Housing slow-up pulls down construction forecasts

Construction output is forecast to fall from a record-high level and contract by 6.4% in 2023 according to the CPA’s Spring Forecasts. This is a downgrade from a fall of 4.7% expected in the Winter, driven primarily by sharp falls in the two largest construction sectors – private new housing and private housing repair, maintenance and improvement (rm&i) – as well as government announcements of delays to major infrastructure projects, such as delaying HS2 work at Euston station and work on major road schemes.

In infrastructure, the third-largest sector, growth is expected but has been downgraded from the Winter Forecasts owing to government A wider recovery in economic growth in 2024 is expected to boost demand for both new build housing and rm&i activity and total construction output is forecast to return to growth, rising by 1.1%.

Housing development

Private housing output is forecast to fall 17.0% in 2023, partly a consequence of last year’s interest rates rising to a 14-year high, broader cost of living increases and falling real incomes.  Private housing rm&i is similarly exposed to the fall in real incomes but is also experiencing slower demand. This is due to the fading impact of the one-off boost to activity during and immediately after the pandemic, when increased working from home, a ‘race for space’, and accumulated savings and housing wealth saw households investing in large improvements projects. A drop in planning applications in the second half of 2022 and the return of competing spending decisions such as overseas holidays point to a reduced pipeline of improvements work and discretionary r&m projects for this year. As a result, output is forecast to fall 9.0% in 2023, which is partly offset by strong activity on energy efficiency retrofit and solar/PV work, before a broader economic recovery that drives output growth of 2.0% in 2024.

In infrastructure, forecast growth rates have been downgraded in the Spring Forecasts to 0.7% for 2023 and 1.2% for 2024, from 2.4% and 2.5% respectively in Winter.

CPA Head of Construction Research Rebecca Larkin said: “Despite the improvement in the outlook for the UK economy compared to six months ago, the headwinds of falling real incomes and interest rate rises remain. For construction, the most acute effects of this will be felt in the two largest sectors of activity and those that are most exposed to a slowdown in discretionary household spending: private housing and private housing rm&i. The sharp falls that are forecast for housing in 2023 mean that overall, a construction recession will be unavoidable. However, it is important to emphasise that the starting point is a record-high level of activity and the 6.4% contraction expected is smaller than during the construction recessions of 2008/09, 2012 and 2020.

“In previous years, infrastructure activity has helped cushion falls elsewhere, but recent government announcements delaying HS2 work at Euston station and on major roads schemes including the Lower Thames Crossing have weakened the near-term growth prospects for the third-largest sector of construction. Unlike the relatively fast bounce back that is expected in housing in 2024, the prospect of delays leading to even greater cost overruns on large infrastructure projects poses a risk to longer-term activity. This shines a light on the government’s decision to keep capital spending budgets unchanged in cash terms from 2024/25.”

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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