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Aggregates reserves unable to sustain UK construction growth

The UK aggregates industry is currently failing to replenish its stocks with enough new reserves to sustain the construction recovery, new research shows.

In 2014, less than half of the aggregates extracted were replaced with consents for new reserves, said research organisation BDS, which has published studies on the UK mineral sector since 1989.

In over 95% of quarries, reserves were lower at the end of 2014 than at the start of the year.

Last summer, aggregates firms voiced concerns about a potential concrete shortage affecting the UK’s major projects.

“Just five months’ of production were replenished last year,” said BDS director Julian Clapp. “The situation was slightly better in sand and gravel. However, in crushed rock, just three months’ production was replenished during 2014.”

Only in the South East, did aggregates companies manage to fully replenish the amount of sand and gravel extracted during the year. In many other areas – such as Wales, West Midlands and northern England, few consents were granted.

The situation does not look likely to improve in the short term. BDS said three major planning applications (in excess of 10M.t) submitted during 2014 remain outstanding. However, elsewhere, the level of new applications for additional reserves remains low.

Over the previous 25 years, BDS believes that only in 2006 has the quarrying industry replenished the reserves taken out during the year. In one other year, new consents granted were similar to production. In all other years, the consultancy estimates that consented reserves failed to match production.

However, the success rate of planning applications is good. During 2014, 20% of applications were refused or withdrawn.

“The situation is helped by a large proportion of applications – around 40% – being for extensions of time to work already consented reserves,” said Clapp. “There is a greater likelihood of these applications being consented and is a reflection of the last recession when outputs fell below expected levels.”

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