'Grand Designs' presenter critical of housing quality


TELEVISION PRESENTER and conservationist Kevin McCloud has described much of the housing that has been built here in the last decade as “extremely poor”.

McCloud, presenter of the long-running Channel 4 programme Grand Designs, described the downturn in the construction industry in Ireland as a “huge crushing defeat”, but that it was necessary in construction to take things slowly.

“There is always that risk in boom times that you race ahead with a view to the future but you never stop to look back,” he said.

“It is only when you look back that you get the focus as to where you should be going.”

He said it had taken the recession to show that too many developers were building a “pile of crap” and that treating such houses as a “piece of stock demeans what a home is”.

He cited the example of a bungalow built in the shadow of a ruined 18th-century Georgian house as indicative of an attitude that was about tomorrow and not about today.

He was a guest of Coillte yesterday as it celebrated 10 years of Forest Stewardship Council certification. McCloud said the public did not know enough about certification, the equivalent of organic or free range in food, and that such certification was not lightly given.

He praised Coillte for its management of forests and prescience in targeting the UK market after the Irish construction industry collapsed.

The UK now accounts for half of all Irish timber output.

“What we import now is very significantly Irish,” he said. “Nobody was really aware in the UK about this extraordinary resource on our doorstep. Everybody assumes that construction timber comes from Scandinavia, but that is not the case.”

He said Coillte had turned around a loss-making enterprise in the last 20 years.

“Coillte have really cleverly, by looking at the asset they have, managed it very carefully through the principle of proper forestry management which is by nature sustainable,” he said.

Coillte chief executive David Gunning said certification had been instrumental to grow exports of timber to the UK.

In 2010, forest exports were valued at €286 million.