Belfast Telegraph

Builders head to Britain as Northern Ireland continues to stagnate

By Margaret Canning

Northern Ireland's builders are continuing their exodus to Great Britain for work, according to a survey.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said the trade was still crossing the Irish Sea for the contracts necessary to stay in business - though some sectors, in particular housebuilding, were picking up at home.

The RICS's survey, produced with law firm Tughans, added that nearly half of firms' workloads were outside the province, with Great Britain accounting for the lion's share.

A third of respondents indicated they expected to be getting even more work outside the province, continuing a trend borne out of the dramatic downturn in construction at home which began around 2008.

Many firms have established bases in Great Britain, with key personnel spending most of the week away from their homes and families in Northern Ireland.

The RICS said chartered surveyors in the province had reported they were getting more work during the last quarter of 2015, but workloads were going up more slowly than in other UK regions.

However, there was a "significant" increase in housebuilding at home, echoing statistics from the National House Building Council, which reported a 44% jump in new housing starts to nearly 1,000.

Most other areas had either fell in activity, stagnated, or experienced only modest growth. Infrastructure, in particular, saw steep falls.

RICS Northern Ireland spokesman Jim Sammon said: "One key trend has been the rising amount of work being done by local firms outside of Northern Ireland, particularly in Scotland and England, where there has been much more robust construction growth."

He claimed the increase in the number of companies obtaining work in Scotland and England was a positive story that reflected firms "competitiveness and excellence".

Northern Ireland firms who have embarked on the journey across the water for work include McAleer and Rushe from Co Tyrone and Henry Brothers from Co Londonderry, as well as Graham and O'Hare & McGovern, both based in Co Down. They have secured work in sectors ranging from education to hotels and infrastructure.

But Mr Sammon (left) said: "We want to see workloads within Northern Ireland increasing as well, particularly in infrastructure," which he stressed was "critical" to growing the economy.

"We need better roads and railways, schools, hospitals, and energy infrastructure to meet our sustainable energy needs," he added. "A lot of our existing infrastructure is ageing and in need of replacement, and we would strongly encourage the policy-makers to take a strategic view in relation to where best public money should be spent to make the most positive impact for the economy and society."

Tughans construction partner Michael McCord said firms had cause for optimism over workloads in the Republic as well as Great Britain, after the Irish Government announced a capital spending plan of €27bn (£20bn).

"The outlook within Northern Ireland is perhaps less positive," he added. "However, it is vitally important that all efforts are made to invest in and improve our infrastructure."

Belfast Telegraph