Rising Crane Count Masks Two-Speed Market


Crane numbers have lifted by 4 per cent across the country as construction continues to pick up with easing pandemic restrictions allowing more onsite work.

The number of cranes across Australian city skylines rose to 718 in Rider Levett Bucknall’s latest count, increasing for a second consecutive quarter after two years of straight declines.

The modest gain of 27 new cranes from 675 in the consultancy’s previous count was due to cranes appearing over apartment projects—pushing the residential portion of the index into positive territory for the first time in more than a year.

Cranes working at multi-storey residential developments recovered after falling for the past 12 months to now be up 5.5 per cent over the three months to September.

The rise mirrors a surge in building approvals during the year and a 2.1 per cent increase, or $1.5 billion, in work done in the sub-sector for the year.

Rider Levett Bucknall director of research Domenic Schiafone said all sectors, barring residential and retail, were now at record highs across the country.

“These past six months has seen the country slowly accelerate towards a post-Covid ‘new normal’,” Schiafone said.

“The federal government’s stimulus measures have assisted the economy but the impact on residential construction continues to see the industry operate at two speeds.”

Crane counts by sector

1Q21 count1Q21 (% of total)3Q21 count3Q21 (% of total)
Mixed Use 7010.1%7310.2%

^Source: RLB

Schiafone said despite lower additions to crane numbers compared to other sectors, residential cranes now accounted for 60 per cent of all cranes currently up and active around the country.

“Residential housing, assisted by both federal and state incentives, appears to be travelling at breakneck speed and does not appear to have suffered from any Covid-19 hangover at this stage,” he said.

Government-sponsored civil projects continue to expand nationwide, recording the sharpest rise in crane numbers, while health, mixed-use and recreation projects have also grown steadily during the past six months.

The industries hit hardest by the lockdowns throughout the pandemic, namely tourism, retail and commercial, all continued to track downwards.

Hotels, tourism and leisure property is expected to continue to be the sector most heavily impacted during the coming quarter, with the majority of industry experts tipping the sector to remain depressed until the reopening of international borders.

At a city level, Brisbane, Canberra, Perth, and Sydney recorded the strongest growth in crane numbers.

Brisbane again recorded the biggest increase with 12 erected since March to now for a total of 83.

Residential cranes remain the largest sector in Brisbane, accounting for almost half of the city’s cranes, followed by the mixed-use sector, largely due to the $3.6-billion Queens Wharf development where nine cranes are up.

Crane counts by city

1Q21 count1Q21 (% of total) 3Q21 count3Q21 (% of total)
Gold Coast 294.2%354.9%
Sunshine Coast 162.3%131.8%
Wollongong 1212121.7%
Central Coast 91.3%101.4%

^Source: RLB

More than 100 cranes in Sydney were removed during the past six months and 116 erected for a total of 295 cranes, up from the previous 286.

The largest increases were in the mixed-use and recreation sectors, while the residential, civic, health and hotel sectors remained static, and commercial and education sectors decreased.

In the mixed-use sector, cranes are now up at Lendlease’s Victoria Cross Station in north Sydney, CDC data centre in Eastern Creek, Airtrunk SYD1 Phase 5 data centre in Huntingwood, the Pitt Street over-station development in the CBD and new Sydney Fish Market at Blackwattle Bay.

Sydney’s largest developments based on crane numbers are Meriton’s 180 George Street development in Parramatta and the five-building Pelican Estate in Schofields, with four cranes apiece.

Despite almost 200 cranes up across residential projects in more than 100 Sydney suburbs, the result remains historically low and is the second lowest number of residential cranes since late 2015.

Melbourne, which continues to endure the longest and strictest lockdown of all cities globally, took down 13 cranes.

Across Melbourne 79 cranes were added to projects and 92 were removed, continuing a downward trend which began after the city hit a peak in March 2019.

Unlike Sydney, Melbourne’s mixed-use crane numbers plummeted with no new cranes added and 11 removed on major projects, including the $220-million Richmond Quarter, Elizabeth North and West Side Place.

Construction conditions in Victoria remain more subdued, exacerbated by a two-week snap shutdown of the industry in response to violent protests outside CFMEU headquarters against vaccine mandates.

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