CSO seeks to ascertain house building levels with new data

State agency aims to set the record straight with new gauge on home building

Just how many houses are being built in Ireland each year? Photograph: Alan Betson

Just how many houses are being built in Ireland each year? Photograph: Alan Betson

 

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) will later this week attempt to settle a spat that has been running on the sidelines of the housing crisis for several years: namely what level of house building is actually taking place?

On one side we have the Central Bank, the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) and the Government – confidently predicting that we’re in the midst of a big upswing in house building, one that will see roughly 23,000 new homes built this year and 28,000 next year.

On the opposing side, property experts such as Lorcan Sirr and Mel Reynolds claim the completion rates, while rising, are nowhere near this level and that’s partly why we’re seeing such high levels of inflation.

Goodbody Stockbrokers now counts Building Energy Rating (BER) certificates, which are compulsory for all new homes. It estimates that 3,223 housing units were completed in the first four months of 2018.

Having had the biggest housing crash on the planet in 2008, it seems bizarre that we still don’t have a handle on what’s been built. On Thursday, the CSO will weigh into this debate with its “New Dwelling Completions” series, which aims to set the record straight by giving us an accurate set of numbers on house building for the first time.

Muddied picture

The series, which will be produced on a quarterly basis and date from 2011, will utilise the Department of Housing’s official numbers, which are based on new electricity connections – a notoriously inaccurate gauge of residential construction for several reasons. Suffice to say, the overhang of so-called ghost estates from the boom has muddied the picture.

To remedy this anomaly, the CSO will cross-reference the department’s figures with other data sets, taking in stamp duty returns; BERs; and information from the latest population census and the GeoDirectory property database.

If it succeeds in giving us a more accurate snapshot of building rates here, we will have, for the first time, an idea of how near or far we are to satisfying demand. At the very least, this would allow policymakers to make more informed decisions.