Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne visited Accrington brick works today (Jan 8) to mark the restart of production, seven years after the Lancashire factory was mothballed. Around £1.4 million has been invested and 30 jobs created to bring the works back into production as regional and national demand for bricks continues to rise.
The visit was part of a two day tour of north-west England by the Prime Minister and Chancellor to set out the government’s long-term economic plan for the region, showing what has been delivered, what is under way and what more can be done to build a ‘Northern Powerhouse’.
They were hosted by CEO Patrick O’Shea and building products managing director Stephen Harrison and given a tour of the factory, where they met members of the workforce.
George Osborne said: “A key part of the government’s long term plan is ensuring that we build an economic recovery for all parts of the country, including the north west. That’s why I’m delighted to be here in Accrington in the week that Forterra restarted brick making in the town. The closure of the brickworks was a painful symbol of how our economy has suffered in recent years, and its re-opening is the strongest evidence possible that Britain and the north west are coming back, and are once again on course to prosperity.”
Brick production at Accrington stopped in 2008 as house building across the country slumped to an all-time low. The kiln was shut down and 83 workers lost their jobs with a crew of just six remaining on site to sell off remaining stock. There was a temporary respite in 2009 when the factory re-opened for a short spell, but it proved to be a false dawn and the site was finally closed and put up for sale in October 2012.
The climate changed mid-way through 2013 when a dramatic upturn in housing starts, fuelled by the government’s ‘Help to Buy’ programme, created a renewed and sustained demand for bricks. The nearby Claughton Manor plant near Lancaster was brought back into production in January last year – the first time a brick works had ever been “de-mothballed”. And additional shifts were added at the midlands factories at Kirton, Desford and Wilnecote.
Demand continued to outstrip supply, so a decision was taken in May to re-open the Accrington factory, which has the capacity to turn out 45 million bricks a year.
The re-start is being carried out in two stages with phase one completed and phase two, which will require further investment of around £350,000, following later this year. There is a plentiful supply of raw materials – the adjoining quarry has 30 to 40 years of clay reserves.
John Stewart, director of economic affairs at the Home Builders Federation said: “Since the launch of Help to Buy there has been a big increase in house building activity. Material suppliers have stepped up and increased production to meet the new level of demand. As well as providing the homes we need this increase in house building has created thousands of new jobs on sites and in the supply chain, boosting local economies up and down the country.”
Bricks have been manufactured at the Huncoat site near Accrington since 1887. They are made from fire clay and are so strong and durable that they become known in the trade as iron bricks. At one time the works chimney had the letters IRON painted vertically on it with the N at the top, prompting locals to call it the NORI brick factory. Red Nori bricks were used in the foundations of the Blackpool Tower and the Empire State Building in New York as well as in thousands of houses, factories and schools throughout northern England.