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Europe's civil engineering sector heading for a boom

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A CIVIL ENGINEERING career is looking more promising now than at any time in the last 10 years, if predictions from European construction forecasting body Euroconstruct are to be believed.

For once, civils growth is forecast across the whole of Europe over the next three years as European Union states relax spending constraints after meeting the Maastricht public sector borrowing targets.

The only market expecting a downturn is Belgium as high speed rail projects come to an end, rounding off a period of strong growth.

UK civil engineering output is forecast to increase by 5.5% to £8.8bn between now and 2002.

The forecasts are underpinned by strong underlying economic growth expectations. During a presentation to Euroconstruct's half yearly conference last week, Barings Asset management economist Michael Hughes said Europe was at the start of a 20-year growth cycle not seen since the late 1950s.

He added that governments had conquered inflation and made finance cheaper as a result. Lower cost finance, he believed, was starting to fueleconomic growth, spurring construction output and infrastructure development.

'I believe we are approaching the beginning of a 20-year period where the growth of living standards will be twice as high as it has been over the last 20 years,' said Hughes.

Delegates also heard of the immense pressure to develop new infrastructure. Speakers from France and Germany said their governments were beginning to realise the need to build congestion relieving roads despite pressure from environmentalists.

Overall, the £63.1bn European civil engineering sector is expected to grow by an average 2.75% over the next three years, with the five biggest and most developed EU markets - Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain - expected to show modest increases of 1%-3%.

Euroconstruct expects the fastest construction growth to come from relatively small countries such as Ireland and Portugal, whose spending program- mes are still benefiting from European Union seedcorn finance for infrastructure projects.

Ireland's civil engineering output is expected to grow by 33.3% to £1.8bn this year, before slowing down to 8% in 2001 and 5% in 2002.

The Polish government plans to use civil engineering to drive its economy forward. It has a shopping list of projects worth £21.7bn. These include underground railways, motorways, power stations, water treatment plants and viaducts.

Andrew Bolton

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