contract does not in itself trigger notification. CDM 2015 requires “projects” to be notified. If the term contract includes work which is deemed to be a single project, and the project lasts more than 30 days, and at any time during that period there are more than 20 workers on site at one time, or lasts 500 person days, then the project becomes notifiable. Separate maintenance tasks carried out at separate locations, on separate buildings, do not automatically accumulate to form a single project.  Note that notification is now a stand-alone duty; it does not trigger any other duties.

Whether the project is notifiable, or not, as above, a PC is required for those projects where more than one contractor is, or is likely to be, involved. In these cases a PD should also be appointed, but a contractor (probably the PC) may well have the necessary skills knowledge and experience to act as PD in those cases where the design work, or pre construction planning, is straightforward.

A PC on smaller jobs needs to have a co-ordinating, planning, and managing role, but does not need to be on site or in close supervision, all the time. The emphasis HSE expects is on management, not on direct supervision. It is the contractors’ duty to provide supervision.

A term- contractor may act as PC, if they have the skills knowledge and experience, or the role can be given to a suitably qualified contractor who is brought in. This decision is in the gift of the client, who needs to take into account the risks of the work involved and the capabilities of his or her term contractor.

Self Build

The Self Build Portal website contains some useful scenarios provided by HSE about how CDM 2015 applies to self builders.

2. SAFETY NOTICE: EARTH MOVING MACHINERY – Changes to visibility requirements

On 28 January 2015, a warning published in the Official Journal (OJ) of the European Commission came into effect removing the presumption of conformity from EN 474-1:2006 +A4:2013 Earth Moving Machinery – Safety – General Requirements in respect of visibility. This means that compliance with this standard will no longer automatically assure compliance with the Essential Health and Safety Requirements (EHSRs) of the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC, particularly EHSR 3.2.1. Driving Position, concerning visibility from the operator’s position.

Action required

Manufacturers and importers of Earth Moving Machinery within the scope of EN 474-1 should review the conformity assessment of their product ranges in respect of visibility from the operator’s position to ensure continued compliance. Where necessary they should then implement improvements to affected products.

If this affects you please read the Safety Notice


A round up of some recent HSE prosecutions and enforcement action in the construction sector and links to relevant advice.

Fragile roofs/surfaces

16/04/15: Owner of South Devon animal crematorium fined after a self-employed agricultural engineer, repairing holes in a cement fibre roof, fell 6.6 metres to his death

21/04/15: Firm firmed after worker’s roof fall causes ‘life-threatening’ injuries

28/04/15: Roofworker seriously injured falling through an unprotected roof light opening at school

19/05/15: A roofer and a national timber supplier prosecuted after a labourer plunged more than eight metres to his death at a site in Tottenham

Further information

Free leaflet – Fragile roofs

Busy Builder leaflet –Fragile roofs: What you need to know as a busy builder, contractor or maintenance worker

Busy Builder leaflet – Fragile roofs: What you need to know as a building owner, user or managing agent 

Working at height

01/04/15: Fall from height leads to fine for Hertfordshire company

07/04/15: Fine for Stockport firm after worker falls from height

21/04/15: Construction client in court after concerns raised over work at height

28/04/15: Lewisham roofing company in court over worker fall

05/05/15: Roofing firm fined after worker suffered life changing injuries

14/05/15: Crawley scaffolder fined for unsafe working at height

19/05/15: Home builder in court for platform collapse

19/05/15: Business man jailed after worker killed after fall from roof at Blackburn mill

21/05/15: Development company guilty of repeated breaches of the Work at Height Regulations

Further information

Construction Safety Topic – Assessing all work at height

Free leaflet – Roofwork – what you need to know as a busy builder 

Basement work

13/04/15: Two Sheffield brothers jailed for safety failures after a building collapse left three injured, up to 20 people temporarily homeless, and nearby properties evacuated

Further information

Construction Safety Topic – Structural stability 


19/05/15: Contractor in court after section of roof fell on worker 

Further information

Construction Safety Topic – Alteration, demolition and dismantling 


23/0/15: Fatality at construction site leads to fine – 21 year old worker electrocuted whilst carrying out works in the communication room in a basement on a construction site

Further information

Construction Safety Topic – Electricity – Systems in buildings 


29/04/15: Contractor fined for potential asbestos risk

05/05/15: Dover Man guilty of asbestos removal

12/05/15: Cheshire firm in court after workers potentially exposed to asbestos

Further information

Asbestos health and safety

Cancer and construction: Asbestos 


21/04/15: Pembrokeshire contractor fined for safety breaches at Wildlife Park 

Further information

Construction Safety Topic – Telescopic handlers 

Protecting the public

01/04/15: Liverpool property firm fined after dangerous work at height without adequate protection to public  

Further information

Construction Safety Topic – Protecting the public


Improve the health and safety of your business by attending a health and safety event near you. Most of the Working Well Together (WWT) events we list are FREE and all provide an opportunity to meet like-minded people, see interesting new equipment and get confidential advice.

Find your nearest WWT Group and get involved.

Places are still available at the following Working Well Together (WWT) events

04 June 2015 – FREE Scaffold and Safe Access Event, Leicester Football Club

04 June 2015 – FREE Asbestos Awareness events, Blackburn

11 June 2015 – FREE Asbestos Awareness events, Preston

18 June 2015 – FREE Asbestos Awareness events, Kirkham 

Other events

Managing Health Risks in Construction Seminar– 16 July 2015

This seminar, run by HSL, will provide a unique opportunity to influence the type of support required by the industry to effect a change on health risk management. It will be of interest to employers, contractors, health and safety manages and others with responsibilities for health under the Construction Design and Management Regulations.


CDM 2015

L153 – Managing health and safety in construction – CDM 2015: Guidance on Regulations is now available to purchase from HSE Books

INDG411 – Need building work done? A short guide for clients on CDM 2015 (rev) Construction Phase Plan for small projects (CDM 2015) – CIS80

Industry guidance for dutyholders

CITB CDM wizard app for a construction phase plan  


Mythbusters Challenge Panel – Case 355 – Construction site bans use of 230v tools  


National Access & Scaffolding Confederation (NASC) – NASC Safety Report 2015

01 Jun 2015

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 came into force last month, but misunderstandings remain over principal designers and CDM co-ordinators

So, 6 April 2015 has come and gone, CDM 2015 is now in force and we must all work out exactly how to comply with

  1. There seem to be various

misunderstandings around, particularly over principal designers and CDM co-ordinators. For instance:

Does the lead designer have to be the principal designer?

There is absolutely no requirement in the regulations that the lead designer has to take on the role of the principal designer.

In many cases a lead designer may not have the necessary skills or knowledge to do so.

All the regulations require is that the principal designer must be a designer and that they must have control over the health and safety aspects of the pre-construction phase, which is the period when preparation and design work is being carried out. Quite often this period lasts until nearly the end of the project, as design changes are frequently made at an advanced stage of construction.

The “control” which the regulations refer to relates entirely to health and safety issues. The CDM regulations are not the government’s attempt to tell us how to run projects or who should be in contract with each other: they are subsidiary legislation made under the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 which is concerned, obviously, with health and safety at work.

Any statement in any guidance or elsewhere to the contrary has no legal effect: the regulations are entirely clear that their focus is health and safety only.

Does the lead designer automatically become the principal designer?

On a commercial project a lead designer will not fi nd that he has somehow become the principal designer without a conscious decision to take on the role. The regulations require that the appointment of a principal designer must be in writing. The usual rules apply: it is not sufficient for the client to write to the lead designer and say: “You will be the principal designer from date x.” The lead designer must also write back and accept that appointment. In addition, there should be a reference to payment for these extra services. Unless the principal designer is paid, a client will not be able to satisfy its obligation to “make suitable arrangements for managing a project, including the allocation of suffi cient time and other resources” (Regulation 4(1)).

Equally, it would be impossible for a principal designer to carry out the obligations of that role properly without spending time and effort on them.

Can there still be a CDM co-ordinator on a project?

Where a CDM co-ordinator has been appointed before 6 April 2015 they can still continue in that role until at the latest 6 October 2015, or the date on which the project is completed if that is earlier. The duties of the CDM co-ordinator during that period are broadly similar to their previous duties under CDM 2007.

So we will still see CDM co-ordinators around for the next six months. The role will gradually be phased out because as soon as a client appoints a principal designer, the CDM co-ordinator’s role finishes and the principal designer will take up his/her duties.

Can CDM co-ordinators act as principal designers?

If someone who previously acted as a CDM co-ordinator is given control over the health and safety aspects of the pre-construction phase (which will usually be done as part of an appointment) and is also a designer, there is no reason why they cannot take on the role of principal designer.

“Principal designer” is simply a label for the role, and it is important to look at the actual functions of the principal designer, largely as set out in regulations 11 and 12. The label itself is to some extent irrelevant; it does not mean that the principal designer must be the main designer on the project. An individual or organisation may not do any design at all on a project, but could still be the principal designer for the project.

The principal designer must of course actually be a designer and this is widely defined in the regulations to include not only those we would think of as designers, but also anyone who “arranges for, or instructs, any person under their control” to prepare or modify a design.

The HSE guidance on CDM 2015, L153, although it does not have any statutory force, refers to a variety of roles which include design, such as temporary work engineers, chartered surveyors, technicians, specialist subcontractors and, of course, the client itself.