The UK's construction sector expanded for the 40th consecutive month in March, according to the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply.

CIPS said its purchasing manager index of activity in the sector rose to 54.7 from February's 54.2.

A reading above 50 indicates an expansion in activity, while a sub-50 figure indicates contraction.

The rise in the main index was underpinned by a further surge in new orders, said Roy Ayliffe, director of professional practice at CIPS.

"Commercial and civilengineering activity continued to show growth, but housing activity recorded a decline after six years of steady increase," he said.

"Aside from housing, overall operating conditions in the sector remained healthy, as firms stepped up their volume of purchases to meet rising workloads."

Meanwhile, the latest Woolwich confidence index shows that confidence increased by two per cent in March to 47 per cent of people believing that their home will continue to increase in value over the next 12 months.

The Midlands was exactly in line with the national figure. However, nationally, confidence is still considerably lower than last March when it hit 65 per cent.

Andy Gray, head of mortgages at Barclays and the Woolwich, said: "As predicted confidence is continuing its upward trend as we enter the traditional home- buying period.

"Potential buyers that may have been holding back waiting for the market to stabilise seem to be more confident now, alongside this interest rates have been stable for eight months in a row."