42% rise in new Northern Ireland homes but experts call for more
Northern Ireland saw a 42% increase in the number of new homes registered in the first three months of the year, according to figures.
But industry body the Construction Employers Federation (CEF) said there were still not enough homes being built to meet demand.
According to the National House Building Council statistics for January to March, there were 776 completed new homes registered in Northern Ireland over the three-month period.
That was the third-steepest rise in new registrations of 12 UK regions, with only eastern England and the south-east zooming ahead with a 70% and 47% jump in numbers respectively.
House-building activity has been low in Northern Ireland since the economic downturn with many former giants of the industry, such as Carvill Group and Patton Group, going out of business.
John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers Federation, said the increase was good news but added: "We must not lose sight of the fact that this increase is coming from an historically low base.
"Only 5,500 new homes were completed last year in Northern Ireland. Official figures suggest we need to be delivering over 13,000 per annum to meet need. Government has an important role to play in facilitating a step change in the number of new homes being built."
He said the CEF anticipated further growth in house-building throughout the year, but added that it may still not be sought to promote full recovery in the construction sector.
"This concern is primarily due the NI Executive's cuts in 2015-16 of around 20% to capital investment in public buildings and infrastructure."
Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the increases were welcome but followed very low figures in previous years.
Mr Ramsey added: "The house-building sector has now been in the doldrums for around seven years - and it's almost the last sector of the economy to actually experience a recovery."
And he said Northern Ireland's capacity to build new homes was also limited due to the number of house-builders which had gone out of business in the downturn.
Conor Mulligan, the managing director of house builder Lagan Homes in Northern Ireland, said: "I am greatly encouraged to see the increase in starts and indeed in new sites opening.
"Not only is this an increase in new homes but it is also an increase in employment and orders for the local manufacturers and suppliers.
"It is crucial at this stage of the recovery that we increase supply to the market to curtail any excessive price growth."
David Little, NHBC director in Northern Ireland, said that commuter areas around Belfast were particular hotspots, adding: "It is clear that confidence is back, with many builders in Northern Ireland enjoying a very strong start to the year."