Growth in construction workloads fell to its lowest level for more than a decade in the first quarter as the credit crunch hit the industry.

The latest figures from the RICS show that 20% of surveyors reported a drop in workload in the first three months of the year.

Private housing was the worst hit sector, with workload growth turning negative for the first time in nine years. Nine per cent more chartered surveyors reported a fall than a rise in private sector housing workloads.

The fall is mainly caused by a downturn in the North, but private housing work grew weaker in all regions and is now static in London and the South-east, Wales, the Midlands and Northern Ireland.

Expectations for profit margins among surveyors fell for only the second time in the survey’s history with sentiment falling sharply as growth in the private commercial and private housing sectors slowed.

Skills shortages, meanwhile, have equalled the record low of 2006 as labour from EU accession countries continues to be used. The UK’s open and flexible labour market continues to provide a firm base for the industry.