This is a notable improvement of the negative reading seen towards the end of 2011, RICS said. While public sector construction activity remains depressed, the private sectors is now showing signs of life with workloads in the commercial sector in particular picking-up.
Predictions for future construction activity saw the greatest optimism since early 2008. A net balance of 21% expects workloads to rise over the coming 12 months.
Surveyors in London and the southeast reported the highest rises in overall activity but most parts of the country saw either a rise or a steadier trend in workloads over the quarter. Surveyors in the north recorded the first positive reading since the final quarter of 2007. Only in Northern Ireland are activity levels still slipping.
Overall input costs, including raw materials and labour, continued to increase in the three months to March as a net balance of 29% reported rises in outlays. The most significant increases in costs were seen in materials. Staffing costs remained flat.
RICS chief economist Simon Rubinsohn said: “The start of the year saw a cautious level of optimism develop across the UK construction industry. Workloads rose across the sector, albeit modestly, and this looks as though it could continue over the next twelve months. Promisingly, this could also result in an increase in the numbers of jobs created in the sector.
“There are of course still significant hurdles to overcome. Finance for development remains a problem as does macroeconomic uncertainty. On top of this, the public sector will continue to scale back its capital spending programme putting ever more pressure on the private sector and institutional investors to deliver.”