Australia’s construction sector has more cranes in the sky compared with any period in recent history, new data shows.

Releasing the September quarter edition of its semi-annual RLB Crane Index, multi-national construction, property and management consultancy firm Rider Levett Bucknall said that the number of cranes which were erected on Australian construction sites increased by 55 during the September quarter from 813 tin the March quarter to 868 in the current quarter as the erection of 300 new cranes more than offset the removal of 245 cranes.

At this level, more cranes were recorded compared with any other time since RLB began its count in 2012.

In terms of locations, Sydney led the way, increasing its crane count from 348 to 380 over the last six months as 125 cranes were added and 93 were removed.

This was driven by an increase in the number of cranes in operation on residential, civic, and data centres/industrial centres projects.

The crane count also rose in Melbourne on account of higher activity in the residential, data centres/industrial, retail, commercial, health, recreation and civic sectors.

Throughout the city, the crane count rose from 192 to 206 as 79 cranes were added by 65 were removed.

Whilst the CBD remains the dominant source of crane activity, the latest data indicates that the focus of activity may be pushing out toward the suburbs.

Typically, the CBD accounts for 60 percent of overall cranes in the city. However, this fell to 46 percent in the latest count.

Meanwhile, the Gold Coast has been a strong mover as the number of cranes increased from 40 to 52 as 21 cranes were added and only nine were removed.

Of these 52 cranes in action, 48 are being deployed on residential sites.

Whilst growth in crane numbers usually signals healthy activity levels, there is concern that the latest numbers may also reflect delays in bringing projects to completion on account of adverse weather conditions and labour and material shortages.

Whilst the ‘churn rate’ of cranes (number of cranes removed as a percentage of overall crane numbers) remained steady at around 50 percent between the beginning of 2019 and the first quarter of 2021, this has now fallen to 28 percent in the latest quarter.

This may indicate that projects are taking longer to complete and thus cranes are being required for longer periods.

Domenic Schiafone, Rider Levett Bucknall’s Oceania Director of Research and Development, welcomed the overall level of activity but expressed concern that about the length of time which cranes are remaining on site.

“Whilst this strong number shows the continuing resilience of our industry, projects are also being delayed due to increases in inclement weather events, shortages of materials, and lack of skilled labour,” Schifone said.

“If cranes providing logistical assistance to multi storey developments remain on site longer than anticipated due to weather events and supply chain disruptions, the cost of preliminaries increase, causing overall costs to rise.”