Belfast Telegraph

Recovery is on the horizon for embattled construction sector

By Clare Weir

Northern Ireland's beleaguered construction industry will grow over the next few years, but not by much.

A new report released yesterday said the building industry will expand by just over 2% a year up to 2016 - but it warned a full recovery may not take place for more than five years.

The Construction Skills Network paper said building work here will grow at 2.1%, a faster rate than the rest of the UK which will see growth of 1.4%.

However, firms here must recover from a much steeper rate of decline: the Northern Ireland industry contracted by 31% over the last five years compared with 16% in the rest of the UK.

Employment in the construction industry is projected to grow slowly at an annual average rate of 1.3% between 2012 and 2016.

This is a better rate than the UK as a whole at 0.6% a year but employment is recovering from a much greater fall from its peak in 2007 - a drop of 28% here compared with a 10% fall in the UK.

Barry Neilson, spokesman for the network, said that despite the predicted growth in output over the forecast period, output in the construction industry in Northern Ireland will still not have reached its 2007-08 level by 2016.

"Whilst the forecast predictions highlight a slight growth, the construction sector still is a long way from full recovery," he said.

"There are more and more construction businesses that have ceased trading and have not been able to ride the economic storm.

"We know to help the survival of the sector we need to embrace new skills to support the low-carbon agenda. These are difficult times and it is the skills and qualifications of our workforce that will help us survive."

David Little, regional director for the National House Building Council in Northern Ireland, sees a recovery on the horizon.

But John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers Federation, sounded a note of caution. "We feel there is insufficient evidence to support the forecast of average annual growth of 2.1% in that period," he said.