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Workload levels out Architects' workloads seem to have peaked, but at a reassuringly high level. Offices are the healthiest sector RESEARCH BY MIRZA & NACEY.

Offices were the most exciting sector for the first quarter of 1999, the latest report on architects' workload from Mirza & Nacey shows. New commissions have risen by 23.4 per cent this quarter, to a total value of £6804 million. The researchers warn that 'the opportunity for cancellation or postponement of jobs at this early stage is significant' but add that the figures still represent 'a massive resurgence of the speculative developer as a generator of building work.'

The most dramatic rises in percentage terms - although the actual figures are much lower than for offices - are in the public-sector in education and, particularly, health which has gone up by 80 per cent compared to the previous quarter. These rises are to some extent offset by falls in private-sector work in these categories. Nonetheless, both sectors have shown significant overall growth. Education commissions have risen by 27 per cent from the previous quarter, with student accommodation accounting for nearly 40 per cent of the work by value. In health the rise, part of a continuing trend, is 59 per cent.

In private housing, new commissions are static, maintaining a figure about half that of the peak of a year ago. Could this be the current underlying level of housing demand, still considerably higher than even the peaks of the years 1991-1997? Refurbishment is continuing to rise, heading towards 50 per cent, suggesting a continuing affection for existing housing over new buildings. Figures for public housing have, say the researchers, remained 'amazingly consistent for the last 12 months'. In contrast to the private sector, refurbishment has virtually disappeared, with new-build increasing over the past six months. The value of work is evenly split between new build and refurbishment.

The retail market has continued to fall, with new commissions down 45 per cent this quarter, bringing to a definite end the peak in work experienced about a year ago.

Regionally, London remains the most active region, with the total value of work £7444 million, way ahead of the next most active region, the Midlands/East Anglia, at £5733 million. But new commissions have fallen slightly in London, by 2.6 per cent, whereas in the Midlands/East Anglia they have risen by 12.8 per cent. The most dramatic rise was in Wales, where the industry is both small and volatile. New commissions rose buy a staggering 268 per cent - though to only £585 million. Interestingly, confidence in the region seems to be rising, with architects predicting further growth over the next six months.

More details are available in Construction Futures, published by Mirza & Nacey Research, price £100. For details tel 01243 551302.

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