News that the Housing Commission believes that between 42,000 and 62,000 new homes could be needed each year to meet demand is sobering. With supply increasing last year to more than 29,000 new units – the highest level of building since the Celtic Tiger era – the Government will feel it is aiming at a moving target. To make things worse, rising costs and higher interest rates threaten to stall progress this year. The multifaceted nature of the housing crisis is illustrated by the latest rise in homeless figures to 11,632 and the lack of accommodation for refugees arriving here.
The Government ‘s housing plan is based on a target of 33,000 new homes being built annually on average until 2030. However, research for the Housing Commission – set up to advise on policy – says that based on the natural increase in the population alone, more would be needed and when migration, the ageing housing stock and the likely move to smaller average households are added in, the likely target rises significantly.
With a risk of a fall-off in completions later this year or into 2024, the Government faces significant challenges. The Housing Commission estimates, covering the period to 2050, show that, as well as the vital short-term issues of homelessness and accommodation for refugees, there is a real risk of a longer-term structural shortage for years into the future, with huge social and economic consequences.
The required solutions cross many different policy areas, but a vital issue is the speed of decision-making. Proposed new planning legislation is designed to speed this up. But capacity in the planning and court system is also vital. A recent report by consultants Mitchell McDermott estimates that 28,785 units submitted to An Bord Pleanála under the old Strategic Housing Development guidelines have yet to be decided on. A similar number were submitted to judicial review over the last five years. While An Bord Pleanála has had significant problems this year, there is surely scope here to provide the necessary resources to get a decision on the outstanding projects. Proper resourcing of the courts to speed up decision-making will also be vital.
The report points to significant numbers of developments with planning permission which are not going ahead. There has been much discussion of this phenomenon – and accusations of land hoarding. While incentives to get owners and developers to bring land on stream are important, fundamental viability is also an issue. While the Government has some schemes to try to address this, how to incentivise projects which meet Government spatial and environmental policy is worth considering.
The huge scale of the housing challenge must not lead to policy stasis. There are useful and important things which can and should be don