I propose to take Questions Nos. 455, 456, 476 to 480, inclusive, 492 to 494, inclusive, and 502 together.
The recording and reporting of statistics on housing activity is a complex matter that involves tracking a range of different indicators – including planning permissions, commencement notices, ESB connections and several others - from various sources, each of which measure different aspects of housing market activity. Each dataset presents part of the overall housing activity picture but none of the datasets were specifically designed to count new houses.
Since the 1970s, my Department has published ESB data on residential properties connected to the ESB grid, as a proxy for house completions, as it represents the best available indicator that a residential unit is becoming available for occupation. This dataset includes recently completed once-off homes, multi-unit scheme developments and apartments as well as some reconnections to the grid, where properties that have been unoccupied for over two years are being brought back into use.
ESB data are collected at a point in time when the home is connected to the grid and bears no relationship to the period of its construction. My Department has regularly drawn attention to this fact in the context of the recent economic and construction collapse where many homes commenced before 2008 but remained unfinished for several years and have gradually been finished out and brought to the marketplace as recovery took hold. Indeed, for a number of years my Department has published the results of annual surveys undertaken in relation to unfinished housing developments, including details in relation to the progress on completion of such developments.
In this context the Department has published data indicating that, based on ESB connections, 12,666 homes became available in 2015, 14,932 homes in 2016 and, based on current trends, it is anticipated that this figure will rise to 18,000 homes in 2017. The Department is working closely with the ESB in an attempt to obtain additional, more granular data from its dataset to get a further and deeper understanding of the various components of the overall connection data.
It is important to note that the ESB figures are by no means the only dataset used to measure housing activity. For example, detailed information on residential construction activity is available from certain 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.
In relation to the Building Control Management System (BCMS), it is important to note that the BCMS was introduced with effect from 1 March 2014 to facilitate building control authorities, building owners, builders and construction professionals in discharging their responsibilities under the Building Control Act 1990, as amended. The building control process includes a requirement, in certain circumstances, to lodge a statutory Certificate of Compliance on Completion (CCC) in respect of buildings, including dwellings. While this represents another useful source of data on residential completions, it also has a number of limitations in this regard. Firstly, CCCs apply only to works commenced on or after 1 March 2014 and so would not apply to homes completed at a current date which were subject to a commencement notice submitted prior to 1 March 2014. Secondly, one-off houses were given the facility to opt out of the statutory CCC process on and from 1st September 2015, so not all single homes constructed will appear in these returns. Finally, a CCC may cover multiple buildings or works, so the number of CCCs registered on the BCMS does not correlate to the number of building units completed. My Department is actively engaging with the Local Government Management Agency, which hosts the BCMS, with a view to developing its potential further as an additional source of data in relation to house building activity.
The Central Statistics Office, which is the State’s authoritative voice in relation to the provision of high quality and independent statistical information supporting evidence-based decision-making, established an independent group in January 2017, chaired by an Assistant Director General, to examine housing statistics and my Department is a member of that group. This group is considering the best analytical approaches to reconciling and combining datasets in this area and will have oversight of, and a direct involvement in, the examination of any output arising from the variety of analyses currently underway.
My Department has also established a new Housing Data Analytics Group, with membership from the CSO, Central Bank, local authorities and others 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.