New construction orders for the first three months of the year fell 1% on the same quarter last year, according to DTI figures.
Despite this, orders showed an increase of 3% on the final three months of 2002, mainly driven by a 97% increase in infrastructure work.

Overall, however, infrastructure orders in the 12 months to March 2003 dropped 12% on the previous year. Private industrial orders in the year to March fell 6% on the previous 12 months. In contrast, public housing and housing association orders rose 2% over the year.

Figures released by trade body the Builders Merchants Federation were more positive. Builders merchant sales increased 3.5% for the first quarter of the year on the same period in 2002. The 12 month comparison to March showed a rise of 2.3%.