Belfast Telegraph

Stormont standstill is stifling construction growth in Northern Ireland

By Amanda Ferguson

Northern Ireland's beleaguered construction industry has experienced its best performance in three years but experts say progress is being stifled by political crisis at Stormont.

The latest construction bulletin from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency indicates the total volume of construction output carried out here in the first quarter of 2015 increased by 6.5% compared to the previous quarter.

It was also 13.8% higher when compared to the same period last year.

The volume of construction output in Q1 2015 was the highest level of output reported for three years, but remains some way off its pre-recession peak. The increase in the overall output was accounted for by both an increase in New Work (6.5%) and a similar increase in Repair & Maintenance (6.7%).

There was a sharp increase of 18.7% in 'other work output' which was accompanied by a 9.6% rise in infrastructure output.

Housebuilding slumped by nearly 5%.

Construction industry experts in Northern Ireland told the Belfast Telegraph the new stats did not reflect the experiences of firms and that the political crisis at Stormont was impacting progress.

Stephen Kane, chairman of the Construction Industry Group for Northern Ireland - representing more than 30 active large associations constituting contractors, professionals and suppliers - said the results were historical and were "benchmarking against a very low base".

"In particular the reality is that we are now into the third quarter and the impasse at Stormont has now seriously affected capital and revenue spends in our local industry resulting in real uncertainty thus creating real job losses, reduction in live workload and confidence for future investment," he said.

Mr Kane urged Stormont to show leadership as he says uncertainty is presenting the construction industry with a series of problems.

"We would encourage local government to show leadership and reach agreement in their budgets to immediately release work and show a transparent pipeline, set a date and rate for corporation tax and let the unique proven economic multiplier our local construction can bring to help deliver sustainable growth and jobs for everyone in Northern Ireland," he said.

John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers Federation, said while it welcomed any signs of positive news, the Northern Ireland construction industry remained "flat" and that members had a different story to tell.

"As far as we are concerned there is no serious indication of an upturn in Northern Ireland," he said. "Housebuilding is still pretty much at the bottom and general construction is fairly flat in Northern Ireland.

"The political uncertainly and lack of progress at Stormont is holding back construction and the economy generally.

"I have member companies saying they may be making lay-offs until they see greater certainty from the hill, from Stormont."

Belfast Telegraph

Weekly Business Digest Newsletter

This week's business news headlines, directly to your inbox every Tuesday.