New Zealand residential building consents were boosted by a glut of planned Auckland apartments last month, hitting a record for a February month.

Residential permits rose a seasonally adjusted 1.9 per cent to 3307 in the month of February, Stats NZ said. That was despite a 0.5 per cent decline in new permits for houses at 1885.

In actual terms, there were 3098 new residential consents in February, up 28 per cent from a year earlier, and the most consented in a February month since records began in 1966. New apartment consents more than tripled to 446 from a year earlier, of which 419 were in Auckland.

"This month's growth was driven mainly by apartments in Auckland which are volatile month to month," construction statistics manager Melissa McKenzie said.

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There were 1354 new residential building consents in Auckland, up from 779 a year earlier. Canterbury recorded the second-highest number of consents at 448, up from 375 a year earlier.

New Zealand's building sector remains inundated with work, despite an escalation in costs eroding profit margins and tipping several firms into liquidation or receivership.

Annual residential building consents were up 9.7 per cent at 34,262 in the 12 months through February. Of that, permits for new houses were up 1.7 per cent at 21,420, apartments rose 29 per cent to 4,070, retirement village units climbed 11 per cent to 2157, and townhouses, flats and units increased 30 per cent to 6615.

McKenzie said the number of new homes being consented annually was at a 44-year high, though still below the peak building period in the mid-1970s. And in the latest boom, New Zealand's population rose from about 3 million to 4.9 million, she said.

Demand for new construction isn't limited to residential building. The value of non-residential work was up 13 per cent at $596 million in the month of February from a year earlier, with 287,000 square metres up 9.9 per cent from a year earlier.

Non-residential work permitted totalled $7.18 billion in the year through February, up 6.2 per cent from a year earlier, and spanning 3.52 million sqm, an increase of 18 per cent from the prior period.

Separately, Rider Levett Bucknall's crane index showed a record number of cranes in use across the country in the March quarter at 148. That was up from 140 cranes in the December quarter.

RLB director Chris Haines said the record crane count of 98 long-term cranes in Auckland underscored the strong activity that's stretching local resources.

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"This pressure on resources doesn't look like abating anytime soon, with Auckland's significant pipeline of new projects," he said.

Still, the ANZ Business Outlook yesterday showed those building intentions may be turning. A net 16 per cent of respondents expected to see a decline in residential building over the coming year, compared to a net 3.8 per cent in February picking an increase.

And a net 4.5 per cent expect a contraction in commercial construction, turning around a net 4.3 per cent anticipated more work in the previous survey.

(BusinessDesk)