Baggeridge Brick also blames trend for smaller homes for large fall in interim profit.

Brick manufacturer Baggeridge Brick has blamed soaring gas prices over the winter for plummeting half-year profits, despite a slight increase in turnover.

The firm posted a half-year pre-tax profit of just £340,000, compared to £2.1m for the same period in 2005. Turnover, however, rose 5.5% to £25.1m.

Alexander Ward, Chairman, said: "While the level of national despatches has continued falling during our first half, we have been encouraged by recent comments on signs of a resurgence in the market and Government recognition of an ever increasing need for greater housing provision.

Ward said that UK brick deliveries have been adversely affected by developers moving their build mix towards flats and apartments. He said that there was a continuing demand for family accommodation and was confident that future trends will restore some of this lost volume.

The chairman said that Baggerdige should experience lower natural gas prices in the second half of the year becaus of a change in procurement.

He said:"In previous years we entered into annual fixed pricing agreements for the supply of gas, but we have now adopted a floating price policy in line with others in the industry. Consequently, although prices remain volatile, we should benefit from the seasonally lower natural gas prices in our second half."