The CPA’s Autumn Forecasts show the infrastructure sector to be the key driver of construction growth for the year ahead. Less affected by supply-side issues than other areas of construction, the main activity in the sector is due to work on five-year spending plans within the regulated sectors of rail, water, roads and energy. Growth above general activity levels will be driven by major projects such as the Thames Tideway Tunnel, Hinkley Point C and HS2. Infrastructure output is forecast to rise by 23.9% in 2021 and by 9.7% in 2022 as the sector reaches record levels due to main works on HS2.
Output in private housing, the largest construction sector, is forecast to rise by 17.0% in 2021 and by 6.0% in 2022 with house builders confident regarding demand at the end of this year and in the first half of 2022. However, the private housing forecast for next year is a downward revision from 8.0% forecast in the Summer to reflect concerns about affordability and the sustainability of double-digit house price growth, particularly in the light of rising inflation concerns and the impact on consumer confidence and spending in the second half of 2022.
In the private housing rm&i sector, the ‘race for space’ continues unabated. Output here is forecast to rise by 20.0% this year but remain flat, at a historically high level, in 2022. According to the Bank of England, households have accumulated £200 billion of savings over the past 18 months since the initial lockdown began. Most small contractors have renovation projects lined up for the next six months, but the capacity of small contractors is already being tested from skills and products shortages. In addition, the impacts of rising costs over the next six months across the economy may lead to more subdued consumer confidence and spending on renovation projects later next year.
In the commercial sector, activity on the fit-out and finishing of new and existing offices, retail and leisure buildings, plus changes in use of existing commercial developments into residential and warehouses, remains strong. Again, however, firms in these areas report that skills shortages remain key constraints. While demand for new high-profile, grade A office space appears to be robust as corporate clients move into new, quality office space aimed at fewer employees and increased space per worker, new investment is lacking in mid-range office space and in retail. There remain relatively few new office towers projects in the pipeline owing to an excess supply of floor space in urban centres given only a partial return to offices. Existing retail space demand remains lower than pre-Covid-19 despite retail sales having recovered to pre-pandemic levels. The issue being the long-term shift away from in-store retail and towards online shopping over the last 15 years, which has accelerated sharply due to the impacts of the lockdowns.
Commenting on the supply chain issues, CPA Economics Director, Noble Francis, said: “Demand continues to be remarkably strong across the construction industry but supply issues are hindering growth and will continue to do so in the medium-term. The biggest impacts of the supply constraints are on the small construction firms. Large contractors and major house builders have a greater certainty of demand over the 12-18 month horizon and are better able to plan and purchase in advance as well as adjust to changing economic situations. Small firms, however, are more focused on flexibility and have less visibility over demand going forward. Plus, they have less ability and resource to plan and purchase in advance. They often turn up at builders merchants on the day to purchase what they need for that day or the next few days. As a result, it leaves their business more exposed to availability issues and their cash flow exposed to sharp rises in costs.”
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