Home improvement projects and housebuilding in Northern Ireland have hit their highest levels in five years, heaping pressure on construction firms, a survey has said.

ccording to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the growth of workloads led to a sharp increase in the cost of materials and a shortage of staff during the first quarter of the year.

Surveyors reported a rise in workloads, with marked growth in private residential construction, which hit its highest reading in five years. 

Infrastructure work also jumped, with growing numbers of surveyors reporting a rise in activity.

Overall, respondents to the survey, conducted by RICS in partnership with law firm Tughans, said the construction sector had been recovering well from the impact of the pandemic.

However, there were some constraints on a return to normality. Eight out of 10 said a shortage of materials was holding up the industry, up from 57% in the first quarter of the year.

And they predicted the cost of materials would go up by nearly 10% over the next year – outpacing a 7% increase anticipated for tender prices.

There were also fears about future labour shortages in skilled trades and professional roles.

A growing number of industry professionals were worried about a lack of quantity surveyors in the future.

And there was a shortage of bricklayers, and other construction professionals.

Overall, there were predictions of continued growth in workloads. 

Jim Sammon, RICS NI construction spokesman, said: “With skills shortages pushing up wages and material shortages also leading to increased costs, it’s perhaps no surprise that NI respondents expect profit margins to continue to be squeezed over the next year.

“But it is encouraging that workloads have continued to grow and expectations are for ongoing growth, albeit that workload expansion in Northern Ireland is being reported at a lower levels than elsewhere in the UK.”

Michael McCord, senior partner at Tughans, said the growth in house building was unsurprising, given the demand for housing.

“Perhaps even more significantly for the economy is the strong growth in infrastructure activity. 

“Investment in infrastructure will support the recovery and enhance Northern Ireland’s competitiveness for the longer-term.”

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