THE North-East is leading the surge in the UK construction market according to the latest survey by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

The survey for the second quarter of this year shows that in contrast to gloom in the manufacturing sector, construction is holding firm.

Growth in surveyors' workloads in the North-East were the strongest of any region in the UK.

Of those interviewed by RICS, 31 per cent reported a rise in work, largely generated by the private housing sector.

Rapid house price rises over the past year and a shortage of housing stock have prompted house builders to increase their output of new homes.

Surveyors in the North-East reported the fastest growth in construction activity since the end of 1999.

Michael Henning, RICS North-East spokesman, said surveyors were among the first to see trends in construction because they became involved in projects at the proposal stage.

Meanwhile, the region's construction industry was boosted yesterday when the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) said £1.2m was being allocated to support the training and development of companies within the North-East. The aim is to identify and meet skills shortages to make the industry more competitive.

Funding of more than half-a-million pounds from CITB was matched by the European Social Fund.

Ben Dures, CITB advisory service manager, said: "This funding will help us to encourage a continuous learning framework that will bring real benefits for individuals, employers and the industry as a whole."