Demand for new housing boosts Northern Ireland's construction sector
Construction companies in Northern Ireland are getting busier as demand for new housing accelerates, according to the latest figures.
The Northern Ireland Construction Bulletin, which assesses the workload of around 700 firms, said output in the third quarter was 11.8% higher than during the same period last year.
While it had fallen by 2.4% on the second quarter, the bulletin claimed that output was still at one of the highest levels of the last three years.
Repair and maintenance work showed the biggest slump, at 6.7%. 'Other work' - the biggest category of construction work, covering everything from warehouses to colleges - fell by 6.2%.
Housing output increased by 5.5%, reflecting separate figures from the National House Building Council showing there were nearly 1,000 new starts in the third quarter, up by 44% year-on-year.
However, the bulletin did not include work being carried out by construction firms outside Northern Ireland.
John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers Federation, said the increases shown in the report were to be welcomed but cautioned they were coming from a "very low base".
"The feedback is that workloads are still at a pretty low level," he added. "And while housing output may be up 5.5%, that is from a very low base.
"You have to recall that back in 2006 there were 14 house builders in Northern Ireland who were building more than 100 homes a year. But in 2015, there were only four."
Mr Armstrong claimed regulations and the planning system were holding house building up and said: "Planning was devolved to the councils in May last year, but we are yet to see any great improvement in how long planning decisions are taking." David Moneypenny, director of building firm PG Contracts in Antrim, said his firm had experienced an uplift in house building around the province.
"Confidence is a big factor - if things are moving in the property market it has a ripple effect, giving others the confidence to proceed," he insisted. "We are still heavily involved in house-building projects in Northern Ireland and we are seeing more residential projects landing on our desks."
A report by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors released last week said that nearly half of all work being done by construction firms in Northern Ireland was for projects outside the province.
Backing that up, Mr Moneypenny said his firm was currently fitting out a hairdressing salon in London as the main contractor, and was seeking other projects in central London.
The bulletin noted that construction output peaked during 2007 but then started to decline until finally picking up towards the end of 2013.
Number of new starts in housing in the third quarter of year, up 44%