Sticking to the knitting

Despite market uncertainties, Sales, Marketing and Technical Director Director Matthew Carter outlines why consistency is a priority for H+H in 2023.

It would be fair to say that making any kind of market prediction in this weird post-pandemic world is harder than ever. With pre-Christmas economic forecasts pretty unanimously suggesting a very challenging year ahead, our response is to continue with the course we had set for the business.

The number one priority for H+H is to focus on our manufacturing output. Extreme volatility in 2021 and 2022 had seen all materials producers struggle with capacity and we were no exception.  It is never comfortable to have to tell longstanding customers that they cannot have as much product as they want, but we have always believed that it is best to be pragmatic.  Better by far to deliver reliably on agreed volumes than to over-promise. 

Of course, there are threats to the housebuilding market this year – the rise in interest rates will surely affect the enthusiasm of buyers. We also recognise that many customers built their stock, be it on site or in yards, towards the end of 2022: both factors that are likely to mean a slower start for us in 2023.

However, underlying this immediate issue is the ongoing pressure of demand. We are still not building enough new houses to meet housing needs and the volume will come back. When it does, manufacturers need to be ready with sufficient stock, the ability to deliver it and, of course, the right product offer.

For this reason, we continue with our investment plans to upgrade both our Borough Green and Pollington plants to build our manufacturing capacity. We need to get back to the point where we have our own yards comfortably full with standard product so that we can supply ex-stock, working closely with our customers to manage and anticipate demand. 

This management of supply also allows us to focus on manufacturing the products for use in foundations, Thin-Joint constructions, party walls and high-performance external walls. And increasingly, the market will be looking for manufacturers to demonstrate how their products support a shift towards sustainability, speed and modern construction techniques.

All our housebuilder and merchant customers have their own sustainability targets to meet and, just like our customers, we need to work with our supply chain to deliver the low-carbon offer that will meet increasingly stringent requirements.

It’s not an overnight fix for any of us, but progress cannot be allowed to slip, even if the market becomes harder. H+H as a group is working through the process by which it will become a zero carbon manufacturer, with certified embodied carbon figures by which to measure improvement.

Just as importantly, our aircrete offer must make a positive contribution to the increasing energy efficiency of new housing. We have published our own technical guidance on the construction of external walls to meet the Future Homes Standard and have equally comprehensive advice for high-performance structures such as Passivhaus designs.  All delivered by a material that will provide robust performance for well over 100 years.

We must also continue to innovate.  We work in a sector that is notoriously averse to change.  When the market is strong there is no time, when it falters, there is no money to experiment.  

However, with the twin incentives of an increasingly tight labour market and the need to deliver homes at volume, there has to be an appetite to change the way we build; and we are finally seeing evidence of this mindset in an increasing interest in our MMC offer, the Vertical Wall Panel. 

Combining the trusted and familiar performance of aircrete with a fast, modular approach to building, the VWP is a transformational way to deliver standard house designs without compromising on quality or longevity.  

Already widely used in Europe, we are starting to see an accelerating acceptance of this solution across UK building sites. We have both the manufacturing capacity and technical support required to sustain a gradual shift in building practice. We also have a proven track record of completed projects within the UK through the development of our I-House system with delivery partner Roofspace Solutions.

It would be a brave Sales and Marketing Director to predict a rosy market in 2023, but housing is an industry with a long-term vision and a demand that remains unfulfilled. 

For us, 2023 is an opportunity to invest in the capacity and the solutions to meet the needs of a sector that will see accelerating change over the next decade. We may be in for a challenging few months, but we are opting to remain focused on our longer-term objectives, ensuring we can continue to support the housebuilding sector with the consistency on which we have built our reputation.