The Construction Products Association (CPA) is forecasting 3.0% growth in construction output during 2016 and 3.6% in 2017, a downward revision from the 3.6% growth forecast three months ago, but the skills shortage remains the most pressing issue for the wider construction industry.
The CPA says that the weakening in growth is due to heightened concerns regarding the effects of slowdown in global economic growth prospects, the impacts of uncertainty from the upcoming EU referendum on investor uncertainty and the potential for growth in the industry given key issues around skills shortages.
Highlights from the CPA Spring Forecast, released today, include; a forecast rise in construction output of 3.0% in 2016 and 3.6% in 2017; private housing starts expected to rise 5.0% in both 2016 and 2017; new offices activity anticipated to increase 7.0% in 2016 and 6.0% in 2017; retail construction expected to fall 1.0% in 2016 and only rise 2.0% in 2017; warehouses activity forecast to increase 23.7% by 2019; and infrastructure work is anticipated to rise 56.3% by 2019
Professor Noble Francis, the CPA’s economics director, said: “The latest forecasts for construction are still positive. With growth of 3.0% in 2016 and 3.6% in 2017, activity in the construction industry is expected to outpace growth in the wider UK economy.
“The risks to this growth, however, continue to rise. UK economic growth forecasts continue to be downgraded in light of poorer global economic growth prospects.
“In addition, the months leading up to the EU referendum in June will inevitably see a drop off in investment as increased uncertainty leads nervous investors to adopt a ‘wait and see’ policy until the referendum is out of the way, which could have a significant impact on UK economic growth and the construction sector in particular.”
Despite these substantial risks, the CPA are anticipating growth in the three largest construction sectors; private housing, commercial and infrastructure.
After a spike in property transactions in Q1 owing to April’s increase in stamp duty for buy-to-lets and second homes, however, the CPA would not be surprised to see a fall in property transactions in Q2. That shouldn’t affect the general housing market medium-term, as the return on investment in property remains considerable.
Professor Francis continued: “Work in the commercial offices sector is forecast to grow by 7.0% in 2016 and a further 6.0% in 2017 due to major high profile developments currently in the pipeline, not just in London but also Birmingham and Manchester too. Retail construction, on the other hand, is expected to fall 1.0% in 2016 and only rise 2.0% in 2017 as major supermarket chains consolidate, focusing more on small convenience stores where sales margins are higher.
“In addition, general retail is expected to suffer from the continuing shift away from high street shopping to the internet. Whilst this shift adversely affects retail construction, it does boost industrial warehouses construction, which is expected to increase 10.0% in 2016 and a further 5.0% in 2017.”
The CPA Spring Forecast indicates that the most pressing issue is whether the wider construction industry actually has the skills available to deal with double-digit growth in the infrastructure, commercial and private sectors at the same time. By 2019, total construction output is expected to be £20 billion higher than in 2015, yet employment in the industry remains 324,000 lower than it was over seven years ago.