Belfast Telegraph

Public projects shore up Ulster building industry

By Symon Ross

Northern Ireland’s construction industry is being propped up by Government spending on infrastructure projects, new figures show.

The province’s construction firms saw a 1.8% decrease in the value of business in the first quarter of the year to £707 million, with output down 5.3% on the same period last year, according the Department of Finance and Personnel’s Northern Ireland Construction Bulletin. Construction industry output is now 12% lower than during the housebuilding boom at the end of 2006.

Housing activity rose for the second consecutive quarter, up by 1.9% on quarter, though this was from a record low at the end of 2008 and is still almost 30% below the peak. But infrastructure work on roads, sewerage and energy was up 0.4% on quarter and 3.8% on year.

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said: “Over the past year, the construction industry in Northern Ireland has faced many challenges as areas such as private house- building have suffered a noticeable decline in output.

“With this downturn in private sector investment, the growth in Executive spend has become even more important for local firms. Last year, for example, we invested almost £1m a day extra in capital projects.

“This money is helping many local construction firms through the current downturn,” he said.

Capital investment hit record highs in 2008/09 helping push infrastructure output up 85% over the last four years.

However, Richard Ramsey, an economist at Ulster Bank, said: “In my view the first quarter 2009 outturn represents the end of NI’s infrastructure boom and infrastructure output is going to be on a downward trajectory moving forward. Pressure on the public sector finances going forward is the main driver behind this.”

Belfast Telegraph