Belfast Telegraph

Construction sector remains dependent on projects in GB as Northern Ireland growth still stunted

By Margaret canning

Northern Ireland's construction sector remains dependent on projects in Great Britain for work, according to a survey today.

Surveyors told their professional body that they were still going across the water for work, continuing a trend which began during the economic downturn.

And apart from some pick-up in residential house building in the province, members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) were downbeat about their prospects, compared to their colleagues in the rest of the UK.

Infrastructure was the sector in which Northern Ireland was the most deficient - with no growth in infrastructure activity reported in the latest RICS survey, produced in association with law firm Tughans.

RICS construction spokesman Jim Sammon said: "On the positive side, the latest survey points to overall growth in activity.

"But unfortunately it is relatively weak growth and it is coming off a very low base.

"The main concern is the ongoing lack of infrastructure activity, with no growth in infrastructure workloads reported for the 10th consecutive quarter.

"The reality is that Northern Ireland simply cannot achieve the kind of economic growth that we want without investing significantly in our infrastructure.

"So we need to see a step-change in Northern Ireland's approach to infrastructure investment."

Many Northern Ireland building firms - led by Co Tyrone firm McAleer and Rushe - have found large amounts of work in other parts of the UK, to counter the effects of the slowdown in the sector at home.

Michael McCord, construction partner at Tughans Solicitors, said the sector was still fairly strong in Great Britain, which was good news for firms from here operating in that market.

Mr McCord added: "We also see ongoing evidence of increasing house-building activity locally.

"However, it is the lack of a pick-up in infrastructure workloads that will cause construction firms most concern.

"It is vitally important that all efforts are made to invest in and improve our infrastructure to support the development of the local economy."

All respondents to the survey said they were doing at least some work outside Northern Ireland.

One in five respondents said at least half of their work was outside Northern Ireland, and one in 10 said that between 75% and 100% of their work was outside Northern Ireland.

McAleer and Rushe was one of the first building firms in Northern Ireland to start seeking work in Great Britain, and most big firms have since followed in their footsteps.

Its design and build division had around 20 projects on its books during 2015, according to its most recent results - including a £51.5m student development of 1,000 rooms in Portsmouth.

But it has also begun a number of building projects in Northern Ireland, and this week announced a new £21m hotel deal with Irish company Dalata Group plc. McAleer and Rushe will build the new Maldron Hotel in Belfast's Brunswick Street and sell it on to Dalata upon completion.

It is also building new student developments at College Avenue and McClintock Street in the city, to be sold to Queen's University upon completion in a deal worth £72m.

Belfast Telegraph