Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland housebuilding still lags behind UK

By Margaret Canning

Housebuilding is fuelling an increase in building in Northern Ireland though still lags behind other UK regions.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors' monthly research, published yesterday, found that private and social house building had increased in the second quarter.

There was also more commercial activity going on.

But the survey, which is produced in association with law firm Tughans, said infrastructure - and public sector activity other than housing - had fallen 'significantly' compared to the previous quarter.

Northern Ireland was the only UK region where there was a decrease in the sub-sections of infrastructure and public sector activity - and the economy was losing out as a result, RICS said.

Spokesman Jim Sammon said: "Investing in infrastructure is a crucial part of rebalancing and growing the economy.

"We need better roads and railways, schools, hospitals and energy infrastructure to meet our sustainable energy needs.

"A lot of our existing infrastructure is ageing and in need of replacement, and we would strongly encourage the policymakers 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."

He called on government to intervene, saying public/private partnerships, in which the public and private sector team up to get major projects done, would be a viable way of addressing the "infrastructure investment deficit".

Michael McCord, a construction partner at Tughans, said firms were still having to seek work in Great Britain to make up for a lack of building at home.

"The latest official figures from the Department of Finance and Personnel showed that the total volume of construction output in Northern Ireland increased in the first quarter of the year, and the RICS and Tughans construction market survey indicates that the sector's recovery continued into the second quarter," he said.

"However, there is no doubt that local construction businesses remain very dependent on the Great Britain market for work, and that activity within Northern Ireland itself continues to lag other parts of the UK."

Social housing activity has seen a boost in recent months, with Barclays providing £35m in funding to Fold Housing Association, while Danske is one of the funders of a £340m spending programme by newly-formed Choice Housing Association.

According to the Northern Ireland composite economic index for the first quarter of the year, which was published last week, construction output in the first quarter of the year was the highest for nearly three years, and almost 100% the average output through the whole of 2011.

The index said there had been a 9.6% rise in infrastructure output, while housing output had fallen 4.6%.

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