‘Phan­tom homes’ in­flate new house builds by 30,000

Gov­ern­ment statis­tics in­clude farm build­ings

Irish Independent - - Front Page - Paul Melia and Kevin Doyle

THERE are 30,000 phan­tom homes, sup­pos­edly built in re­cent years, which do not re­ally ex­ist – more than a year’s sup­ply.

Prop­er­ties counted as “new homes” in­clude halt­ing sites, mo­bile homes, re­tire­ment homes, hol­i­day vil­lages - and even farm build­ings.

The num­ber of homes built since Fine Gael came to power has been mas­sively over­stated. More than one-third of the 85,154 new homes sup­pos­edly built be­tween 2011 and

2017 don’t ac­tu­ally ex­ist.

The Cen­tral Statis­tics Of­fice (CSO) says just

53,578 houses and apart­ments were built, which is 31,576 fewer than the Depart­ment of Hous­ing stats. The 37pc short­fall raises se­ri­ous con­cerns about the Gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to de­liver 25,000 new homes a year by 2021, as promised.

But de­spite the CSO’s wor­ry­ing find­ings, the Gov­ern­ment in­stead chose to fo­cus on the fact that con­struc­tion of new homes was in­creas­ing. Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar pre­dicted up to 20,000 homes would be built this year.

Hous­ing Min­is­ter Eoghan Mur­phy is now com­ing un­der enor­mous pres­sure. House prices are still soar­ing and the num­ber of home­less fam­i­lies re­mains high.

But Fine Gael is al­ready ma­noeu­vring to pin the blame for any gen­eral elec­tion on Fianna Fáil if the em­bat­tled min­is­ter is ousted from of­fice.

THERE are 30,000 phan­tom homes, sup­pos­edly built in re­cent years, which do not re­ally ex­ist – more than a year’s sup­ply.

Prop­er­ties counted as ‘new homes’ in­clude halt­ing sites, mo­bile homes, re­tire­ment homes, hol­i­day vil­lages – and even farm build­ings.

New fig­ures re­vealed that the num­ber of homes built across the coun­try since Fine Gael came to power had been over­stated by more than 30,000 units. More than one-third of the 85,154 new homes sup­pos­edly built be­tween 2011 and 2017 don’t ac­tu­ally ex­ist.

The Cen­tral Statis­tics Of­fice (CSO) says just 53,578 houses and apart­ments were built, which is 31,576 fewer than the Depart­ment of Hous­ing statis­ticss.

The 37pc short­fall raises se­ri­ous con­cerns about the Gov­ern­ment’s abil­ity to de­liver 25,000 new homes a year by 2021, as promised un­der its Re­build­ing Ire­land pro­gramme aimed at tack­ling the hous­ing cri­sis.

Ex­perts also said the low rate of com­ple­tions raised ques­tions about the abil­ity of the con­struc­tion sec­tor to ramp up sup­ply, as it has warned of a skills short­age.

Since 1970, new home com­ple­tions have been based on the num­ber of units con­nected to the ESB net­work.

How­ever, there have long been con­cerns that these num­bers were over­stated. They in­cluded homes re­con­nected af­ter be­ing va­cant for at least two years, farm build­ings and so-called ghost es­tates.

In 2017, the Depart­ment of Hous­ing fig­ures sug­gested that 19,271 homes were com­pleted. But a deeper anal­y­sis by the CSO now finds the num­ber of ‘new’ homes built was 14,446, or 4,825 fewer.

Some 2,685 were re­con­nected prop­er­ties, there were 962 farm build­ings and 1,091 units in ghost es­tates. Other prop­er­ties counted as “new” over the pe­riod stud­ied in­clud­ing halt­ing sites, mo­bile homes, re­tire­ment homes and hol­i­day vil­lages.

But de­spite the CSO’s wor­ry­ing find­ings, the Gov­ern­ment in­stead chose to fo­cus on the fact that con­struc­tion of new homes was in­creas­ing.

Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar pre­dicted that be­tween 15,000 and 20,000 homes would be built this year. He said he was “re­ally glad that we have those (statis­tics) now be­cause there has been end­less de­bate”.

Hous­ing Min­is­ter Eoghan Mur­phy said that the in­crease in com­ple­tions, cou­pled with va­cant units and ghost estate houses be­ing brought into use, meant that the Re­build­ing Ire­land plan was work­ing.

Asked how he could cred­i­bly claim the CSO re­port was a pos­i­tive one, he said it showed that ac­tion is be­ing taken.

“Ev­ery week I hear from the Op­po­si­tion that we’re not build­ing and we’re not do­ing any­thing for va­cancy,” Mr Mur­phy said.

“Well it can’t be ei­ther way, with ESB con­nec­tions and what we see to­day is that we are do­ing both.”

Statis­ti­cians in the Depart­ment of Hous­ing are now look­ing at how best to im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tion of the CSO re­port.

The CSO has crit­i­cised the lack of a “sin­gle, au­thor­i­ta­tive data source” and said that in fu­ture, all homes granted planning per­mis­sion should be al­lo­cated an Eir­code.

It also iden­ti­fied a lack of in­for­ma­tion around the num­ber of stu­dent ac­com­mo­da­tion bedspaces be­ing com­pleted.

There was also no in­de­pen­dent source on the num­ber of so­cial hous­ing com­ple­tions.

The CSO also cited an is­sue with Build­ing En­ergy Rat­ing (BER) statis­tics, say­ing less than half of do­mes­tic ESB con­nec­tions could be matched to a BER cer­tifi­cate. The prob­lem was worse in one-off ru­ral dwellings.

Ar­chi­tect Mel Reynolds, who has long queried the of­fi­cial fig­ures, wel­comed the CSO find­ings, but said the num­ber of homes fall­ing out of use through de­mo­li­tion or va­cancy also had to be cap­tured.

DIT hous­ing lec­turer Lor­can Sirr said the CSO’s in­put brought “trans­parency” around the fig­ures, but said con­sis­tent un­der-re­port­ing had im­pli­ca­tions for the Gov­ern­ment’s hous­ing strat­egy.

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