Work suspended, sites closed and lay-offs threatened as fuel blockade chaos severs supply lines.

The construction industry was this week grinding to a halt because of the petrol shortage.Contractors, merchants and suppliers said the sector would be paralysed by the end of the week because staff and materials could not reach sites. The warnings coincided with predictions from the Petrol Retailers’ Association that the supply of petrol would not return to normal for three weeks. Work on some building sites, especially in Wales and the South-west, has already been suspended as supplies dry up, and producers stop deliveries.

Bovis Homes has stopped work at sites in Bristol, South Wales, Worcester and Hereford. A source at Bovis’ office in the South-west said: “We cannot get workers or material onto the sites. If this is resolved within the next few days, it will be just a blip.” Bryant Homes said on Wednesday that that would be the last day that trade and site managers could travel to sites. Its managing director in the South-west, Richard Perrill, said: “We will have to shut some sites down unless fuel is released.”

Midas, a regional contractor in the South-west and Wales, said it was expecting to shut some new-build sites on Thursday. It is also understood that materials giant Tarmac, whose lorries were involved in a blockade in the North-west, is shutting its Newport depot. The depot was broken into on Tuesday night and diesel siphoned from lorries. Contractors said they have also been advised by builders merchant Jewson that it would run out of fuel on Wednesday at one of its South Wales offices. Construction Confederation president John Gains has written to chancellor Gordon Brown calling for action. Gains, the chief executive of Mowlem, said his site workers would soon find it impossible to travel to work. The letter says: “Most companies have less than two days’ supply of diesel and petroleum products, and when these are exhausted, they will be completely paralysed.” Gains said confederation members that supplied the National Grid, water filtration and transport infrastructure would be unable to operate. The letter states: “The effects will be felt by the public within a very short period of time.”

The Construction Products Association has also written to deputy prime minister John prescott.Its letter says: “We are rapidly heading toward a shutdown of the construction industry in the UK with all the serious consequences that this brings with it, including inevitable lay-offs.”

Will the petrol crisis shut down UK construction?

A lot of our sites are in the middle of nowhere so you can’t just hop on a bus with a bag of materials Alan Prime, regional contracts manager at Farrans in Cambridge If the problem isn’t resolved by the end of the week, we will see significant lay-offs Barry Stephens, deputy chief executive of the National Federation of Builders We are encouraging people to share cars and save fuel but the nature of the construction business is that people travel from all over the place Nick Stonley, Alfred McAlpine Homes London division The speed at which the situation has taken hold is alarming. Unless it’s sorted out quickly the thought of what could happen in the industry is disturbing Richard Green, marketing manager at Mowlem Midlands You could argue that the oil companies could have forced their tanker drivers out, which could affect claims on construction contracts. People are still claims-conscious, and if they think there is a chance of getting more time or money they will throw it into the pot Patrick Holmes, partner at construction solicitor McFarlanes It is getting desperate … We have to be concerned about safety and if we can’t staff sites adequately, we couldn’t allow them to carry on Source at major contractor in the North-West