AS one brick maker in the region prepares for closure in the new year, others across the UK are implementing an extended shutdown this Christmas because of spiralling energy prices.

Dyson Refractories, in West Hunwick, near Willington, County Durham, closes next month, with the loss of more than 50 jobs, because of a lack of orders, soaring gas prices and intense overseas competition.

The company, which manufactures bricks for the steel industry to use to line kilns, is taking part in a 30-day consultation period, which is expected to continue until Christmas.

Across the industry, nearly two-thirds of brick makers in the UK will close their factories for a longer Christmas break this year because of what have been described by the Brick Development Association as nearly unsustainable wholesale gas prices.

Industry leader Hanson, which warned on Tuesday that low demand in the UK and ongoing energy costs could hit business in the first half of next year, is understood to be stopping production at four factories for the whole of next month to cut costs.

John Brown, director of specialist brick maker Northern Brick Fabrications, in Stockton, said this time of year was notoriously quiet.

"The weeks from the beginning of December until late January are always slow. We will shut down for two weeks," he said.

Fierce competition from China has been blamed for the problems at Dyson. The Amicus union's regional officer, Gerry Hunter, said it was extremely unlikely the factory would stay open.

"Dyson has been in Hunwick for many, many years, it will be a sad loss to the community," he said.

"There are a lot of people there who have given long service and it is the unknown factor that is worrying them. They are bewildered by it all."

Dyson is the largest independent refractory brick manufacturer in the UK.

A unit at the West Hunwick plant, which produces nozzles, is not affected. No one at the company was available for comment yesterday.