The huge fall on 2010’s numbers continued a downturn in housing work which started towards the back end of last year.
Glenigan economist James Abraham said: “The downturn in private housing project starts during the latter half of 2010 has continued into 2011 amid pessimism about the strength of the housing market, with the year-on year decline of 41% over the past three months greater than previously anticipated.
“New social housing projects fell 36% over the three months to February as a result of government cut backs that are planned to increase over the next two years.”
Glenigan said social housing starts are set to remain under pressure over the coming months but a return to growth in private housing starts is anticipated by the end of the year.
In other construction sectors, non-residential project starts were down 7% year on year for the three months to February due to Government funding cuts combined with poor weather and the usual seasonal lull that depressed private starts.
The underlying value of office starts fell by a fifth during the three months to February, and retail, industrial and hotel & leisure starts all declined by around 10%.
Abraham said: “Falling vacancy rates and rising rentals are expected to promote growth in the industrial and office sectors, especially during the second half of 2011.”
Civil engineering project starts were 2% down on a year ago as utilities project starts continue to decline while infrastructure starts stabilised over the three months to February.
Increased investment by the regulated utilities is forecast to lift project starts over the longer term.