IHBA – Sites are safe, society needs homes, skills are being lost

The successful return of education has provided the Government with a model for getting home building back on 5 April according to the IHBA. The case for a return of private home building is overwhelming.

The IHBA Director James Benson believes that a return to site for home builders is the right thing to do as the workplace is proven to be safe and that there is an urgent societal need for new homes, and continuing the lockdown to this sector is creating serious risks of skills shortage, house price inflation, company failures and job losses.

“Just as Government phased the re-opening of schools to demonstrate it could be done safely, a similar approach to construction generally could be followed with home building re-opening on 5 April”, says Benson.

“The evidence that home building is safe comes directly from the HSE.  Throughout 2021, around 40% of the construction workforce has been allowed to operate — those working on FDI and social housing projects. In that time the peak number of covid cases has been 42. Compare that to the food sector which also provides a vital service and has seen a peak of 776 cases in early February.

“Allowing private home building to resume would only add an additional 14,000 workers. These workers are spread across hundreds of developments, through-out 26 counties the length and breadth of the country. Private home building is the safest sector within construction, involving natural phasing of works, low site numbers and 60% of work outdoors,” he added.

Mr Benson says, “Each week the industry remains in lockdown 800 partially built homes stay idle. That is 800 families living with parents or living in rented accommodation they may have outgrown. 800 people with mortgage approval waiting to fulfil their dream of moving into their new home but have their lives disrupted when an immediate return to work could be permitted.

“The sustained closure of home building also creates a growing risk of longer-term damage to the housing market. Members of the IHBA are increasingly reporting a flight of skills as tradespeople who have been idle in Ireland for three months look to open sites across Europe. Skilled workers vote with their feet — they will go home or to other countries and not come back.”

Implementing unnecessary constraints on new home building will also contribute to the under supply of home building negatively impacting middle income earners. Just 6,000 homes this year could be available to private purchasers. As the country tries to move out of the pandemic, we do not need to worsen our housing crisis.

“The job Government has to weigh up all the factors.  Reopening education showed how the Government found a balance between addressing the societal harm of closed schools with the need to curb the spread of the virus. The same thinking can now be applied to construction. Phasing back home building will allow the Government and the health authorities to monitor closely and gradually all construction work to resume”, says Mr Benson.