Belfast Telegraph

Executive urged to get builders back to work

By Margaret Canning

Action is needed to get builders back on site as their depressed trade is "dragging down" the whole economy, a trade body said in response to the latest industry survey.

Research by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said activity plummeted again between April and June with surveyors in the Northern Ireland stuck with the emptiest in-trays in the UK.

The discrepancy between workloads here and elsewhere deepened in that time. There was a net balance of -64 of surveyors with declining workload, compared to a UK average of +2, and +17 for London and the south east.

RICS spokesman Jim Sammon said there was "no let-up" in the construction sector recession.

"We would call for the fast-tracking of economically important planning applications, and the introduction of measures to raise additional revenue to help ensure money is available for capital spending," he said.

The Construction Employers Federation (CEF) has called for Executive action to boost the crippled industry.

CEF managing director John Armstrong said: "Urgent action is required to get builders back to work as this sustained decline is dragging the whole economy down."

Mr Armstrong suggested giving the industry a boost by means including first-time buyer incentives such as help to access affordable mortgages, and seeking private finance for infrastructure projects like schools and hospitals.

He added: "We recognise the Executive is operating in a challenging fiscal environment.

"In this position they need to ensure that every pound spent delivers the best economic outcome. Due to the unique economic multiplier effect of construction it is an area that deserves particular attention."

The RICS survey came as the Housing Executive said there were at least 5,000 unfinished new homes in Northern Ireland, abandoned by builders who have run out of money.

On Tuesday creditors of Saintfield developer Ken Campbell accepted a voluntary arrangement in which they will be repaid a fraction of debts totalling £1.69m.

Expectations for the future were also low, with falling workloads, employment and profits predicted by RICS members.

The industry's present condition is far removed from 2007, when construction in the private housing sector grew at its fastest rate in over 13 years.