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Growing crane count suggests construction activity is on the rise

Construction activity across Australia continues to ramp up, with the latest Rider Levett Bucknall’s Crane Index showing the first increase since prior to the pandemic in early 2019.

In the first quarter of 2022, there were 506 cranes on the Australian skyline, a net increase of 63 over the past six months for residential projects.

Forty-one of these were in Sydney with gains also in Newcastle, the Central Coast, Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast.

Across the non-residential sector, crane numbers have increased each period since the first quarter of 2020 and while construction has continued throughout a difficult period, completion timelines have increased.

Ray White Commercial Head of Research Vanessa Rader said office construction had been strong despite a number of headwinds.

“High-rise office construction has been a major contributor to the rising Crane Index for the non-residential sector, despite woes of rising office vacancies and the work from home model impacting physical office occupation,” Ms Rader said.

“The standout sector has been mixed-use developments, together with medical and education, adding 32 cranes to the skyline nationally in the past six months.”

Ms Rader said construction activity across the country had increased steadily.

“Looking at the major cities, we can see that Greater Sydney (including the Central Coast and Wollongong) has the greatest number of active cranes at 370, this represents growth of 17 per cent over the past six months, with residential up 19 per cent and non-residential up by 11 per cent,” she said.

“The bulk of residential cranes are located in Sydney’s east and north with little change in the south and western precincts. 

“In Perth there has been a rapid rise in activity, including 32 per cent more residential cranes active over the past six months, and an 83 per cent growth in non-residential due to increasing education, health, as well as office projects. 

“There has been small growth recorded in Brisbane non-residential cranes, up 5 per cent to 46 in the past six months due to the growth in infrastructure and civil projects.”

Ms Rader said compared to other countries, construction activity levels in Australia had held up well.

“Compared to other parts of the world, Australia is leading the crane count, with the USA and Canada only adding 22 cranes to their skylines over the same period,” she said.

“Markets such as Washington DC, Boston and Portland all declined in activity while some small increases were recorded in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Toronto, while no change in crane numbers was recorded for Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Seattle and Honolulu. 

“For these markets half of all cranes have been for residential projects with mixed-use, health and office making up the remainder. 

“Looking to Asia, numbers from Q4 2021 show Hong Kong activity still up, however, only across the commercial markets, with residential crane numbers decreasing, resulting in a net increase of 26 or 17 per cent over the calendar year.”

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Rowan Crosby

Rowan Crosby is a senior journalist at Elite Agent specialising in finance and real estate.