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The outlook for the construction industry in Northern Ireland is improving with opportunities in the education, student accommodation and civil engineering sectors coming through the pipeline.

This is evident in Glenigan’s construction industry research, which shows that the total value of projects given detailed planning approval in Northern Ireland in the first three months of 2024 leaped by 64% on the same period a year ago. A total of £745 million worth of work was approved.

All levels of the industry are due a boost with the total value of work approved at an underlying level, which is projects valued at £100m or less, rising at an even faster rate of 110% compared with a year ago. This latest figure was also 22% up on the final quarter of 2023.

CGI of the Tomb Street Apartment Development in Belfast Northern Ireland

Work approved in the first quarter of 2024 includes a £50 million plan for 298 flats at Tomb Street in Belfast (pictured) (Project ID: 08525524) and the £50 million Ulster Folk Museum in Holywood, County Down (Project ID: 23080501).

Student rise

Student accommodation work in Belfast is one of the main factors behind Deloitte’s outlook for the construction industry in the city. “There are continuing signs of confidence in Belfast,” says Deloitte in its 2024 Crane Hire Survey.

More than 1,000 student rooms were completed in 2023 according to Deloitte, which adds: “High levels of investment are set to continue, with the Belfast Region City Deal programme containing a number of major education-orientated schemes.”

Glenigan’s construction industry market research has identified some of these schemes, including plans for 201 student rooms in the 3 Ventry Street development in Belfast (Project ID: 22414971). Planning permission has been granted and construction should begin this summer.

Contracts rise

These projects are starting to influence the value of contracts awarded. In the first quarter of this year, a main contract was awarded on £855 million-worth of projects according to Glenigan’s construction industry analysis. This total is up by 98% on the first quarter of 2023.

Graham Construction has won the largest value of contracts in the region in the last 12 months with work due to start later this year, including the £37.1 million One Bankmore Square student accommodation scheme in Belfast (Project ID: 17103118).

Northern Ireland – Top 10 contractors April 2023 to March 2024

Position Contractor Number of Projects Civil (£m) Building (£m) Total (£m)
1 Graham 7 1.2 182.9 184.1
2 FP McCann 11 4.3 114.0 118.3
3 Heron Bros 3 0.0 94.7 94.7
4 John McQuillan (Contracts) 6 2.2 81.0 83.2
5 Henry Group 3 0.0 73.7 73.7
6 Farrans 3 18.0 45.0 63.0
7 Ganson 3 0.0 54.0 54.0
8 Cleary Contracting 14 0.0 51.4 51.4
9 H&J Martin 3 0.0 46.7 46.7
10 Felix O’Hare 3 0.0 35.8 35.8

Source: Glenigan

Education spread

The wider education sector is set to stimulate workload over the coming year. Heron Bros – ranked third in Glenigan’s Northern Ireland Top 10 – is expected to start work in May on a £58.7 million shared education campus at Ballycastle in County Antrim (Project ID: 17280392

Felix O’Hare, which also features in the Northern Irish Top 10, is about to begin work on a £29.7 million integrated college development at Newtownards in County Down (Project ID: 19291963).

Civil work

Civil engineering work is also coming on stream. Tenders have been returned and a contract should be awarded in May according to Glenigan’s industry research on a £60m bridge on the A2 over the Newry Rover in County Down (Project ID: 12087264).

Once a contractor is confirmed, construction should begin in May.
Work on a proposed £100 million cruise ship terminal at Belfast Harbour could start this summer (Project ID: 16075059).


The construction industry in Northern Ireland is often out-of-kilter with the mainland in Britain and showing greater reason for confidence.

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