Spike in crane hire masks residential construction crisis 

By Jarrod
5 Min Read

A review of Australia’s crane use has painted a deceptively positive picture of the construction industry’s productivity levels. 

According to the latest Crane Index report from construction consultancy firm Rider Levett Bucknall, 869 cranes were carted off to job sites across the country in the first quarter of 2024 – the second-highest score seen since the index began six years ago. 

However, while this might seem like a significant boost in activity in the nation’s struggling construction sector at first glance, the numbers mask a significant drop in the amount of work undertaken by residential builders. 

The residential index only recorded 540 cranes nationally, six fewer than at the end of 2023. While 210 cranes were added to residential projects last quarter, 223 were removed from sites. 

“The residential index fell from the record high of 178 in the last edition by four index points to 174 points. The index represents 540 cranes, down from 553 in the last count,” said Domenic Schiafone, Rider Levett Bucknall’s Oceania Director of Research and Development.

“The non-residential index remained steady at 286 points. The non-residential proportion of cranes across the country is 38%, up slightly from the 37% recorded in the last count.”

Queensland’s Gold Coast was the only region nationally that recorded any significant levels of residential work, with almost nine in 10 of the expanding city’s cranes on housing sites. 

This latest slump in residential activity comes only weeks before the industry begins its mission to build 1.2 million homes as part of the government National Housing Accords – a target that analysts predict builders will fall 110,000 builds short of over the next five years.

According to Master Builders Australia CEO Denita Wawn, more needs to be done by the government to bulldoze roadblocks standing in the way of the home builders. 

“Productivity in the industry has fallen 18 per cent over the last decade. It’s clear that governments need to expedite the rollout of planning reforms to reduce the high costs and time it takes to build,” said Ms Wawn.

“At a Federal level, the government’s priority should be growing the building and construction workforce.”

RELATED: Builders say Albo will fall 110,000 homes short of housing goals

So where are the cranes going? 

While the country’s housing crisis has media shining a spotlight on flailing residential projects and tradie shortages, this latest report does paint a picture of a thriving commercial construction sector bubbling away in the background. 

Commercial property construction was responsible for the majority of cranes dotting city skylines, with 329 (38 per cent of the national total) erected on non-residential sites.

Sydney continued to lead activity with 309 cranes on worksites. Meriton’s Victini and Destination project was the city’s largest worksite, with five cranes commissioned, while four cranes were required at several key projects spearheaded by the state government.

But it was Melbourne that gained the most cranes over the quarter, up a net 16 to total 194, as large-scale civil construction projects like the Westgate Tunnel, North East Link and the Metro Tunnel project broke ground. 

Other sectors also recorded gains, including data centres (up four), mixed-use (up five), and retail (up one). The city’s latest Amazon Fulfilment Center, due to be completed in 2025, required more cranes than any other worksite, with a count of seven.

Mr Schiafone said that, overall, the current crane numbers nationally were “well above” their respective average.

“The large number of cranes observed correlates with national construction activity,” Mr Schiafone said.

“According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, total construction activity across Australia for the 2023 calendar year was up by 9 per cent, or $21bn, compared to 2022.”

Significant work is under way in southeast Queensland, with a total of 78 cranes erected in Brisbane as the city prepares for major works in the lead-up to the 2032 Olympic Games. 

Elsewhere nationally, 45 cranes were visible in Perth, 26 in Canberra, 17 in Adelaide, 16 in Newcastle and a dozen in Sydney satellite cities of Wollongong and The Central Coast. Just two cranes were erected in Hobart, while Darwin had none.

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By Jarrod
Jarrod Brown combines his background in journalism, copywriting and digital marketing with a lifelong passion for storytelling. He has a strong passion for new and emerging consumer technology within the building sector. He lives on the Sunshine Coast - usually found glued to the deck of a surfboard.