Paul McNieve: National planning needed
The Right Moves
PROPERTY Industry Ireland (PII) is a group set up to influence the future of Ireland's property sector by acting as a "think-tank" through which a national planning strategy can emerge.
I had an interesting meeting with Dr Peter Stafford, a director of PII at IBEC's headquarters and he updated me on their work.
The Board of the PII is certainly experienced and includes people like Mark FitzGerald, Aidan O'Hogan, Kieran McGowan, developer Michael O'Flynn and architect Tony Reddy.
The PII divides into four "pillar committees" which produce strategic advice, information and recommendations for the industry and government.
Those committees have very strong representation from the town planning, architectural, engineering, construction, banking and stockbroking sectors.
Those four areas are the "Planning and Regulation Group" and the "Market Supply and Demand Group", which monitors trends in the supply of commercial and residential property and is working actively with the government and IDA Ireland.
The "Funding Initiatives Group" is looking at new financial models to stimulate development and the "Industry Capacity and Issues Group" works on maintaining construction capacity and professional expertise throughout a long recession.
This group also assesses the cost base of construction and the viability of schemes in a European context.
Readers may find the Forfas report on the strategic outlook for the construction industry of interest.
Dr Stafford told me that one aim of the PII is to break up the "silo thinking" which can result from disciplines working solely in their own areas of expertise.
The PII is of the view that there should be a "National Property Strategy" and there will be plenty of need for the PII's input as the governments National Spatial Strategy and The National Development Plan are both due to be re-launched in 2014.
Another area where I will be interested to see the PII's advice will be the launch of the new "Building Control Amendment Regulations" which will overhaul the regulatory framework for building projects from the March 1 next.
In response to the Priory Hall and pyrite debacles, the regulations will see increased focus on design documentation, inspections during construction and certification by professionals.
Architects are divided on the issue and a rearguard action has been launched by seven past presidents of the RIAI, seeking to postpone or prevent implementation of the new system.
My own view is that a fuller return to the old system of independent inspections by local authorities is the best solution.
In view of the shortage of new office buildings, the PII are doing a lot of work on the viability of "retrofitting" 1980s buildings to see if they can be made suitable for today's occupiers.
The main problem is usually insufficient floor to ceiling height to allow modern cabling and air conditioning systems.
The PII are also forming the view that the standard developers fit-out may go too far for some occupiers (as evidenced by at least one tech firm removing the fit-out in their new docklands building) and reducing the fit-out certainly helps viability.
In my own view, there was plenty of sense to the decentralisation strategy, before it was hijacked by political strokes and decentralisation will be firmly on the PII agenda in 2014.
I was interested to attend the launch of The Irish Citizens Party at Buswells Hotel. This movement, which is a grouping of independent political candidates, is the brainchild of my uncle, Jim Connolly, from Co Clare.
Jim Connolly has a record of delivering on radical thinking and his Rural Resettlement Ireland project has been a social phenomenon.
800 families in poor quality housing, mostly in Dublin, have been relocated to better housing and a better life in rural areas which were being depopulated, successfully keeping villages alive. 23 years into the project, the grandchildren of the first families to relocate are now attending schools which were kept open when their grandparents moved to the locality.
The scheme attracted worldwide attention and Jim Connolly assisted the French, Belgian and Spanish governments in implementing similar schemes.
The Local Property Tax has become a big problem for Rural Resettlement which as a charity is unable to pay these taxes and cannot pass them on to tenants.
Last week, Rural Resettlement agreed to transfer its stock of social housing in Clare to the Respond Housing Association.
With thousands of families with small children unable to afford or find suitable housing in Dublin, there has never been a greater need for the Rural Resettlement scheme.