Modest growth forecasts for passive fire protection products in the UK

The UK market for passive fire protection products is estimated to be worth around £650m at manufacturers selling prices – excluding installation. The market has grown by around 2% in 2017, with forecasts for 2018 at a similar level. This follows good growth between 2013 and 2015, which represented a period of recovery for the overall construction industry, especially in the education, offices, retail and leisure sectors. The forecasts indicate a more subdued performance, with lower levels of construction activity anticipated as investor confidence has fallen, in the lead up to Brexit.

In terms of structure, the passive fire protection market is comprised of fire-resistant doors, fittings and intumescent seals, cables, partitions and suspended ceilings, glass, structural protection and ductwork and damper systems. Fire-resistant doors, fitting and seals account for the largest shares of the market, with around 60% of the total value.

Recent product innovations in the sector include; intumescent coatings with faster drying times, electronic fire door closers that are linked to fire alarm systems, and more flexible fire-stopping pipe collars that allow a greater range of applications compared to conventional collars.

Key drivers, such as the regulatory aspects of the fire protection sector, are expected to remain unchanged in the short-term, since the Hackitt Review into the Grenfell Tower disaster only covered high-rise buildings and provided no recommendations for immediate change in the technical aspects of Building Regulations. However, modifications are expected in the medium to longer term, and AMA Research also anticipates that there will be other implications for the wider industry, as manufacturers and specifiers alike seek to provide safer environments, possibly leading to positive growth by value.

Forecasts for the passive fire protection market in the medium-term are for modest growth in 2018 and 2019, with slightly higher growth levels by 2020. While the longer-term impact of Brexit remains unclear, investors are likely to remain cautious, and this has resulted in recent forecasts being less optimistic for overall construction sector output growth.

In the short-term, activity in the non-domestic construction sector is likely to slow down, with more subdued growth of around 1-2% 2018-19. The overall market for passive fire protection products such as cable, glass, ceilings, partitions and doors, is dependent on the performance of key construction sectors, such as offices, industrial, entertainment, health and education.

In terms of output, new office construction is forecast to be less positive over 2018-22, following strong output growth of 70% between 2013 and 2017, something which may impact on demand in sectors such as structural fire protection, suspended ceilings and partitions.

However, the hotel and entertainment sector has shown good growth in recent years and is attracting substantial investment, especially in the budget sector. The university sector has also been positive in terms of new orders in 2018, with future output having the potential to be boosted by demand for new accommodation and facilities for additional students following the removal of the cap on student numbers.

Uncertainty regarding Brexit is expected to have less of an impact on residential construction, where the outlook remains modestly positive, driven in particular by the ongoing imbalance between demand and supply for new housing. Increasing numbers of new flats and apartments built will be the primary source of demand for passive protection in the residential sector.

Other factors influencing the market include the performance of Sterling against both the US dollar and the Euro. Since the 2016 referendum, Sterling’s fall in value and continued relative weakness has meant that materials price inflation has become a key influence in the UK construction market. If this situation continues, it will prompt some value growth in the passive fire protection sector, since a wide range of materials and products is imported.