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Construction output is still forecast to grow by nearly 3.5 per cent for this year, although this general figure conceals a reduction in public housing and an increase in commercial activity. Contractor optimism is also relatively high, with some believing building-product manufacturers will have a tough time facing cheap imports. Some analysts believe that companies which rode the storm by diversifying during the recession may not feel the full benefits of the improving market.
Growth in private commercial construction output in 1998 is projected at 8 per cent which, although high, is still below the most recent peak of 1990. The current stability is associated with a more cautious approach from clients as well as contractors, whose recollection of the recent recession is not distant enough.
Unfortunately, improvements within the infrastructure sector are likely to be far more difficult to initiate, and even the huge input of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link project has been temporarily scuppered by funding difficulties. If the commercial and leisure categories had failed to develop to their current extent, the construction industry would now be solely reliant on the residential sector to keep the industry afloat.
Housing requirements, or rather the projected need for further housing, is disappointing developers and environmentalists alike; the former because they deem estimates to be too low, and the latter because they consider them too high .
A possibility exists that the performance of some of the civil categories could reap the rewards of new investment in public transport; especially buses, which prompts the provision of bus lanes, stops and shelters. If the deputy prime minister's intentions are realised, thesuccess of some bus route improvements towards reducing commuter levels could become more widespread.
Although foreign investment in the industrial sector is currently undergoing an era of uncertainty, Japanese property owners are progressing schemes for speculative developments in the London area after a long wait. Both Kajima and Matsushita Investment and Development (uk) are embarking on joint ventures to develop schemes totalling 41,805m2.
In terms of plans approved, London has the largest market share but is closely followed by the South-east, South-west and Scotland. All the figures for April are somewhat disappointing, in terms both of planning and of main contracts awarded.
Our rolling total of architects with projects reaching plans-approved stage shows five practices with work valued at more than £200 million. As always it is interesting to see the total number of projects that the practices on the list have. Paulley Architects has a single project valued at £100 million, whereas Mason Richards Partnership's £211 million worth of work is made up of 89 projects.