The value of building permits in the Toronto area increased by 18.3 per cent in January over December, according to figures released by Statistics Canada Thursday.

The federal agency said $1.18 billion worth of permits were taken out at the start of the year, compared with just less than $1 billion at the end of last year.

Both residential and non-residential sectors showed an increase in the Toronto area. January permits were also up by 27 per cent year over year.

The greatest improvement was in the single detached building sector up by more than double what it was from last January, when consumer confidence was at an all-time low.

Buyers stopped visiting new housing sites last winter and companies felt the pinch. Permits were down in 2009 by 16.5 per cent compared to 2008 as the recession hit building sites and financing froze.

Permits are a forward looking indicator, as developers need to file paperwork before they dig a hole in the ground, so a strong start to the year means a healthy spring for suppliers.

The call from developers started to build last fall with developers trying to complete homes before the introduction of the harmonized sales tax in Ontario, said one supplier.

The optimism of Toronto’s development community was in contrast to the national figures that showed permits falling by 4.9 per cent in January compared with December.

The total value of permits fell in 18 of 34 census metropolitan areas monitored by StatsCan.

Most of that decline was in the non-residential sector, which includes industrial, commercial and institutional building.