Sydney alone accounted for two-thirds of the 114 new cranes that rose across Australian skylines from six months earlier, quantity surveying firm Rider Levett Bucknall's latest crane index shows.
The national total of 647 cranes shows the construction industry's strong appetite for residential housing, which increased as high-rising housing projects grew to 81 per cent of the total from 79 per cent at time of the last count, at the end of September.
Commercial construction, the second-largest sector, accounted for just 45 cranes, three fewer than six months earlier.
The latest official figures show the value of residential construction work jumped almost 13 per cent in the September quarter from a year earlier to $13.55 billion.
But the figures reveal the lag that exists, a time when banks are getting nervous about financing apartment purchases and prices are falling in a market like Melbourne, between approvals and current activity. The current forest of cranes is the result of approvals passed up to three years ago, indicating that large numbers of housing-dedicated cranes will stay on the horizon well into next year.
The latest crane index reinforces the clear variations between regions in the strength of activity. Cranes erected on the east coast amount to nearly 84 per cent of all cranes sighted in Australia and more than two-thirds of residential crane activity was located in Sydney and Melbourne.
As the economy evolves and high-rise residential construction comes off the boil, the number of cranes is likely to fall even as other areas of construction such as construction provide the impetus for continued growth. They won't use as many cranes, RLB director of research & development Stephen Ballesty said.
"The underlying value of work in the market should continue beyond 2017 through infrastructure," he said. "Infrastructure will underpin workloads that probably won't be reflected in the crane index to the same extent, relative to its value."
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