Brick production in the UK is likely to sink below 2 billion bricks this year for what is believed to be the first time since the forties.

As the dramatic fall in housing continues to hit manufacturers, experts are predicting that brick production, which was at 1 billion for the first six months of the year, will drop further for the second half. The total for 2007 was 2.4 billion.

In addition, the largest brickmaking firms in the UK are understood to have privately estimated that between them they will only be able to sell 1.6 billion bricks in the forthcoming year.

Michael Ankers, chief executive of the Construction Products Association, said: “The scale and the size of the reduction doesn’t surprise me. It’s a fairly catastrophic figure. It’s not surprising, given the dramatic fall in housing starts, but there are no early signs of recovery.”

The UK’s largest brick makers, including Hanson and Austrian-owned Wienerberger, have taken a series of measures to scale back production over recent months; Wienerberger has mothballed brick plants in Steer Point, in Devon, and Ewhurst, in Surrey, while Hanson has taken the same action at its plant in Caernarfon, Gwynedd. These closures resulted in 120 job losses between them.

Ankers said that, as well as the immediate problems of the downturn, there were fears that, with several plants having been removed from active service, the industry will struggle to cope when the market does pick up. This is currently predicted for around 2010.

Ankers said: “It takes about six months to get a brick plant up and running again, so one of the potential problems is what would happen if and when the market does pick up, particularly if it does so swiftly.”