The latest research from the Construction Products Association showed that the sale of building materials rose in the first quarter of 2006 for the first time in more than a year.

The improvement was achieved in sales of heavy and light materials and will be a welcome boost to the industry. Last year, construction output dropped for the first time in 10 years.

Allan Wilén, economics director at the association, said: "The survey provides early signs that the industry is going to bounce back from a disappointing year in 2005."

The improvement was most important among suppliers of heavy materials, which suffered the most from the downturn. Wilén said: "They are beginning to benefit from the start of some much delayed infrastructure projects."

But the strongest growth was the sale of light materials, which indicated greater output in housing, schools and NHS buildings.

Wilén said the main concern in the future was the impact of energy price hikes. "Some firms have seen their energy bills rise more than 200% over the past year, and the consequences are only just beginning to feed through."

Corus, the Anglo Dutch steel maker, has increased its prices for UK structural sections by £40 a tonne, effective from 30 April. Corus said the rises were caused by high demand in the UK, the Middle East and North America, combined with higher raw materials and energy costs.