How many new homes were built last year?

 

Sir, – The article on homes built in 2016 demonstrates the dangers of obtaining and interpreting data without proper context or testing its validity (“New data shows just 2,076 homes built last year”, April 23rd).

The table accompanying the article is inaccurate; the published figure of 848 units presented as the total output of estate houses and apartments built in 2016 is in fact the number of Certificates of Compliance on Completion submitted to the Building Control Management System (BCMS) for all works, not just residential construction, in the first quarter of 2017.

I have said repeatedly that the Building Control Management System was designed for compliance for building control purposes. It was not designed for gathering statistics and the published article is a perfect example of how statistics can be misrepresented and inaccurately presented.

There are several reasons why the BCMS data does not currently record and reflect housing completions, although the Department Housing, Planning, Community & Local Government is actively exploring its potential in this regard. Some of these reasons include the fact that Certificates of Compliance on Completion are required for certain works that submitted a commencement notice on or after March 1st, 2014. Developments commenced before that date, including many developments started but not finished during the downturn may still be under construction.

Certificates of Compliance on Completion are not required for one-off houses that have chosen to opt out of the statutory certification process since September 1st, 2015.

A single Certificates of Compliance on Completion may cover multiple buildings or works, this is in order to reduce the administrative burden and cost for industry, so simply counting certificates can underestimate total units constructed.

The requirement for these Certificates of Compliance on Completion is relatively new, at a time when construction activity has been relatively low, with the result that the process and issuing of Certificates of Compliance on Completion is only becoming established.

The recording and reporting of statistics on housing completions is a complex area. We have several different statistics from various reputable sources that measures different issues as well as many different views in relation to which statistics we should use.

We have, however, used ESB connections as an overall proxy for housing completions and have done so since the 1970s, so it is, and will continue to be, an important long-term comparator, and an important indicator of trends in the number of new homes being made available. It is important to note that the ESB figures are by no means the only dataset we use.

We have, for example, detailed information on residential construction activity from local authorities – at the end of 2016, the four Dublin local authorities reported 144 active construction sites, encompassing the construction of some 5,200 new dwellings.

This is a really important source of information in terms of informing policies aimed at increasing supply in the key Dublin housing market. My department has also established a Housing Data Analytics Group to examine this complex area and to monitor and review the various sources of data collected nationally to provide a comprehensive and coherent suite of statistics relating to housing matters. We are also working closely with the ESB in an attempt to drill down into their dataset and get a better understanding of the various components of their connections data.

In addition, the Central Statistics Office has established an independent group, of which the department is a constituent member, to examine housing statistics generally. In addition, my department is engaging with external experts and commentators to get their views on how we can improve our statistics. Some really useful engagement has taken place already.

Suggestions that I am trying to mask the completion figures are nonsense. Everything my department does is open and transparent and the one thing that is apparent from all key statistical sources (eg planning permissions, commencements, completions) is that housing supply activity is increasing, underpinning that Rebuilding Ireland, and its core objective of increasing housing supply, is beginning to have a positive impact. It has been a slow and complex process to realise the upswing in housing supply and the Government will continue to focus on actions and initiatives to increase supply across all tenures during 2017 and beyond.

The Rebuilding Ireland Plan is not even nine months old – we have simply used the exiting model in terms of data on new home availability while examining with others such as the CSO and ESB the way in which we can improve accuracy. – Yours, etc,

SIMON COVENEY, TD

Minister for Housing,

Planning, Community

& Local Government,

Custom House,

Dublin 1.