Construction Industry Laying Firm Foundations

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The construction industry in Northern Ireland has become a towering success with growth continuing and no end of projects in the pipeline. ADRIENNE McGILL reports

THE construction industry in Northern Ireland is one of the most profitable sectors of the local economy. It is building on a period of solid growth, with billions of pounds being pumped into residential, commercial, public sector and infrastructure developments across the Province.

According to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), the present value of output for the Northern Ireland construction industry is approximately pounds 2.7 billion and is set to grow at an average rate of 3.9 per cent each year over the next five years.

The sector is also a massive employer, with around 65,000 people currently employed in the construction industry in Northern Ireland. Since 1996 the construction sector has created 22,000 jobs and such is the scale of growth, CITB says there is a need for 4,000 new entrants each year over the next six years.

Examples of major projects include new local hospitals in Omagh and Enniskillen and a new maternity hospital in Belfast; the upgrade of Westlink - the main arterial route into Belfast; and the development of the largest retail scheme in Northern Ireland - the pounds 300m Victoria Square development in Belfast which includes a 200,000 sq ft House of Fraser store.

In addition, there are plans for the transformation of the north east and north west quarters of Belfast city centre, further developments at Cathedral Quarter, and ambitious plans for a mixed use scheme as part of the massive Titanic Quarter development spanning 185 acres.

Residential construction has been a key feature of growth. In 2004, it accounted for 48 per cent of the total construction output for Northern Ireland and was valued at pounds 1.1billion. But it is also expected to be the key driver for future years.

According to a recent report by marketing and research company OCO Consulting, demand for houses has been driven by

a relative shortage of mid-market housing in Northern Ireland, and also a change in demographics such as the rise in one-person households and increased demand from immigration.

Also, as more opportunities exist for the construction of townhouses, terraced houses and apartments, this will have a positive knock-on effect for the timber industry, which will benefit because of new house build activity and the increased popularity of timber frame houses.

The private commercial sector in Northern Ireland has also been extremely buoyant in recent years and has been driven by the strong performance of the office and retail sector. …