Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland builders claim utility firms are holding up new houses

By Margaret Canning

Companies providing electricity and water in Northern Ireland are not keeping up with growing demand as the pace of homebuilding in the province picks up, it has been claimed.

Housing starts rose 30% during 2015 to reach 3,223, according to the National House Building Council (NHBC). And electricity giant NIE Networks said it had seen a 22% jump in applications for connections from new dwellings in the last year.

Conor Mulligan, managing director of Lagan Homes, which has nine new developments in the east of the province, said utility companies "appear to be struggling to keep up with the increase in new developments".

"This is quite worrying as the industry is only providing a fraction of the houses it once did and that are required."

Mr Mulligan declined to identify the developments affected or the utility firms involved. But he said: "We recently had to apologise for the delay to the handovers of a number of houses on a development as the utility companies appeared overstretched. This is a struggle we are coming up against on many sites."

While there were around 5,500 new homes completed here in 2014/15, industry bodies say the province requires closer to 11,300. Mr Mulligan added: "We are on the cusp of a housing supply crisis in Northern Ireland and it is taking an inordinate period of time from decision to build to handing over the keys to a new homeowner." Jamesy Hagan, managing director of Hagan Homes, which finished 191 properties in 2015/6, claimed big utility companies lacked the manpower to keep up with construction.

Mr Hagan, whose firm is based in Ballyclare, said his development at Scotch Quarter in Carrickfergus was to have been available from August 22 but had been delayed until September 14, while a showhouse at Ballyveigh in Antrim was to open on October 2, but was now also delayed.

He claimed companies had reduced staff numbers in the units which linked up new homes during the downturn and were now caught short.

But NIE and NI Water said they were not facing any issues. NI Water said it had "no concerns in relation to personnel capacity in ensuring an effective response to housing developers".

It added: "A well-established application process is in place for new services to recently constructed developments, and these are provided only at the cost of the developer."

NIE said: "We're pleased to see an upturn in the house-building market - we've seen a 22% increase in electricity connection applications for housing sites in the last 12 months. We have put measures in place to the meet the growing needs of the sector, such as introducing key account managers to liaise with these major customers. As with all jobs to connect homes and businesses to the electricity network, our work is delivered to a set of agreed customer standards."

Phoenix Natural Gas said: "Our standards of service states that gas will be made available four weeks from the date a request has been made by a builder for a new build site. The week before the connection is due to be made the builder will be contacted to let them know the specific day that our crew will be on site." Gas company Firmus was not able to comment.

Belfast Telegraph