ACCORDING to the Quarry Products Association's latest quarterly report, market indicators suggest a more stable outlook for sales of quarry products in 2000 and beyond following a year of declining sales volumes in 1999.
Sales of crushed rock and sand and gravel fell by 6% and 2% respectively last year, resulting in a total drop in aggregates sales of 4.5%. Of the major added-value products, only ready-mixed concrete sales showed a positive trend (up 2%), while asphalt sales continued to slip and recorded a fall of 6%. However, despite last year's disappointing results, the QPA have issued an upbeat statement saying economic prospects remain positive, a view which appears to be borne out by recently published forecasts of construction activity.
In its two-year industry forecast, the Construction Products Association predicts total construction growth of 2.5% in 2000 and 3.0% in 2001, including new construction increasing by 2% in both years. Allan Wil‚n, the CPA's director of economics and special projects, said: 'Our key forecast for the next two years sees a sustained rise in activity fuelled by increased repair, maintenance and improvement work. Stronger economic growth and increased public sector investment should drive the rise in output during 2000 and 2001.'
Recent weeks have also seen more positive government statements on transport expenditure, including the news that Transport Minister Lord Whitty has given the go-ahead for 13 of the 37 schemes in the Government's targeted programme of improvements to the national trunk road network.
Significantly, six of the 13 schemes have had their start date brought forward by a year to 2000/2001. Lord Whitty said: 'Bringing these forward means communities suffering from the effects of heavy volumes of traffic will benefit from earlier delivery of a safer and healthier environment. For all road users, it means that congestion and safety problems will be dealt with sooner rather than later.'
Welcome news for the industry, and a sign, perhaps, that the Government is beginning to accept the need for roads if it is to deliver an effective integrated transport system.