(last updated July 2019)
What has been happening in the landscaping and construction industries
Most sectors of the construction industry enjoyed plentiful demand for their services between the late 1990s and the mid 2000s. Landscapers and driveway specialists benefited as interest in garden design was boosted by television makeover programmes. Features like ornamental paving and patios became very fashionable and popular. There were some problems - skilled labour was hard to find and insurance costs rocketed for some - but a strong housing market and a growing economy meant there was generally plenty of work to go around.
Unfortunately things came unstuck during the late 2000s as the economy nose-dived and the housing market more or less collapsed. Many landscaping and construction industry businesses were forced to lay off staff and it became a struggle to find enough new work. The economy stayed very weak during the early 2010s and trading conditions remained very difficult. People cut right back on spending on non-essentials like patios and ornamental driveways when they feel they're not well off. However, 2013 saw conditions begin to improve as the housing market picked up.
Growth in the construction industry was subdued during 2016 and 2017. Growth remained flat in 2018 and little change is forecast for 2019. New private industrial orders have been falling and growth has been dependent on an increase in infrastructure activity and private housebuilding offsetting a sharp fall in the commercial and industrial sectors. This trend is expected to continue in 2019. The number of housing transactions grew modestly from 2013 to 2016 but slumped again in 2017 and 2018 after the vote in 2016 to leave the EU. Little change is forecast for 2019, for which the number of housing transactions is expected to contract and remain well below the peak achieved in 2007.
The outlook for the driveways and patios sector appears to be mixed. House prices are continuing to rise (albeit at a subdued rate) and interest rates are low so it may appear attractive for people to invest in their homes, expecting to see a good return on their investment On the other hand, facing rising inflation and a loss of confidence in the economy, consumers are spending more on experiences and entertainment, and are reluctant to commit to big-ticket items of expenditure.
As demand for paving services increased during the 2000s, the number of firms offering them also rose and this is now a very competitive industry. Unfortunately, it is also one that has been targeted by unscrupulous 'cowboys' who take advantage of unwary home owners by doing shoddy work at over-inflated prices. Some claim falsely to belong to a trade association. These cowboys have tarnished the image of the industry and it is very important that legitimate tradesmen uphold high standards to distinguish themselves from their disreputable competitors.
People have become more concerned about environmental and green issues in recent years. In some cases they have looked to use more sustainable ground-cover materials, such as waste wood-chippings or crushed shells.
Flood prevention has become a particularly important issue as more and more home owners have dug up their front gardens and replaced them with block paving, concrete or tarmac. These types of hard surface allow water to drain off very quickly, increasing the risk of flash flooding after heavy rains. Other large hard surfaces, such as supermarket car parks, add to the problem. The paving industry has responded by developing permeable products which allow rainwater to drain through them more slowly, soaking into ground-waters rather than running off into drains and sewers. In 2008 planning rules were changed to require householders to apply for permission before paving over their front gardens with a non-permeable material.
A 2014 report by the Committee on Climate Change highlighted the need for wider use of permeable paving and sustainable drainage to help reduce the risk of damaging flooding in the future.
An excellent way of demonstrating your professional integrity and staying up to date is to join a reputable trade association. Joining an association is also a very good way of keeping up to date with developments in the industry. The main association serving the paving industry in the UK is Interlay - the Association of Paving Contractors. For more details visit the Interlay website.
The British Association of Landscape Industries (BALI) also serves the paving, driveway and patio industry - you can find out more on their website.
Interpave represents the concrete block manufacturing industry and is a source of useful information on new product development.
Subscribing to a trade journal is another excellent way of keeping abreast of developments in the paving business.
The Paving Expert website is a huge information resource for the paving and hard landscaping industry. It includes advice on the latest techniques, materials and standards.