Belfast Telegraph

Building industry hit by slowdown in wake of cash cuts

By Margaret Canning

Public spending cuts are having a chill effect on construction activity in Northern Ireland, according to research today.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said there was an overall increase in building in the first three months of the year.

But Northern Ireland was nevertheless the only UK region where surveyors reported a decline in infrastructure work.

In fact, infrastructure workloads - projects such as roads, schools and hospitals - were at their lowest in three years, according to the report, which is produced with law firm Tughans.

Skills shortages were also a problem across the sector.

RICS Northern Ireland director Ben Collins said the uplift had been due to private sector activity such as house-building and private commercial activity but that there had been a "worrying decline" in public sector work.

"We understand that public money is finite and becoming more scarce," said Mr Collins.

"But we would encourage the politicians to recognise the paramount importance of investing in infrastructure and to prioritise funding capital expenditure where possible."

Many construction firms in Northern Ireland have travelled to Britain for work in recent years, with many - such as Newry firm O'Hare & McGovern - winning major contracts on the building of schools.

But this month's official construction bulletin finally brought some good news for construction companies operating on home soil.

The bulletin said new construction activity in Northern Ireland had gone up by 6% during the last quarter of 2014 - making last year the first since 2007 in which there was not significant decline in construction.

Michael McCord, construction partner at Tughans, said: "What we really want to see is the local construction sector experiencing sustained growth within Northern Ireland itself as well, and infrastructure activity is a very important element of this."

6%

The amount of new construction activity in the last quarter of 2014

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