Belfast Telegraph

Banking sector and planners are holding up new homes in Ulster

By Jamie Stinson

Northern Ireland property developers are being increasingly driven to Britain as a logjam has built up in the creation of new homes.

As confidence returns to the housing market and prices rise, the banking sector and planning process is restricting the supply of much-needed new houses being built, developers have said.

Between December 2014 and last month there were 720 new homes registered in Northern Ireland, up from 492 in the same period 12 months earlier.

But Conor Mulligan, director at Lagan Homes, said the supply of new homes was lagging far behind demand.

"In general the Northern Ireland building sector, both private and social, is increasingly struggling to deliver the number of houses required," he said.

"The two main hurdles are the banking sector and to a greater extent the Northern Ireland planning process.

"A number of the larger developers have recently closed show houses and turned away sales as they cannot get the necessary approvals through the system in a reasonable time.

"They are all reporting the same problem of a logjam of sites which could be employing hundreds and even thousands of people just stuck in an unworkable system."

Mr Mulligan (right) expects to build more houses in England than Northern Ireland this year.

"We have the incredible situation where the larger developers are delivering more houses, investing more funds and employing more people in England than they are in Northern Ireland," he said.

With more work taking place in Britain, February's Labour Force Survey found employment in Northern Ireland's construction industry fell 4% year-on-year.

The number of homes being built in the UK increased by 25% on the previous year, with 11,734 new houses registered between December and February, the National House Building Council said.

The Land and Property statistics for Northern Ireland released this week found between October and December last year, 1,204 new dwellings were started and 1,469 new homes were completed.

In 2014 there were just 5,748 new dwellings started, well behind the 12,000 homes developers say need to be built each year.

John Armstrong, managing director of the Construction Employers' Federation, said: "The local construction industry is now heavily reliant of work outside of Northern Ireland, particularly in Great Britain. We estimate that the top 20 local construction companies turn over approximately £1.5bn of which £1bn is now generated outside Northern Ireland."

Maire Nawaz, Federation of Master Builders Northern Ireland director, said there were three areas which the Executive need to address to increase the number of new homes being built.

"Mortgage liquidity - house-builders can only build homes if people are in a good position to buy them," she said.

"Site viability - increase in regulations such as zero carbon targets and community infrastructure levy, combined with the drop in house prices has severely damaged the availability of developing land.

"Local authorities need to reassess if such regulations can be delivered realistically.

"Land availability - the lack of available land with planning permission - is a significant problem."

What's being done:

Help to Buy Isa - gets first-time buyers onto the market by offering a government bonus for savers.

Help to Buy - house-hunters can get mortgages with a deposit as low as 5%.

Home Loans Fund - aims to build 600 new affordable homes by 2020.

Co-ownership Association - allows people to buy their home through equity sharing.

What needs to be done:

Improve access to development finance for SME house-builders through the provision of government guarantees on private bank loans.

Provide access to loan funding for NI construction SMEs similar to the British Business Bank, like in GB.

Executive must assist dialogue between the industry and the banks over lending to construction firms.

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