Construction industry building its way back up in East Anglia

Figures for the region show the construction industry is bouncing back but will need to recruit more

Figures for the region show the construction industry is bouncing back but will need to recruit more to keep up with demand. Picture submitted - Credit: Archant

Construction leaders in East Anglia have said home building and major infrastructure projects are back underway post-recession with the sector set to grow again this year - so long as resources and recruitment can meet demand.

Whilst the recession saw many companies in this vulnerable sector fold, national projects in the pipeline and a return to business from the private sector saw the strongest growth yet in the region last year and strong projected growth for 2015.

But meeting demand will depend on enough young people entering apprenticeships in the next year, with 4,260 needed every year from now until 2019 in the east of England alone - not to mention bricks and other building materials.

Richard Neall, chief executive of One Group Construction which owns construction firm SEH French in Ipswich, said turnover for the group had gone from £150m before the recession down to about £100m during it, and was now back up to around £130m - citing housebuilders and the private sector coming back on the market as a big reason for the push.

'There has been real growth in the last six months in the sector, though it's been a bit quieter in last three months in the run-up to the election as people haven't really thought about getting their windows done,' said Mr Neall. 'But it's looking strong going forward - housebuilders have finally woken up and the private sector, which was basically dead during the recession, is back on board as well.'


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Civil engineering and public sector infrastructure projects such as council commissions and the Environmental Agency had been steadier throughout the turbulent financial period, with One Group Construction remaining profitable through that time, he said. A stable government with longer-term plans should also ensure larger projects such as highways continued to bring business to the region. But East Anglia and the rest of the country might not be able to keep up with demand, warned Mr Neall.

'In a way the construction industry needed to slow down as there wouldn't have been enough resources if it had kept up at the rate it was,' he said. 'And now, if the private sector gets big, there will be a significant skills shortage again.'

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Ali Tennant, accountant at construction training company Britannia Safety in Wymondham, said turnover had increased by 25pc in 2014 as the firm saw more young people enter the sector than ever before last year.

'Lots of projects, especially schools and housing, that were delayed or cancelled have come back,' said Mrs Tennant. 'People are getting more contracts, we can see that - and if building goes up, then training goes up too.'

As housebuilding and schooling came back on the market in the region, major projects in London and elsewhere could also make their impact felt in East Anglia.

Infrastructure projects such as the high-speed HS2 train, Thames tideway tunnel and the nuclear new build programme would require a workforce that individual cities such as London would be unlikely to supply, said a senior construction college leader.

Graham McPhail, head of education and training at the National Construction College which is based in King's Lynn, said construction workers were often more likely to move near work than those in other industries.

'The immediate vicinity in East Anglia will provide the backfill for these major projects, and a lot of qualified people in the region could be sucked up,' said Mr McPhail. 'But then who does the construction work in the region?'

Brick layers and joiners would be in especially great need, with construction colleges such as the one in King's Lynn working hard to recruit and fill the shortage, he said.

How has your industry pulled back from the recession? Contact business writer Jess Staufenberg on 01603772531 or email jessica.staufenberg@archant.co.uk

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