House building activity across the UK fell at its fastest rate for two years last month as construction firms battled persistent rain, new figures have revealed.
The weak housing performance saw activity in the wider construction sector fall at its fastest rate for six months, according to the latest Markit/CIPS purchasing managers' index (PMI) survey.
The report showed a reading of 48.7 during December, below the reading of more than 50 which represents growth and down from 49.3 in November.
Tim Moore, survey author and senior economist at Markit, said the "sharp and accelerated" downturn in housing activity to 43.1 was the strongest since a snow related drop in December 2010.
He said December had rounded off a miserable year for the construction sector.
"While some firms cited the unusually wet weather as leading to longer than expected seasonal breaks at the end of 2012, weak underlying demand remains prevalent throughout the sector," he added.
Howard Archer, chief European and UK economist at IHS Global Insight, said the sector continued to face major headwinds, including reduced public investment and spending, an extended weak economy, a struggling housing sector and problems in getting funding for large-scale projects.
Chancellor George Osborne, in his Autumn Statement last month, announced plans to invest £5bn in construction projects, including new schools and roads, over the next five years.
But Mr Archer said: "The construction sector will be fervently hoping that the economy can see sustained growth in 2013 and that this stimulates building work."
The survey also revealed that there was strong competition for new contracts as volumes of new work fell for the seventh month in a row in December.
Employment in the sector also contracted for the third month running.