Sunday 17 December 2017

70 cranes over Dublin skyline should alarm the Government

With the office-building boom apparent in Dublin, the rarer sight of cranes being used in a residential development in the city. Photo: Bloomberg
With the office-building boom apparent in Dublin, the rarer sight of cranes being used in a residential development in the city. Photo: Bloomberg
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

While it may be comforting to some to read that there were 70 construction cranes visible over the centre of Dublin from the seventh floor of The Irish Times building on Tara Street on April 1 last; one would hope that the figure set off alarm bells in Government Buildings.

With nearly every one of those cranes being used for the construction of new offices in anticipation of a post-Brexit exodus of bankers from London and in expectation of the more usual flow of FDI arrivals, the burning question is not one of 'do we have enough office space to meet demand?'

The real and more important issue at this point is 'if they come, where are the workers going to live?'

The gravity of the situation, if it wasn't clear already to Housing Minister Simon Coveney and his Cabinet colleagues was certainly driven home last Thursday with the publication by the CSO of the housing data from the 2016 census.

Leaving aside the shocking yet entirely unsurprising finding that Ireland's total housing stock increased by just 0.4pc (8,800 units) since 2011 compared to the 12.7pc increase recorded between 2006 and 2011, the CSO's analysis of the availability and profile of residential accommodation in the capital is worrying.

In a note on the subject, agents Knight Frank drew attention to the fact that the vacancy rates in south Dublin and Fingal sit at an incredibly low 13 and 17 housing units per 1,000 respectively. In terms of the type of housing Dubliners are living in, Knight Frank noted 79.6pc are in houses compared to the European average of 57.4pc.

But if we're to deal with the specific accommodation problem a potential post-Brexit influx of financial services professionals or the continuing stream of FDI entrants poses for Dublin's CBD and docklands, it's clear that the Government and Dublin City Council need to get over what Knight Frank refer to as the "ideological opposition" to building height, to allow for accommodation of sufficient scale to be built in the areas where it is needed most.

Referring to the impact the growing deficit in housing supply in Dublin's docklands has had to date, Knight Frank noted that rents in the south and north docklands saw average increases of 30.8pc and 29.1pc respectively between 2011 and 2016.

While IDA chief executive Martin Shanahan recently sought to assuage concerns expressed by Hibernia Reit CEO Kevin Nowlan in relation to the housing crisis, telling the annual conference of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) that "Ireland has not lost out on any FDI due to the shortage of residential accommodation", it would appear that Nowlan and many others within the property industry are not convinced.

Certainly, if opportunities to attract FDI and post-Brexit relocators haven't been lost or otherwise foregone, the deepening housing crisis that CBRE's Head of Research Marie Hunt has said is already being used by other European competitor cities to 'spin' against Ireland will damage our prospects in the very near future.

Given the immediacy of the specific challenge to provide accomodation for those foreign and Irish personnel who may come to work in the offices now under construction in Dublin docklands, the Government should give renewed consideration to easing current limitations on the height and density of residential accommodation there and in other key locations in the capital. The provision of such accommodation, as a matter of urgency, should not be considered as a case of favouring financial services professionals employed in these new offices over others in need of housing.

Rather, it should be seen as a national economic imperative to attract the required number of occupants for the office space being delivered.

Sunday Independent

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