New housing consents fell 17 per cent in April, the biggest monthly drop in nine years, as the pandemic took its toll on the busy multi-billion dollar sector which had been operating at a 45-year high.

StatsNZ has just released data on residential building consents, saying the drop was the sharpest in a month since July, 2011.

New Zealand was in alert level 4 from near the end of March till almost the end of April, with the closure of non-essential businesses, including construction sites, StatsNZ noted.

David Adair, acting construction indicators manager, said the fall reflected the direct impact of Covid-19 on plans to build and changes to how consents were lodged and processed by councils during lockdown.

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A total of 2168 new homes were consented in April, bringing the number consented for the year to April 2020 to 37,180, down from the February 2020 year's 45-year record of 37,882 new homes consented. Consent values fell from $1.3b in March to $923m in April.

"Ultimately, there is still a large amount of uncertainty around the implications of Covid-19 on the future supply of homes," Adair said today.

"Typically, many homes are built within about a year of gaining consent, but these are unusual times and it will take some time to see if existing consented projects are completed or delayed," he said.

The uncertainty caused by the pandemic threat was further highlighted in the regional home consent figures. Wellington consents roughly halved in April while Canterbury consents held up, Adair said.

In March, the Herald reported how house building consenting had set a new 45-year record when 37,882 new residential buildings were consented in the year to February, the highest since the mid-1970s.

"The number of new homes consented was up 3620 from the same period in 2019, a rise of 11 per cent," StatsNZ said.

Melissa McKenzie, construction statistics manager, said in March: "The number of new homes consented in the February 2020 year is the highest in about 45 years, boosted by more new homes for Auckland."

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Today, StatsNZ said a clearer picture of the pandemic's impact on the construction industry would be provided by the value of building work put in place.

That quarterly series measures work actually completed, rather than consents which only indicate an intention to build. The data may include insights into delays, cancellations, and the total value of work put in place, StatsNZ said.

Grant Porteous, who with wife Ellie owns the master franchise for New Zealand's biggest home builder, G.J. Gardner said that business had more than 915 new homes under construction.

"Some are at early slab stage, some close to completion and everything else in between. All our homes were secured prior to the lock down, our insurers confirmed our contracts works insurance remained in place and no homes were in a compromised position," Porteous said.

"Additionally, we have 378 customers who are in the design stage, have paid a preliminary deposit and finalised plans are being completed. Initially pre-lockdown we had 450 clients in this category heading to start," he said.

Work on construction sites has now resumed and many builders are now trying to make up for the lost time.

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Some commercial builders have shifts working on large projects, but with reduced staffing levels due to social distancing measures.