Belfast Telegraph

Building activity hits rock bottom

By Margaret Canning

Public sector cuts have dragged construction activity in Northern Ireland to its lowest point in a decade, according to a report published today.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' quarterly review of the building trade also found workloads among its members in the province were lighter than any of their counterparts across the UK, and were falling more rapidly as the year progressed.

Virtually all surveyors told RICS they expected they would have even less work coming in the next 12 months ahead due to public sector budget restraints which had already slowed infrastructure work.

The report has found that Northern Ireland is at its lowest point concerning construction activity since the survey began in 2000.

Jim Sammon, RICS Northern Ireland spokesman, said spending cuts were depressing the market.

"Whilst the enormous pressure on the public finances means that cuts are unavoidable, the importance of construction spend to the Northern Ireland economy and the need to invest in our infrastructure for long-term competitiveness must be taken into consideration in spending decisions.

"Northern Ireland's infrastructure has been under-funded for many years, and if we don't make the necessary investment now, our economy will continue to suffer well into the future."

John Armstrong, chief executive of the Construction Employers Federation, agreed and has called for increased Government investment in the sector.

"We have already made the case that spending on infrastructure - schools, hospitals and roads - will create employment and generate economic activity, with every £1 invested generating £2.84 in economic activity."

Northern Ireland has been more dependent on construction than the UK, figures show.

Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey said the severity of the housing downturn had been minimised by support offered by public sector investment, a "prop" since removed.

"The sharper the falls in capital investment the higher our unemployment levels will be and the more damage will be done to the economy overall."