Newcastle added more cranes to its skyline in the six months to March than any other city in Australia.
The greater Newcastle area defied a downturn in crane numbers across the country to record a net gain of five, according to the RLB Crane Index issued this week.
The Gold Coast added four overall, Perth three and Brisbane two, but every other state capital and major regional city showed a drop.
Sydney's crane total fell by 20 and Melbourne's 17.
Newcastle boasted a city-record 17 cranes when RLB, an international quantity surveying firm, took a snapshot of the city in March.
It had lost two and added seven since the previous update six months earlier.
The increase included a net gain of three in the residential sector to a total of 10, two in health at Maitland Hospital and one in commercial development.
Hunter developer Hilton Grugeon's GWH Build was responsible for one of the new cranes, at its Sky Residences site in King Street.
He was optimistic about the industry's future in Newcastle and elsewhere because Australia would continue to have a shortage of housing after the coronavirus pandemic and interest rates were at an all-time low.
"For the crane activity in Newcastle to be as strong as it is, it'll stay that way," he said. "By the time the projects under way now are finished, this will all be over."
Newcastle's "crane index", a measure of change since a 2015 baseline count, stands at a city-record 213.
But RLB Newcastle director Mark Hocking expected building activity to slow.
"Led by the residential sector, activity has remained high through the summer, but it's starting to slow," he said.
"The impacts of COVID-19 will affect market activity, but the extent of this remains unknown."
Mr Hocking said "significant health and education projects" would underpin Lower Hunter construction activity in the future.
University of Newcastle recently started building the first stage of its inner-city Honeysuckle campus.
Newcastle concreter Vince Di Prinzio, whose firm works on some of the city's biggest construction projects, said he was busier than ever.
RLB said new residential developments with cranes in greater Newcastle included Fettlers at Whitebridge; Ascent at Nelson Bay; a building in Sturt Road, Cardiff; and in High Street, Maitland.
Mr Grugeon predicted more employees would start working from home permanently after the pandemic, which would lead to demand softening in the commercial construction market.
GWH was "reassessing seriously" the 10 floors of office space it planned to build in an 18-storey redevelopment at Charlestown.
"The demand for office accommodation, there are so many people doing office-type work from home that when we turn around one day and say, 'Next Monday you can all come back to work,' a lot of them are going to say they're better off working from home.
"A lot of businesses can reduce the amount of office space they need. It saves the time and cost of getting to and from work and their productivity can actually be enhanced."
He said the benefits of online meetings were becoming "more and more obvious".
Meanwhile, City of Newcastle says the number of development applications it received in the first two weeks of April did not drop significantly on last year.
The Newcastle Herald reported this week that the council's development application tracker showed the number of DAs had halved.
But the council said the online tracker included numerous complying developments and modifications to existing DAs which skewed the numbers.
A spokesperson said the council had received 53 applications in the first 14 days of April 2019 and 49 in the corresponding period this year, a fall of only 11 per cent.
"When you consider that two of the first 14 days this month were public holidays, it looks like business as usual in a rare bit of good economic news," the spokesperson said.
"The numbers show that building development remains strong and that the industry is confident about the next 12 to 18 months, boding well for construction jobs and suggesting the local impact of the pandemic may not be as bad as first feared."
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