Belfast Telegraph

House building at a standstill as construction industry wilts

Slowdown in embattled sector gathers pace

By Clare Weir

The fragility of Northern Ireland's construction sector has been laid bare after figures revealed output has fallen to levels last seen three years ago.

The news came as it emerged well-known Co Antrim firm Patton Group is to reduce staff in its specialist joinery division.

A spokesman for the Ballymena-based company said it was not yet known how many positions were under threat and that other parts of the business would not be affected by the reductions.

"This difficult but necessary decision follows a comprehensive review of the joinery division which began several months ago in light of a substantially reduced order book," he said.

"It is with profound sadness that we are implementing this downsizing programme, but we have been left with no alternative, given the current economic climate and its affects on the construction industry.

"We are commencing a 30-day consultation process with staff in the division to ensure staff levels are in line with current and anticipated workloads."

Meanwhile, it emerged this week that building work in the second quarter of 2011 suffered the largest quarterly decrease since 2008.

Overall, construction output here has fallen for 12 consecutive quarters and is 38.2% lower than the peak seen in the first three months of 2007.

The Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (Nisra) has published the latest edition of the Northern Ireland Construction Bulletin, which has shown that the total volume of construction output in Northern Ireland from April to June 2011 fell by 7% compared to the preceding three months and was 14.4% lower compared to 12 months ago.

New work decreased by 10.8% over the quarter, offset by a rise in the volume of construction work classified as 'repair and maintenance' which increased by 2.4% over the quarter.

The volume of new work has now fallen for six consecutive quarters and is 47.1% lower than the peak last seen in the first three months of 2007.

All sub-categories of construction output experienced a decrease in the second quarter of 2011 compared to the previous quarter of the year.

David Little, Northern Ireland director of the National House Building Council said there has been a large decline in house building projects.

"Looking at our records, there were 15 companies building over 100 housing units this time five years ago - now that number has dwindled to three," he said.

"We have a great industry here ready and willing to build houses, but we are at the mercy of the global economic situation and until there is liquidity in the market there is not a lot that can be done."

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