Europe’s biggest brick factory has started production. Northampton-based Forterra has spent £95 million building the plant in the west Leicestershire countryside, which it said was the most efficient operation of its kind.
The Desford factory will be able to make 180 million bricks a year – enough to produce 25,000 new homes – and 120 million more bricks than the capacity of the old factory on the site which closed down at the end of March. On a company-wide scale the increase in capacity represents potential growth of around 22 per cent.
The official launch came as the business announced profits for the first four months of the year were down almost a quarter at £109 million, and a forecast that sales this year would be down 20 per cent on 2022.
Forterra said with the new factory becoming operational at a time of subdued demand then it would need to introduce “disciplined capacity management”. It is consulting on measures to temporarily cut production, including mothballing its Howley Park brick factory, in West Yorkshire.
Despite the slowdown in demand – due to the general contraction in UK construction – Forterra said it expected market conditions to improve this year, and said sales would also be helped by a slowdown of imported bricks.
It said: “Improving housebuilder reservation rates provide cause for optimism and an improving outlook for the second half of 2023 and into 2024.”
Chief executive Neil Ash said: “Trading conditions in the period have been challenging and we are therefore pleased to deliver a result in line with our expectations.
“Our expectations for the year are based upon an underlying fall in market demand of 20 per cent relative to 2022.
“With the inventory reduction within our customer base still ongoing, the decline in demand we have seen in the period is greater than 20 per cent. However, we do expect demand will improve as the year progresses, noting the improving conditions cited by the housebuilders over recent weeks.
“We have already taken proactive steps to manage our production capacity and cost base, as we seek to maximise the benefits of the new Desford factory and the industry leading efficiencies it will provide.
“Our other growth investments at Wilnecote and Accrington are both progressing well.”
Forterra employs 1,800 people in the UK, across 17 sites. The new Desford factory includes innovations in areas such as robotics and advanced packaging. The bricks made there will have a carbon footprint about 25 per cent lower than those from the old factory.
Mr Ash said: “We are thrilled to announce the opening of the Desford factory, which represents a significant milestone for Forterra.
“This new factory’s impressive production capacity demonstrates our commitment to meeting the ongoing demands of the housing sector in our mission to Keep Britain Building.
“At the same time, our innovations at Desford have streamlined our operations to ensure that our production is as efficient and sustainable as possible, so that we can satisfy customer demand whilst still being on course to meet our ambitious ESG targets.
“Indeed, the Desford factory is the latest in a series of investments and developments Forterra has made over the past year towards becoming more sustainable and efficient, including a solar farm, a new eco-fleet of trucks, and new packaging solutions which place us a step closer to achieving our goal of attaining a 50 per cent reduction in single-use plastics by 2025.
“We’re thrilled to open the biggest, most efficient brick factory in Europe, and look forward to Desford’s productive future.”
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