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Minister Coveney's statement on Census 2016 Housing Data & Housing Statistics

Published on Friday, 07 Apr 2017
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The overarching objective of Rebuilding Ireland is to increase the national supply of housing to 25,000 homes per annum by 2021 or sooner, if possible. Given the emphasis on supply, measuring our starting point and tracking trends and progress in terms of new home builds is crucially important.

The communications and reporting processes supporting implementation of Rebuilding Ireland are comprehensive and transparent and we are committed to working with analysts and stakeholders to ensure that the measurement of construction activity is robust, accurate and consistent to the greatest extent possible. 

In this context, I want to talk about the completion figures my Department uses and recent commentary around them in the media.  Connections of electricity services by the ESB have long been used by my Department (and indeed many other housing analysts) as a reliable proxy for housing completions going back to the 1970’s. As I understand it, the ESB dataset is the only longitudinal comparator that gives full coverage of the data.

However, the ESB connections data has been criticised by some commentators and parts of the media as inaccurate and for overstating new builds. However, the premise for using it is quite simple. Only when a house is finished and ready for occupation is the electricity “switched on”.

While it’s not the ESB’s job to count new houses, they work very positively with my Department in a partnership approach on this important task and understand how important the data is to us. The ESB gathers a lot of data at the time preceding connection. To ensure that we have the most in-depth understanding of this data set, my officials recently met the ESB and with the Central Statistics Office, who also play an important part in this process.  A formal request has been made by my Department to the ESB Networks team for additional data to help isolate issues in the dataset such as the one mentioned below and in order to broaden the use of this dataset into other critical areas such as better understanding the issue of vacancy.

One thing that has somewhat skewed the ESB data in recent years is housing that was started in the boom, stalled in the downturn for a number of years and finished in recent times. Of course, finishing out these homes and seeing them occupied is important and contributes to total properties available for occupation. These will wash out as more and more of the overhang from the crash is finished, connected and occupied.

Of course, the ESB figures are not the only data we use. We gather detailed information on homelessness, social housing delivery, private housing planning permissions and construction directly from local authorities and we use these important data sources to inform policy and assess its effectiveness.

For example, in order to programme expenditure and monitor progress, we have very strong data on each and every one of the 8,400 homes across the 504 projects in the social housing construction pipeline. We report on these projects on a quarterly basis.

In terms of residential construction on privately owned sites, the four Dublin local authorities monitor the 144 active housing sites in Dublin that are collectively building around 5,000 homes. We know the location and number of units for each site. In many ways, the scale and spread of the actual construction underway informs and validates our policy just as much as historic build figures.

Census Data

The publication of Census 2016 data by the CSO on 6 April 2017 is very welcome and will be very useful in informing housing and planning policy in a variety of ways including household formation patterns generally and responding to specific needs such as an ageing population. 

The total number of private households enumerated between Census 2011 and Census 2016 grew by 48,081 to just over 1.7m. The total completions per ESB connections between January 2011 and April 2016 (census time) was 55,240.

Some commentators have used the publication of the census figures to draw conclusions around completions. When examining the census data from a housing perspective there are nuances in the data which take time to analyse and understand, and premature conclusions can be unhelpful. For instance: 

  • The census data deals with permanently occupied dwellings rather than housing completions; 
  • A census question seeking the age of construction of the occupant’s house. The return for the category “from 2011 onwards” was 33,436 homes. However, 114,122 households did not respond at all, and of course there is no response (to this or any other question) from the very large number of vacant properties recorded.