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Steel seizes record offices market share

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Confidence and stability are the two key ingredients that underpin business investment on the scale that a modern industrial economy needs to keep ticking over. Last year will go down in history as a year when business confidence in the western world took more hits than at any time since World War II, and stability was threatened on a number of fronts including Brexit, the pandemic, and increasing talk of the danger of the UK itself breaking up.

It took brave senior managers and investors to commit to anything that they didn’t have to, and construction suffered sorely from a multitude of decisions to kick projects into the long grass until the picture becomes clearer. Not many substantial projects were cancelled outright, but the knock on, or multiplier, effects of one project postponed causes more uncertainty elsewhere along supply chains.

Against that background it was little surprise then that most sectors of construction suffered falls in demand of over 20% in 2020, as confirmed in the 2020 Market Share Survey from Construction Markets (see News). Hopes are now high however, as we said last month, that with the COVID-19 vaccination programme off to an encouraging start and Brexit – for better or worse – behind us, 2021 will see an equally sharp rise in sentiment and therefore demand.

The Market Share Survey, produced by independent researchers since 1980, shows that steel fared relatively well against the weakened background in last year. The key sheds market for example fell by almost 24%, but steel increased its market share slightly, which bodes well for the future in a market segment that is expected to perform well in 2021.

Multi-storey buildings also fell by some 22%, and again steel showed a small rise in market share, to almost 65%. In multi-storey offices steel in fact reached an all-time high share of the market of almost 74%, compared to 72.5% a year earlier and 73% in the previous record year of 2006. Further gains were made in the health, retail, and leisure sectors. In residential, steel just about held its own in the high-rise market and managed to increase market share by over 3% in the low-rise sector.

This year government spending plans will focus attention on key sectors like education and healthcare that steel has excellent credentials in. Private sector investment in the burgeoning logistics sector relies on steel to provide the sheds it depends on, and once worries about the future of the office are overcome, the commercial market, where steel dominates the multi-storey sector, is widely expected to enjoy a resurgence in demand.

The focus on delivering value for money along with solutions that incorporate high sustainability performance will be undiminished as the recovery picks up, and will surely strengthen over time, which augers well for steel. The way that the constructional steelwork sector has developed, with almost all work being carried out offsite in line with the Modern Methods of Construction agenda, CNC production easily adapting to BIM, and close collaboration with the rest of the supply chain, means steel construction is in good shape to support its markets as the 2021 post-pandemic recovery gathers pace.

Nick Barrett

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