What's your name and what position do you hold?
James Benson Director Housing, Planning & Development Services with the Construction Industry Federation
What are your day to day responsibilities?
The Planning & Development Services and Housing Department promotes and represents member interests in relation to all matters relating to planning and development, house building and related regulatory requirements.
The department updates members about on-going regulatory changes impacting the development and housebuilding industry. It ensures that member views are formally considered and communicated as required to the relevant policy and decision-makers in Government Departments, Local Authorities, utility companies and agencies. My department also provides one-to-one support and advice to members.
What is your professional background?
I’m a qualified engineer and quantity surveyor graduating from Waterford Institute of Technology and Dublin Institute of Technology respectively. Before I joined the CIF, I spent several years of my professional career surveying with building contractors before specialising in the field of passive fire protection.
How do you think the industry is coping with the Covid-19 crisis? What lasting impact do you see on the sector?
The industry continues to operate under Level 5 restrictions and the CIF continues to engage with policy-makers to monitor the ongoing situation. The key concern for the industry is the movement of cross border sub contractors/workers/individuals and compliance with Government guidelines on Covid-19. Particular attention is needed around:
•Travel to and from work
•Arrangements for accommodation if staying away from home
•Arrangements for notifying the site in the event of a positive case
•Maintaining work arrangements to keep workers in pods
What’s your view of the measures introduced in Budget ’21 to deliver more affordable housing?
The first thing to say is that these measures make it possible to build houses that otherwise would never be built. It opens the door for those who have been locked out because of their income levels and that is despite displaying an ability to pay rent in excess to a comparable mortgage.
We need on average 36,000 homes annually - Increasing housing supply across social, affordable and private means we can house our population, replenish the housing stock with the highest standard homes seen in Europe and put our sector on a sustainable footing that benefits society for the first time since 2007.
There are a number of positive measures that should introduce a confidence to the financial institutions to provide greater lending to the sector which will allow homebuilders build more homes and ultimately young families, couples, those on the frontline such as guards, nurses, teachers can achieve their aspiration of home ownership.
How do you see tech innovation transforming the industry? What do you think will be the major breakthroughs over the next 5–10 years?
The private housebuilding industry should prioritise new house building methods to reduce costs (e.g. use of technology and off-site manufacturing), in consultation with Government, the wider construction industry, construction and research professionals and other stakeholders, where funding is made available to support such innovations.
What will be the leading trends in the housing sector in coming years and how will businesses need to adapt?
What we know:
•Housing supply since 2008 has significantly lagged the long- term average supply, with private housing supply in 2019 at levels last seen in the 1970s.
•Based on current estimates, c.30% of new homes are available to purchase for owner occupation, 15% for the rented market, 35% for social housing and over 20% are one-off builds will be seen for 2020.
•The price gap between new and second-hand properties has been over 40% since 2018, reflecting in the main enhanced standards and a better quality product.
The market has changed for a number of reasons:
•Density levels are not always appropriate, resulting in viability challenges.
•Planning delays/blockages in the planning system impact commencement and/or viability of development.
•The total delivery cost of a new home, including typical costs for design, planning, construction, profit and risk, is not always sufficient to provide the feasible returns required to ensure viability.
•Typical construction costs account for between 43% and 55% of the total delivery costs, of which policy related costs are estimated to account for 20%.
We need to improve affordability by:
•Introducing a State-backed shared equity scheme for first time buyers.
•Continuing to expand help-to-buy.
•Expanding the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme.
•Considering an increase in the lending discretion for FTB borrowings.
We need to improve supply:
•“Root and branch” review of the planning system and address blockages.
•Identify services required to unlock zoned land.
•Provide access to low cost finance for smaller builders, particularly those in regional locations.
•Review of densities and planning guidelines .
•Introduce measures to reduce the cost of construction (e.g. waive levies) including the development of innovative methods of construction.
•Taxation measures to support and encourage sustainable development.
•Tax rebate of contributions for first time buyers.
James Benson is speaking at The Business Post’s inaugural Housebuilding Summit on Nov 10. Visit www.housebuildingsummit.com for full details.