Inefficiency and outdated practices in the construction industry are "holding Ireland back" and must change, the Taoiseach has told builders and developers.
Leo Varadkar also vowed to tackle “vexatious disputes” that tie up essential housing and industrial projects for years in his Croke Park address to the Construction Industry Federation conference.
“It has been enormously frustrating for me, for Government, for many people in the room to see good developments go through the council or An Bord Pleanala quite quickly but get stuck in the courts, in unnecessary and in some cases vexatious disputes that are far too easy to take in this country,” the Taoiseach said in unscripted remarks.
He said the Government was drafting a Planning and Development Bill that would give clarity and speed to the planning process. “With this bill, we’re going to change it,” he said.
But the Taoiseach said builders and developers themselves also were driving up costs and delivery times because they were not as open to technological change and innovation as other parts of the economy.
“While there are many great innovative firms working in the sector, those practices and approaches are not mainstream,” he said. “Compared to other sectors of the Irish economy, or compared to construction sectors in other European countries, productivity in this sector is far too low. And it’s holding Ireland back. It’s adding costs to projects both big and small.”
He said construction firms “of all sizes should be at the forefront of integrating new technology and new ways of doing things into its work. Unfortunately that’s not the case today … but we can and will change that.”
The Taoiseach said housing construction still was struggling with the destructive legacy of the Celtic Tiger’s collapse.
“About 20,000 new homes were built in the past year. That’s a big increase from a very low base. We’re far short of the 30 or 35,000 that we need to get to,” he said.
“Ten years ago the building sector went bust, the banks went bust, and the Government was bust. As a consequence of that, for seven years almost no homes were built in the country. Around 200,000 homes that should have been built were not. That’s at the root of the housing crisis, not any ideology or any political party,” he said.
The Taoiseach said the Government was committed to a 10pc, or €900m, increase to capital spending regardless of how Brexit unfolds. If anything, he said, a potential no-deal Brexit would make it all the more important to increase spending on public transport, roads and other infrastructure.
“That 10pc increase in the capital budget for next year is written into the budget for next week,” he said.
“It’ll happen, deal or no deal.”