THE beleaguered building trade slumped to a six-month low as the sector suffered a sharp drop in new orders.
Construction buyers reported an accelerated downturn according to the latest Markit/CIPS UK Construction Purchasing Managers Index.
The closely watched survey, which measures overall output in the sector, fell to 48.7 in December from 49.3 in November.
Any figure below 50 represents a contraction in the market.
The index has now posted below 50 in four of the past five months and the latest reading indicated the fastest rate of contraction since June 2012.
Tim Moore, Senior Economist at Markit, said: "December rounded off a miserable year for the UK construction sector, with output declining at the steepest pace for six months and new business intakes falling back at the fastest rate since April 2009.
"While some firms cited the unusually wet weather as leading to longer than expected seasonal breaks at the end of 2012, weak underlying demand remains prevalent throughout the sector.
"Survey respondents are also relatively subdued about the 2013 outlook amid reports from their clients that budgets will be under even greater pressure over the year ahead.
"A sharp and accelerated downturn in housing activity was the most striking feature among the overall weakness shown by Decembers PMI survey.
"The pace of contraction in residential building was the strongest since the snow-related drop two years previously, and the extent of the decline made December 2012 one of the worst months for housing activity since the spring of 2009."
Kevan Carrick, North-East spokesman for the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, was more upbeat about this region's prospects.
"I think that there is a bit more confidence about, but I would put this at best as fragile," he said.
"The government is striving to push more infrastructure work through the Local Enterprise Partnerships of Tees Valley Unlimited and the North East LEP. 
"We need to find ways of fast-tracking matters such as planning and the procurement of construction works without delay as the funding comes through.
"I think that the two LEPs are doing a good job to focus on the priorities but I do think that delivery will be influenced by the performance of all the councils in the region and we need to see faster progress in joint action and collaboration," Mr Carrick added.

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