Hagan Homes chief critical of 'too slow' planners as firm reveals turnover for year of £20m
Housebuilder has its best year since property crash but 'could do more'
Northern Ireland housebuilder Hagan Homes has said it could increase its home completions by 30% if planning decisions could be processed more swiftly.
The Ballyclare firm said it had spent up to £4m last year acquiring new sites around Northern Ireland, capable of supporting up to 500 new homes.
It also had turnover of £20m in 2015/16 - making it the second most successful year in its 28-year history. The firm has 13 direct employees but uses around 250 sub-contractors.
But managing director Jamesey Hagan said the planning process was slower than ever following the transfer of powers from the Department of the Environment to councils two years ago.
He spoke as the company revealed its best-ever year for completions since 2006 - the peak of the Northern Ireland housing market before the crash of 2007 onwards.
The firm finished work on 191 new homes around Northern Ireland in the financial year 2015/16.
In 2015, new home starts in the province increased by 30% to 3,223, before dipping again in the first quarter of 2016, according to the National House Building Council.
But Mr Hagan said he agreed with industry estimates that more new homes were required - partly because economic conditions made buying more affordable.
"The simple fact is that it's now more affordable to buy a house than rent as mortgages are more affordable, especially with the recent interest rate cut to 0.25%," he said.
"Despite the current uncertainty surrounding Brexit, we are seeing a gradual improvement in the local housing market following a deep recession."
And its target for home completions in 2016/17 was 180.
"We have already started work on two new sites in Antrim and Upper Newtownards, Belfast. Further sites in Carrickfergus, Dunmurry and Ballyclare are scheduled to begin in the coming months," said Mr Hagan.
Sites which have been completed by the company in the last financial year include Fort Hall at Belfast's Old Dundonald Road, Kinross Avenue off the Kings Road also in the city, and Hollybrook Hill on the Hightown Road in Glengormley.
And Mr Hagan said he was not in favour of a return to the mid-2000s period of soaring house prices. According to the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, the average house price in the three months to June is £123,000 - up nearly 8% on the year before.
"I think if we had the gradual increase of last year over each year it would be much better for the economy and market. Big rises and big drops are what nobody wants," he said.
And he said he believed he would be able to build as many as 250 new homes a year if planning could be sped up.
"Planning processes are now no better than they were before powers were moved from the Department of Environment to councils. It anything, it's slightly worse. The time taken to get planning approval could be anything from a year to two years."