Shocking CSO figures detail startling slump in building sector

Shocking CSO figures detail startling slump in building sector

The way the startling slump in Ireland’s building trade has manifested itself in Westmeath is displayed clearly in figures released recently by the Central Statistics Office.

The figures show that in the first quarter of 2014, planning permission for just 20 houses was granted in Westmeath – all of them one-off dwellings.

Even more strikingly, just 66 housing estate houses have been granted permission in the six and a half years since the end of 2006.

By contrast, when the Celtic Tiger was at its peak, the number of permits granted for houses in Westmeath reached four-digit levels.

The fall is dramatic when set against the peak figures. For example, in the final quarter of 2005, permission for some 739 houses was granted; in the final quarter of 2005, permission for 7111 houses was granted.

In fact, in the whole of 2005, the number of houses granted permission amounted to 1,497 – and permission was also granted for the construction of 871 flats or apartments.

Over the 12 months of 2004, permission for 1,449 houses was granted, together with permission for 569 flats/apartments.

However, the figures show that in the final quarter of 2013, just seven houses were approved for construction by the council – and in the entire 12 months of 2013, permission was granted for just 73 houses in Westmeath, together with seven flats/apartments.

Engineer John Madden, of John Madden and Associates, confirms that firms such as his, in the business of preparing house plans and submitting applications for clients, have seen a massive slump since the peak.

However, the introduction earlier this year of new planning regulations means that there is something of a mini-boom going on in the construction sector.

“A lot of people put in their commencement notices before the end of March, so that kicked off a bit of a building boom,” he says.

In the last few weeks, he has had a number of clients approach him with a view to having him draw up plans for one-off houses.

“But not one of them has been sitting opposite me,” he declares, explaining that the clients are in good jobs in Australia or Canada or elsewhere, and sending family members in to start the ball rolling for them.
Another trend he has noticed is that a lot of foreign-born workers are buying houses in estates here.

“They’re from all over the world,” says John, explaining that mostly, they are in the market for family homes to live in.
That said, eh recently had an enquiry from an investor in Australia – not Irish – interested in having two houses here surveyed, as he saw potential in the Irish rental market.


Floor size

The CSO figures also show that while the house numbers are well down, the average floor area per house has shot upwards – due, most likely, to the fact that practically all the houses granted permission going right back as far as 2008 have been one-off houses.

Back in 2001, the typical one-off house squared up at between 182 and 188 square metres. That began creeping up gradually from 2002, and increasing on a more or less consistent basis right through the mid 2000s until, by 2008, one-off houses ranged, on average, from 275 to about 288 square metres in size.

In 2013, those one-off sizes were back somewhat, ranging from an average of 217 square metres to 291 ssquare metres.

An increased taste for innovation in design, and for something other than the old style “bungalow bliss” type houses, fuelled a lot of the growth in house sizes, says John, adding that increased energy efficiency construction made it feasible to build larger house.

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