Thursday 27 October 2016

Home truths: When the builder's bottom line is ours

Published 01/05/2015 | 02:30

Tanaiste Joan Burton, Construction Industry Federation director Tom Parlon and CIF President Michael Stone (left) launch a campaign at the National Gallery to help unemployed construction workers
Tanaiste Joan Burton, Construction Industry Federation director Tom Parlon and CIF President Michael Stone (left) launch a campaign at the National Gallery to help unemployed construction workers

GIVEN the role they played in nudging us into the 'lost decade' that we've heard so much about this week, it's a safe bet to assume the developer is still among the least popular of professions - bumping along the bottom of the charts alongside bankers, politicians, journalists (we're usually in the bottom three) and hands-on ISIL publicists.

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So when construction chiefs this week issued a '12 steps' plan to Government, most of us won't have even noticed or given a fig.

Throughout the week the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) circulated its missive to all TDs and senators in an attempt to raise awareness of its issues and push its agenda along.

But it might be worth the rest of us paying some attention to those '12 steps', given that so many of the hindrances and obstacles it highlights actually affect so many - specifically those planning to buy, renovate or rent a home.

Because a good chunk of the stairs on those 12 steps involve measures to get housebuilding underway properly in areas which most require it. Without new homes, the existing ones get more expensive. This means higher mortgage costs and higher rents for the punter. This most affects first-time buyers and those renting, be it for college or otherwise.

About half of the CIF's 'steps' call for Government to implement legislation and action which it has actually already committed itself to. Measures promised and pledged but so far not yet delivered.

For example, included on the industry's wish list is the enactment of the Planning and Development (No 2) Bill. Through this, the Government has pledged reform of the planning system to cut out unnecessary barriers to home building. The "general scheme" was published back in January but not much has been heard about it since.

When it comes to the supply of homes, this is a very big deal indeed as council demands and conditions don't always fit in with what housing the public wants. And if builders can't sell them, then obviously they won't build them. Supply is hit.

More relevant again for Joe Public is the call for the national register of contractors to be put on a constitutional basis. This is a list of tax-paying contractors put together as a step to eradicate cowboys. Heads of the bill had been promised by last year but since then, nothing. Processing this would make it near impossible for cowboy builders to trade and undercut those who do pay taxes. Until then they can work and if they cut corners with tax, then they're likely to cut some more corners when they come to build your extension or renovate your bathroom. So once again, this is a matter that homeowners have a vested interest in.

Directly linked to this is a call for the extension of the successful Home Renovation Incentive Scheme which expires at the end of this year. The benefits for all homeowners are plain.

Most of the rest of the '12 steps' are industry specific stuff, which on the surface doesn't seem to affect the rest of us. But there are still more benefits contained therein for more than just builders.

Point five seeks advance information on large infrastructural projects going forward. For those of us living in areas which are affected by these delays in big infrastructure there is an obvious interest in these big schemes progressing. Dublin's Metro North to the airport for example - where did that go to? Or the Cork to Limerick motorway? Another scheme announced amidst great fanfare many moons ago, but little heard of since.

Finally there are 'steps' which most vitally affect employment and family incomes. The CIF urges the Government to implement the Construction Contracts Act - which was actually signed into law in July 2013 but has still not been brought into force.

This legislation addresses the persistent problems contractors encounter with delayed payment or not being paid at all. The non payment issue affects small tradesmen all over Ireland and is a key reason for so many going into negative equity or having their own homes repossessed. It's enough to break them if they are employed full time on a big contract for months and then don't get paid.

On the local jobs front there's a call for Government to reduce "bundling" of public contracts - for example builders might be required to tender for three school projects instead of one. This practice rules smaller local firms out of local jobs but also increases the arrival of big operators coming in from abroad to scoop those jobs. Reduction of bundling therefore means more opportunities in the sector for young Irish people and more local jobs at that.

Finally the sector asks Government to provide incentives for new apprenticeship schemes and to enact legislation which will allow for minimum wage levels across the board - again prospects for young people and security of employment in a sector which created almost half of new Irish jobs in 2014.

The CIF claims its '12 steps' can provide 20,000 new jobs over the next three years. And that can't be bad at all.

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