Northern Ireland news

Sharp rise in new home building

Michael McHugh, Press Association

New house building by Northern Ireland firms has substantially increased this year, the construction industry said.

The amount of work is up 16% year-on-year and major plans are also underway for new office and retail space.

Two thirds of locally-based companies worked at full or almost full capacity in the first six months of 2017, according to a study by the Construction Employers' Federation (CEF), although the largest operators concentrated on Great Britain.

It warned the failure to form an Executive at Stormont, the potential impact of a hard Brexit, a significant skills shortage and rising costs of labour and material had narrowed profit margins and affected firms' capacity to reinvest.

Managing director John Armstrong said: "The survey results reflect a local construction industry that is now well beyond its low point of 2012.

"Industry workloads are strong, with the last six-12 months having seen a substantial increase in new housing activity as well as encouraging growth in infrastructure work."

A survey by the Federation and accountants BDO said much of the recent growth was within private house building.

Larger firms which do most of their work in Great Britain are doing well but smaller firms which confine business to Northern Ireland and erect perhaps 10 homes a year are also prospering.

Mr Armstrong said the next year would be absolutely critical.

"The companies surveyed want to push on, they want to get beyond the stability phase that many have been in during recent years.

"The growth opportunities are there, the quarter-on-quarter increases in new housing starts and completions alone point to a house building sector which is beginning to once again play a full role in unlocking economic growth and opportunity."

He said companies anticipated higher costs and squeezed margins over the next year.

However, Brian Murphy, partner at BDO Northern Ireland, said expectations were that order books will remain steady and workloads sustained.

"The optimists outnumber others by almost three to one on this front."

The Titanic Quarter was singled out as an example of firms building speculatively then attracting buyers.

Official calculations expect more than 9,000 new homes a year to be built but the actual number of completions last year was only 6,400 units.

Social housing accounts for around a fifth of the total housing demand.

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