It makes sense to take advantage of the current crisis by embarking on a major public sector housebuilding programme

Micheál Mahon, President of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) shares his thoughts before the Housebuilding Summit

9th November, 2020
It makes sense to take advantage of the current crisis by embarking on a major public sector housebuilding programme
Micheál Mahon, President of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI)

What's your name and what position do you hold?

Micheál Mahon, President of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) and current chair of the Construction Industry Council (CIC). In my ‘work life’ I’m Managing Director of MGM Partnership, Chartered Quantity Surveyors and Project Managers.

What are your day to day responsibilities?

As president of the SCSI, this involves daily liaison with our CEO, Shirley Coulter, as well as attending and chairing meetings, reviewing reports and outputs as well as attending various events – albeit virtually at the moment.

As MD of MGM Partnership, I am involved in overseeing the delivery of Quantity Surveying and Project Management services by our practice on a range of projects across the residential, commercial, educational and hospitality sectors.

What is your professional background?

I graduated from Bolton Street – now TU Dublin - in the early ‘90’s after completing my degree on a part-time basis. I subsequently worked in contracting organisations and quantity surveying practices including a long period with Bruce Shaw (now Linesight). I’ve been heading my own practice for the past 11 years.

How do you think the industry is coping with the Covid-19 crisis? What lasting impact do you see on the sector?

I think the construction industry has responded to the crisis in an exemplary manner. All the constituent bodies have put in a real team effort in formulating and then implementing detailedprotocols which have ensured the safety of all workers and the continuation of activity. I am of course especially proud of the central role the SCSI has played in facilitating the safe reopening of the construction and property sectors.

At this juncture the full impact is difficult to predict. There’s no doubt that Covid-19 has been a catalyst for the increased adoption of technology, and this is a trend which will definitely accelerate.

The nature of work has obviously changed considerably in response to the crisis, but because the situation is still evolving, I think it will be sometime before we understand the lasting impact on working arrangements.

What’s your view of the measures introduced in Budget ’21 to deliver more affordable housing?

I broadly welcome the measures; however, we have previously flagged problems with the public procurement process which can lead to delays in the provision of public sector housing. The current system is overly bureaucratic and unless it is overhauled, we will continue to miss our housing targets.We also pointed out that the focus too often at budget time is on headline figures and not enough on results and value for money for the taxpayer. Resources have been built up within the construction sector over the past number of years and as demand in certain sectors of the industry has reduced significantly, it is clear construction costs are softening, so it makes sense to take advantage of the current crisis by embarking on a major public sector housebuilding programme.

We would like to see the costs side of the housebuilding equation in private sector delivery addressed through the establishment of a Commission for Housing. Our independent research has clearly highlighted there is a viability issue in the delivery of housing and we believe that the Commission could examine ways to reduce the impact of the various soft costs such as land, finance, contributions, etc., as well as areas such as infrastructure. Overall, we would like to see the government adopt a more strategic and long-term approach to housing and we are of the view that the solution to the supply issue is a combination of public and private delivery.

How do you see tech innovation transforming the industry? What do you think will be the major breakthroughs over the next 5–10 years?

I think we are actually at the beginning of a transformative period for the sector and there will be huge change over the next 5-10 years as the industry adopts digitisation and Modern Methods of Construction (MMC). The industry, particularly on larger projects has already commenced on this journey and I’ve no doubt that this process will continue apace across the sector, encouraged by the Government and the various representative bodies. One caveat to this however is the ability of smaller enterprises to change their work methods and processes. We must recognise that a huge number of enterprises, both in contracting and professional practices, are “micro businesses” and they need to be encouraged and incentivised to adapt.

What will be the leading trends in the housing sector in coming years and how will businesses need to adapt?

We are likely to see more emphasis towards densification and brownfield development and a move away from urban sprawl. Climate change is clearly one of our biggest challenges and this has huge implications for the built environment. For example, buildings emit approximately one third of all Co2 emissions, so there will have to be drastic changes in the way we design, construct and manage buildings through their life cycle.For all those that work within the sector, whether its designing, constructing, transacting, valuing or managing buildings, it is incumbent on all of us to continually challenge the status quo and to embrace new and more sustainable building practices for the benefit of future generations.

Micheál Mahon is speaking at the inaugural Housebuilding Summit on Nov 10. See for full details.

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