Council refutes house building lobby's attack

Derry City and Strabane District Council has refuted claims the local authority is not doing enough to support builders following an extremely disappointing spring for the construction industry in the North.

Wednesday, 2nd August 2017, 8:00 pm
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 11:49 am

The council said it planned supporting the development of 18,000 new homes and between eight and 15,000 new construction jobs between now and 2032.

The commitment was affirmed by the local authority after Gavin McGuire, Director of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) in the North, criticised Derry and Strabane’s draft Strategic Growth Plan for 2017 to 2032, claiming it didn’t mention house-building.

The criticism followed a dreary spring for the construction industry locally with rapid growth well and truly ‘rained off’ over the season.

According to the FMB’s State of Trade Survey for the second quarter of 2017, growth among the North’s building firms “slowed significantly” throughout April, May and June.

The FMB found small to medium size enterprises (SMEs) in the construction sector saw a double-digit decline of 23 percentage points to +4;

Builders in the North also saw the slowest growth rate anywhere on these islands.

Furthermore, costs are on the up.

Eighty three per cent of builders said they believed the movement of material prices would be northward over the next six months. Labour cost overheads are also a concern for FMB, according to Mr. McGuire. Almost two-thirds (62 per cent) of construction SMEs expect salaries to increase in the next six months, for example.

All of this has prompted the FMB to issue a direct appeal to Derry City and Strabane District Council to do more to support the industry.

Mr. McGuire said: “There is a requirement for all eleven councils in NI to prepare a community plan and with the Executive flailing, strategic commitments on house building and infrastructure projects from local government has never been so important.

“Derry and Strabane recently launched their Strategic Growth Plan for 2017 to 2032, which suggests a spend of some £3.8 billion yet does not even mention house building – we’re urging all local authorities to recognise the economic and social benefits that a healthy construction sector can bring and include relevant commitments in their community plans.”

But the local council has pointed out that its draft Strategic Growth Plan for 2017 to 2032 - also known as ‘Our Community Plan’ - makes explicit reference to £713,000,000 it expects will be spent on housing in the district over the next decade-and-a-half. Although this projected investment will come from central government and the private sector it will be facilitated by the local council.

A spokesperson said Community Planning presented the council with an exciting opportunity to work in partnership with all tiers of government, the community and voluntary sector, and businesses to improve the well-being of all of our citizens.

“Our draft plan takes a very strategic view of how we can pool resources by working collaboratively to grow and improve social, economic and environmental wellbeing for all,” the spokesperson said.

“The draft report is the result of an extensive period of engagement with all sectors of our community and we are fully committed to working with our partners in the housing sector to address the issues relating to our high reliance on social housing with a view to building more high-value houses by investing in neighbourhoods with play areas, parks, greenways and leisure facilities on our doorsteps,” the spokesperson added.

The council’s Strategic Growth Plan 2017 to 2032 also clearly signposts its Local Development Plan, which runs to 2030, and is specifically concerned with housing development.

The spokesperson said: “Our Local Development Plan’s growth strategy clearly identifies our commitment to address the issues of low levels of building over the past decade.

“The plan focuses on three aspects, namely population, jobs and houses and based on population growth to around 160,000 would see the development of 18,000 new homes and between 8 and 15,000 new jobs over the period to 2032.”

The council spokesperson added that it recognised the importance of building confidence in the construction sector to invest in the region and provide economic and social regeneration and that with the industry’s support, Derry and Strabane can become a thriving, prosperous and sustainable city and district.

The spokesperson said: “The council is very keen to engage directly with the FMB as part of our ongoing consultation process to include their views in the final plan.”

The FMB, meanwhile, has also called on the political parties to sort out their differences at Stormont for the sake of growth and jobs.

“ Clearly the on-going political uncertainty here, including the lack of a functioning NI Government or Budget, is starting to quell growth among small builders,” said Mr. McGuire.