HS2 and lack of lorry drivers cause cement shortage across the Black Country

Builders across the West Midlands are experiencing difficulty in getting their hands on many basic materials.

Shaun O'Reilly was left empty handed after searching builders' merchants for cement
Shaun O'Reilly was left empty handed after searching builders' merchants for cement

Builders’ merchants are seeing record levels of demand with projects of all sizes are pressing ahead as the coronavirus crisis nears an end.

Shaun O’Reilly from Hordern Crescent, Quarry Bank, who carries out design and craft work including sculptures, was shocked to be told about the shortage when he visited Wickes at Oak Park, Dudley Road, Brierley Hill, to get bags of cement.

Shaun needed it for a project he was carrying out to build a wooden pagoda for a customer in Guys Lane, off Himley Road, Gornalwood.

He was told builders’ merchants couldn’t get supplies of cement and sand and that demand from the huge high speed rail HS2 project was one of the reasons.

“I went to a smaller builders’ merchants nearby and they said the same,” he added.

He eventually rang around a dozen different builders’ merchants and finally was able to find bags of cement available at Travis Perkins in Peartree Lane, Dudley.

Shaun said that builders were also experiencing rising prices locally for timber and plastic guttering.

“We are being told that part of the reason for the rises is the shortage of shipping containers,” he added.

“It is becoming a real problem for builders. If we can’t get things like cement and sand then we can’t do the work we are paid for.”

People carrying out DIY home improvement projects and self-employed builders are also being hit.

Wickes in Brierley Hill confirmed that they were experiencing rising demand for cement.

“As soon as fresh deliveries come in it is selling out very quickly. We are being told that HS2 is taking priority over everything,” a manager, who did not wish to be named, said.

Discount Builders Merchants in Bloomfield Road, Tipton, also confirmed that they were seeing shortages of some products and that it was being experienced by merchants across the wider Black Country.

The Construction Leadership Council has warned that the “unprecedented” materials shortage in the construction sector will continue well into the second half of this year.

Timber and roof tiles are also among the materials in short supply.

Builders Merchants Federation chief executive John Newcomb says record demand for building materials and full pipelines of work are behind the problems.

Demand both in the UK and globally is continuing to outstrip supply and it shows few signs of slowing during the seasonally busy summer months.

The CLC also warns that it is feeding into price inflation with the expectation that high demand coupled with tight supply will sustain elevated prices throughout the year.

Insulation boards are also facing a supply squeeze and plasterboard suppliers are struggling to keep up with material deliveries.

Also adding to the supply problem is a shortage of HGV drivers.

The construction industry is faced with 15,000 fewer haulier drivers due to Brexit, while 30,000 HGV driver tests were also postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Electrical products are in further short supply, due to a shipping backlog in China’s Pearl River Delta.

The blockade is worse than the Suez Canal blockade in March, according to the Electrical Contractors Association.

Mineral Products Association chief executive Nigel Jackson says that cement shortages should be resolved this summer as the majority of the material is produced in the UK.

Timber and steel, though, rely on imports which leaves them vulnerable to trade difficulties and haulier issues.

There has also been a nationwide shortage of timber since the first lockdown in March last year and imports will be an issue for the foreseeable future.

Roughly half of National Federation of Roofing Contractors members have reported a shortage of concrete roof tiles, according to the federation’s chief executive, James Talman.

Around 60 per cent of imported materials used in UK construction projects comes from the EU and increased congestion has been reported at UK ports since the turn of the year, leading to delays.

The Federation of Master Builders’ last State of Trade survey revealed that 93 per cent of its members had reported material price increases in the first quarter of 2021.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the FMB, said: “Product availability is proving to be a significant and prolonged issue for Britain’s builders, and consumers need to be aware that the cost of their building projects may change in the months ahead because of this pressure.”

Sorry, we are not accepting comments on this article.

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News