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Demand for aggregates in Great Britain could peak in 2023, before undergoing a steady decline over the period to 2030, according to the country’s Mineral Products Association (MPA), which has set out long-term aggregate demand and supply scenarios.

The study aims to provide industry and industry stakeholders with indications of the potential volumes of aggregates that may be needed to satisfy future demand, reflecting the UK’s needs for construction, including housebuilding and infrastructure.

The MPA said it hoped that the study would help revive interest and dialogue about the provision of aggregate supplies for the long term, among all key stakeholders.

Among the findings in the study was that demand projections suggested that by 2030, 267 million tonnes per annum of aggregates might be needed to satisfy construction needs.

It also found, however, that further declines in material intensity could result in aggregates demand peaking at 220 million tonnes per annum in 2023, before undergoing a steady decline to 200 million tonnes per annum by 2030.

The cumulative demand for aggregates until 2030 could be between 3.2 and 3.8 billion tonnes, it said.

“While there appear to be sufficient indigenous mineral resources available to support future demand requirements, there are issues around the supply-mix that need to be addressed,” the MPA said.

It added that under all supply scenarios considered, significant tonnages of primary aggregates would be needed, supplying between 63% and 72% of overall demand, with recycled and secondary materials providing the balance.

The study found that the decline in permitted reserves of land-won sand and gravel over the last 10 years pointed to growing reliance on other sources, particularly crushed rock, and marine sand and gravel, to meet future demand.

Alternative sources of aggregates, including recycling, secondary materials and imports, have a role to play, said the MPA, but it added that they were unlikely to be a game changer given their constraints. The share of recycled and secondary aggregates varies between 28% and 37% of overall demand, it said.

Future supply of aggregates also faces additional challenges related to issues around transport infrastructure, safeguarding essential minerals infrastructure – for example wharves and railheads – and access to skills, the association found.

Significant volumes

Aurelie Delannoy, the MPA’s chief economist, said, “A clear message that comes out of this study is that however cautious you are about the prospects for future construction needs and the resulting aggregates demand, significant volumes of primary aggregate materials will be needed over the next 15 years or so.

“Construction activity will be dominated by our need to upgrade and renew vital infrastructure, including in energy and transport, while also building more housing.”

She highlighted some strategic UK infrastructure projects currently in the pipeline, including the Hinkley Point C power station, and High Speed 2 rail project, as well as the potential for building tidal lagoons in the longer term. She said that these would only be possible if future aggregates supply could support the levels of demand that were forecast.

“The industry already faces challenges logistically and on skills, but the decline in land-won sand and gravel permitted reserves over the last 10 years, if continued, will put significant pressure on all other sources of aggregates materials to fill the gap,” she said.

“Recycling and secondary materials, alongside increased imports, will have a role to play, but they are no game changer. The major source of aggregates supply for the foreseeable future will need to come from indigenous primary sources.”

Mark Russell, the MPA’s executive director of planning and mineral, said, “While government is understandably focused on the policy priorities of delivering housing and infrastructure, this study demonstrates that unless the link is made to the essential mineral resources upon which they rely, there is a growing risk that the ability to provide the most cost effective and sustainable supply solutions will be missed.

“Long-term construction ambitions need to be supported by a properly resourced, long-term mineral planning system to ensure the right resources are available in the right place, and at the right time to support sustainable growth.”

He added, “It is vital that government, planning authorities, NGOs (non-governmental organisations) and the industry work together to address these issues before avoidable shortages occur in the medium term.”

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