Government funding challenge for Northern Ireland construction

Sam McManus (AECOM), Sarah Venning (CEO NI Water), Duncan Gracie (AECOM) and Paul Harper (NI Water) at the launch of AECOM’s Foundations of Future Growth report. Photo: Ian Campbell.

Lack of government funding, planning, and economic uncertainty were cited by industry professionals in Northern Ireland as the three main challenges facing construction companies that are trying to deliver large scale projects, according to a new report by AECOM.

AECOM’s annual construction industry review, Foundations for Future Growth, surveyed 250 construction industry professionals and spoke to industry leading experts about the issues facing them today. 

It predicts a rise of 3.5% in price inflation for 2020, on top of the 5% price inflation the industry experienced in 2019. This prediction, says the report, raises uncertainty as to how the construction sector will perform in 2020 and beyond.

However, the consensus between more than 140 construction industry professionals attending the launch of the report in Belfast saw a confident optimism that the return of the Stormont Assembly last month could mean a re-boot for the construction sector in Northern Ireland and a rise in construction output over the next 12 months.

The discussions at the launch event were formed around AECOM’s annual industry review and how Northern Ireland’s construction industry can tackle the challenges presented by a rapidly evolving economy, political situation and a changing climate. 

Trevor Leaker, director AECOM, said: “A number of factors are contributing to increasing costs such as the talent shortage in NI, competition from a busy ROI market and the continued success of NI contractors pricing their work similar to that in Great Britain. Opportunities arising outside of NI have made it increasingly more difficult to secure electrical and plumbing tradespeople for key projects. After three years of public sector inactivity, a huge need for infrastructure investment has built up and whether industry can satisfy this demand depends on whether the right skilled workers are available.”

Sara Venning, chief executive of Northern Ireland Water, stressed the importance of collaboration in mitigating climate change. She said: “This is a really exciting time to be involved with infrastructure. It is clear to see that infrastructure has moved right up the agenda in Northern Ireland. I want NI Water to be a leader in sustainability. We are well positioned to do a world of good in tackling the climate crisis and partnering with others is key to achieving this.”

The role technology can play in tackling the climate emergency was also a prominent talking point at the launch. AECOM’s review showed that almost 50% of respondents highlighted more efficiency during the design and build of projects as the most immediate benefit of smart technology within their work.

Trevor Anderson, infrastructure and business transformation director, Belfast Harbour, said: “It is amazing to see the adoption level of technology within ports now. Automation is a start in creating substantive change. Ports would be ideal early adopters of autonomous vehicles as we have a controlled environment to trial and run these. Small port community systems empower better planning, leading to more efficient sustainable processes, adding to the value chain.”

Click here to download AECOM’s annual construction industry review, Foundations for Future Growth.

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