A CHRONIC shortage of bricklayers and construction professionals in the county could slow down house building and push up property prices still further.

Rates for bricklayers have soared from £80 a day in the recession to about £200 thanks to a building boom fuelled by massive demand for housing and Government schemes helping people to get on the property ladder.

The problem has been made worse by a skills crisis which has meant there are not enough apprentices qualifying to fill the gaps.

Erwin Stattkus, business manager at recruitment firm UK Construction, said: “Oxfordshire is a black hole where you can’t get a bricklayer for love nor money.

“The biggest problem is on housing developments, where there is also a shortage of carpenters, roofers, site managers, crane operators, steel fixers and stonemasons.”

Bricklayer Simon Wells, of SW Bricklaying and Building in East Hagbourne, has never been in such demand in his 35-year career.

Mr Wells, 51, said: “I am having to turn masses of work down.

“I know plenty of other bricklayers who are madly busy as well.”

Oxfordshire’s housing authorities have been told they must build 100,000 new homes across the county to ease the housing crisis.

But the shortage of bricklayers and spiralling costs of employing them, could prove a severe setback with many being poached to work on high value projects in London and Birmingham.

During the recession, when developers stopped building, many bricklayers left the trade and there were few apprenticeships on offer.

Vanessa Cover, of Kidlington training provider ACE, said: “There is a shortage of bricklayers because two or three years ago when the industry was having a hard time, lots of people were made redundant.

“Now there is a much rosier picture but there is a skills gap.”

Kris Blaszko, of Workmates Building Trades recruitment in Cowley, sais: “We have been going for 26 years and this April is the busiest I have ever seen.

“In Bicester, they are building hundreds and hundreds of houses so there is a shortage elsewhere in the county.”

The problem is compounded by a shortage of bricks, blocks, timber and steel. Developers are having to import and costs are soaring.

Peter Mapson, of Bower Mapson, which is building the 100-home Buttercross development in Witney, said: “There has been an explosion of people building again, mainly due to the Help to Buy scheme.

“Many smaller brickworks have disappeared and the cost of materials has gone up by 35 per cent in the past 12 months.

“There’s pressure on people keeping staff because there are cases of them, particularly bricklayers, being poached.”