Development applications have been lodged during the coronavirus crisis in numbers on par with last year, raising hopes the building industry may not be hit by a dramatic slow down.
Figures obtained from Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Ports Stephens and Maitland councils show the number of DAs submitted over the past three months slightly increased in all but one council area compared to the corresponding period last year.
Between March and May, Newcastle council received 332 new DAs, up from 326 in the same period last year.
Lake Macquarie council received 490, up from 470.
Maitland received 318, up from 294. There was a slight fall in Port Stephens, where 201 were lodged this year compared to 244 last year.
Housing Industry Association director Craig Jennion said the Hunter was fortunate to have a "stable and diverse employment base underwritten by the large sectors of health, military, mining and construction" which had not been "as directly affected by COVID-19 restrictions like other exposed sectors".
"With council DA numbers remaining strong combined with news that families, particularly millennials, are seeking to escape capital cities and look to regional locations like the Hunter where housing is more affordable, traffic congestion is less and the lifestyle benefits are plenty, we should continue to see demand for new homes remain strong in the near future," he said.
He said the number of building approvals in the next quarter would indicate how well the industry will perform into next year.
While the number of DAs lodged in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie increased, the overall value of the proposed works almost halved.
The DAs lodged in Newcastle had a total value of $141 million, down from $280 million.
Similarly,the value of DAs lodged in Lake Macquarie dropped to $227 million from $431 million.
Port Stephens and Maitland were not affected by a drop in value.
Newcastle and Lake Macquarie councils said the value of last year's period was inflated by a small number of large-scale projects worth tens of millions of dollars.
A City of Newcastle spokesman said the consistency in the amount of DAs lodged was "further evidence of the long-term positive sentiment for Newcastle".
"The days of the city's liveability being something of a secret are well and truly over," he said.
Despite critcism of the federal government's HomeBuilder package, Mr Jennion said the scheme was attracting interest in the Hunter.
"The package has come at the right time for the residential construction market, which was starting to experience a gradual increase in consumer interest as travel restrictions eased," he said.
"Members are reporting strong enquiry levels but conversion to sales remains challenging. Pleasingly the stimulus has definitely created a great deal of consumer interest in our sector."
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