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Northern Ireland housebuilding 'growing at a slower rate than rest of UK'

By Margaret Canning

The pace of growth in housebuilding in Northern Ireland is the slowest of 12 UK regions at just 17%, according to a report published today.

Work was started on 761 new houses in the province from January to March this year - up from 650 over the same period 12 months ago.

Overall, the number of new homes started across the UK was at its highest in a decade over the first quarter of the year at 42,470, the National House Building Council (NHBC) said.

But the rate of growth in Northern Ireland was outpaced by all other UK regions.

In the north-east of England, there was a 39% uplift in new homes, while London saw a 38% jump and eastern England 31% growth.

The first quarter's 17% growth follows a sluggish increase of 1.7% during 2016, to 3280.

In contrast, new home starts surged by 33% in 2015.

Jamesy Hagan of local housebuilder Hagan Homes - which almost doubled turnover to £16.7m in the most recent financial year due to a pick-up in the industry - said: "We continue to lag behind the UK due to the length of time that it takes in Northern Ireland to get planning approval compared to the UK."

He also claimed builders were charged "excessive" sums for bonds to cover any potential cost of any drainage systems left unfinished by developers.

David Little, regional director for the NHBC, added: "We have seen a very pleasing start to the year, continuing the growth seen in 2015.

"Belfast and the surrounding commuter areas remain particularly popular, and the feedback from estate agents is that demand for new, quality homes exceeds the supply coming through."

Conor Mulligan, the managing director of housebuilder Lagan Homes, part of Lagan Group, also claimed that the planning process was as an inhibiting factor in the growth of the housing market.

He additionally said it was disappointing that many construction workers for Northern Ireland companies were instead working on houses in England. "The overwhelming constraint in housing supply is the planning process," Mr Mulligan claimed.

"Many of the larger housebuilders could be building much more if they could only obtain the approvals in a timely manner. It is a tragedy when we have a housing crisis here that a sizable part of our industry's resources are being employed in England."

NHBC's managing director, Neil Jefferson, said the UK figures were "encouraging".

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