House-building: losing count

Shortfall in housing completions appears to be much worse than had been thought

 

Government policy must first and foremost be based on correct and up-to-date information. In this light it is astonishing that the data on house-building has been so poor, with official figures, based on ESB connections, clearly overstating the true completion rate. Now new figures, compiled by Goodbody Stockbrokers, suggest that just 5,377 houses were completed last year, way below official data showing 14,932 completions.

The official figures have been questioned for some time as it is clear that ESB connections can happen for a variety of reasons. Earlier this year the Department of Housing said that “the data reported should not be characterised as unreliable, rather it needs to be understood correctly for what it does and does not represent”. The Government has set up a review group to look at the issue, though it has not yet reported.

However, the scale of the discrepancy between the Goodbody figures and the official data suggests that the figures regularly quoted by ministers are, indeed, misleading. Goodbody has based its figures on Building Energy Ratings (BER) certificates which, it says, are a better measure. Assuming its analysis is correct, the shortfall in housing completions is much worse than had been thought. It also begs the question of why the department or the Government review group had not highlighted this set of data which comes from official sources.

The Goodbody analysis does show an increase in housing completions, with a 77 per cent rise in the year to August, and an estimate that 10,000 houses will be completed this year. There are policy implications here. For example, the figures show a particularly low level of new apartment-building due, presumably in part at least, to planning restrictions. Measures are also needed to speed development more generally, including the provision of services to zoned land. There is no quick fix to the housing shortage. However, we must first understand the starting point. And it now appears, in terms of housing completions, that this is even worse than we had imagined.

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