NEW INFRASTRUCTURE orders have plummeted in the last year, according to figures published last week by the Department of Trade & Industry (DTI).
They show that in the first quarter of 2004, orders fell by 48% compared to the same period a year earlier. They were also 15% down on the last quarter of 2003.
The poor state of the civil engineering infrastructure market was confirmed by the latest contractors' confidence survey from the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA).
CECA also found that the total civil engineering workload had fallen over the past year and that orders were down, particularly in the motorway and trunk road sectors. The organisation has been highlighting the dip for months (NCE 15 January).
CECA said that contractors' workload expectations were at their weakest since July 1999. It said the state of order books was the worst since the survey began in March 1997.
'Our survey was carried out in the first month of the fourth year of the government's 10 year plan for transport, which looked forward to increasing investment in Britain's transport infrastructure, ' said CECA chairman Peter Heathershaw. 'But we have the weakest set of workload trends results since a year before that plan was launched.
When we think what might have been, these latest CECA survey results are deeply disappointing.'
Fears about falling orders come amid concerns that Chancellor Gordon Brown will be forced to trim transport spending in his forthcoming comprehensive spending review.
CECA economic advisor Jim Turner said delays to the regional multi-modal studies, which were meant to provide the framework for the 10 year spending plan - and the indecisive nature of their recommendations -- was largely to blame. Few new major road schemes have gained approval since Labour came to power, making the current hiatus inevitable, he said.
Turner said the problem had been made worse because the government pulled forward schemes inherited from the Conservative government and these were completed earlier than originally anticipated.