Fionn Murtagh’s Blog

Themes: information economy, intellectual property, research

Archive for August 2010

Towards the Renaissance of the Irish Construction – Planning; Prices

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The report A Haunted Landscape: Housing and Ghost Estates in Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland, by Rob Kitchin, Justin Gleeson, Karen Keaveney, Cian O’Callaghan, National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) Working Paper 59, July 2010, pp. 66, provides interesting data. From the summary:

“Government has two principle levers through which it can seek to regulate property development. The first is through fiscal policy with respect to regulating access to credit and determining taxation rates. The second is through planning policy and the zoning of land and the granting of planning permissions. Explanations of the Irish property bubble have focused almost exclusively on the former, and the role of the banks, tax incentive schemes, and the failures of financial regulators. To date, the role of the planning system in creating the property bubble has been little considered.”

In regard to transaction price information, an Irish Times editorial had this to say, on Saturday 14 August 2010:

“A property market that is undergoing a huge price adjustment … was never in greater need of accurate price information. … the public awaits right of access to national property sales data.”

Open, linked data and information relating to all aspects of planning and prices are desperately needed.

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Written by Fionn Murtagh

2010/08/15 at 16:46

Towards the Renaissance of the Irish Construction Industry

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The Irish construction and property sector powered the post-Celtic Tiger period in Ireland, and had many bubble characteristics. But while dysfunctional in various ways (building in flood-prone regions, giving rise to long work/home commutes, lack of facilities such as high speed broadband connectivity) nonetheless there is a “real economy” rationale underpinning the property sector. Yes, there was a bubble economy there, but there was also an underlying “real economy”. The latter is what I want to focus on.

By 2008, construction had 13% of Irish employment, or 280,000 people, compared to 10% in 2000. Employment in the sector has taken a huge hit. For the sector, and for some if not most employment in the sector, to recover in Ireland, there is a need for a renaissance of construction, – a new, innovative industry that breaks with the past.

The Irish construction sector collapse started in 2007 and preceded the global, financial crisis of 2008. This is a reason to probe future technology options for Irish construction, to some extent in its own right relative to banking and lending.

The Irish construction sector is (admittedly in bubblish manner) largely privately financed. So much so, in fact, that very considerable volumes of Irish investment took place in the sector across the globe. Irish property investment abroad according to reports amounted to €10 billion in 2007, €11 billion in 2006, over €5 billion in 2004. A cash-rich sector therefore, with lavish spending even if not for the right reasons. Can we spur investment that comes anywhere close to that again in the future?

The first part of the response to this is to see where a major job of work is needed now. The report “Greenprint for a National Energy Efficiency Retrofit Programme” (end 2009) points to how “there are 1.2 million dwellings in Ireland in need of an energy efficiency retrofit, creating at least 30,000 direct construction sector jobs with additional indirect and induced jobs” and that is only the start of it. Buildings of all sorts need mutualized telecoms, energy and waste infrastructure too. In the natural order of things there are big needs to innovate in areas such as those. As families grow up and as mobility becomes less sprightly with age, homes have to adapt in significant ways. A building, any building, is continually changing and, we might even say, a living entity. A real job of work is needed, that extends into the future as far as the mind’s eye can see.

Recommendations arising from the Greenprint report include this: “Create regulatory certainty for businesses and service providers” – and consumers, customers, and you and me. That is part of the core issue. But there is a way to go in establishing anew anything like the confidence that the construction sector enjoyed before its internal (and admittedly quite rotten) collapse.

To create confidence and trust what is needed is linked, open data including all aspects of planning processes and investments and contracts. Pointing the way here is Obama’s Open Government Initiative, for transparency, participation, and public/individual collaboration. The UK’s open data initiative too is hugely active in giving access in a meaningful way to data. Highlighted just from July 2010 alone, there are data and resources for housing and planning, landfill, weather and flood warning, schools, building energy usage, …

Ireland needs now an open, linked data initiative for the construction sector, including data and tools to interpret and exploit the information in new ways, from central and local government, environment, regulatory authorities, finance and banking, transport, schools, hospitals, and all other areas of our built environment. This transparency is necessary in order to start to restore confidence and trust, and to focus where, when and how regulatory, financial and other policy instruments can be brought into play.

Semantic web technology is capable of elucidating open information and data. That is what we need to start to remedy the huge errors of the past.