Institutional capital has become a significant component of both global and local markets. Thankfully Ireland has moved from a speculative, debt-based funding model to the current model, enabled by long-term institutional capital. These investors are vital to the delivery of the much-needed critical infrastructure within Ireland, and play a major part in the delivery of the required housing supply. Irish Institutional Property (IIP), launched last year, is the voice of the subsector seeking to increase the understanding of the positive role and impact of institutional capital in enabling economic growth and development. Critical in sustaining institutional investment is the need for public policy predictability and stability, as planning and investment decisions are based on a long-term view for such investors.
The mission statement of IIP
The mission statement of IIP is “to promote the development of a sustainable world class real estate sector in Ireland, which benefits members, the economy, communities and wider society”. This will be achieved by focusing on the following key objectives:
- Foster proactive and open communication between members and with all key stakeholders on matters of common interest
- Leverage member insight to provide thought leadership which supports the development of a sustainable property sector
- Constructively engage with government, legislators, policymakers and other relevant stakeholders to maintain a stable and properly functioning property market
- Position Ireland as a preferred location for institutional capital investment, supporting economic growth and the development of sustainable communities and workplaces.
- Support the modernisation and professionalisation of the sector by continuously improving the quality of the built environment.
National Planning Framework
The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has prepared and published the finalised National Planning Framework under Project Ireland 2040. It will guide strategic planning and development for the country over the next 20+ years, so that as the population grows, the growth is sustainable (in economic, social and environmental terms).
The plan’s objectives are to sustain growth, including the promotion of compact growth in Irish cities to avoid urban sprawl, as well as goals for sustainable mobility and regional accessibility. Key aspects include:
- Population growth of over one million through 2040
- 550,000 new houses to house the growing population
- 660,000 new jobs to employ the population
- 22 new road projects, in addition to 23 road projects currently in planning, design and construction
In order to pay for this, significant public capital expenditure is required with €116bn earmarked for investment through to 2040. We note that the IIP estimates that private sector investment will need to be multiples of this (projected to be circa. €322bn) to provide the housing, office space, retail space and other amenities required. As such, it is vital to the future of our economy.
Key issue – viability of residential development
As noted above, institutional investors are playing a significant role in the delivery of much-needed housing supply, in particular within the rental market. It is a driving force behind the increase in the number of apartment units in planning and granted permission in Dublin. The recent change in planning regulations relating to build-to-rent (BTR) in Ireland has improved the viability. However, the viability of build-to-sell (BTS) is still under pressure, in particular for apartment development. Key reasons for this include:
- Land supply and cost
- Cost of finance
- Delays to planning and infrastructure delivery
- Government taxes and levies on new construction
- Overall increases in construction costs
The above, together with Central Bank borrowing limits and deposit requirements, means that actual sales at viable prices are very slow. All stakeholders must come together and focus on solving this problem.
It should be noted that the existence of institutional investors who are acquiring large blocks is facilitating the supply of apartments that may otherwise have been unviable to build. This is due to the fact that institutional investors can source finance at low rates, and also take a long-term view. The BTR model is a yield model, and is not reliant on sales to make it work.
Building at height and increasing density in key urban areas
Ireland is redefining the profile of its cities upwards, building and planning a new generation of taller buildings. This is necessary, against a backdrop of growing urban populations, increased traffic congestion and a shortage of development land.
The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Authority published its Urban Development and Building Heights Guidelines in August 2018. These guidelines “consider the role of building height as part of a broad strategy to increase housing delivery and choice, through more compact and diverse urban form, to assist in counteracting sprawl and promoting enhanced sustainability in meeting strategic development needs”.
In our ‘Building Taller in Ireland’ report, published in October 2019, Linesight outlined some of the planning policy problems encountered with tall buildings and the inflexibilities around same. Difficulties are also being encountered with local authorities providing appropriate zoning and planning along key transport hubs, such as the LUAS.
- Increased height and density in key hubs has many advantages, including:
- Helps alleviate growing congestion problems
- Restricts inefficient outward sprawl
- Provides more space for people to live near where they work or on an efficient transport link
- Provides a greater return on investment in public transport
- Enhances work-life balance
- Attracts foreign direct investment and local investment
- Provides for more efficient use of land, which is a finite resource
Capacity to deliver pipeline
Major challenges continue in Ireland around the availability of construction resources and skills shortages. This in turn is contributing to construction price inflation. The industry has taken steps to address the skills shortage by employing greater numbers of apprentices, and also by recruiting more people from abroad, both returning emigrants and new immigrants.
Construction tender levels are continuing to increase at a pace well ahead of general inflation, and this is affecting the viability of some construction projects. However, while prices are still rising significantly, the pace of the increase is slowing, and this is to be welcomed.
To counteract some of this strain on resources, a number of our clients are looking at the benefits of off-site manufacturing (OSM). OSM is a more efficient form of construction than traditional build, benefiting from digitisation and leveraging available technologies to streamline the design and construction process. Key benefits of OSM include:
- Build time on-site is fast (circa. 60% quicker than traditional construction)
- Speed to site of a finished product, as modules are complete internally when delivered
- Pushes the client and design team to design the full project in advance of commencement in the factory, thereby reducing overall design development risk
- Construction works are undertaken in a controlled factory environment, with improved working conditions and efficiency, health and safety, and quality standards
- The labour force on-site is significantly reduced, requiring a small, experienced crew to locate the modules, and a similarly small fit-out crew following on to connect services
Institutional investors generally have both the funding models in place and the development pipeline to address the requirements of OSM. At Linesight, we feel it is imperative that large developers embrace OSM.
In summary, and as outlined by the Department of Finance paper ‘Institutional Investment in the Housing Market’ in February 2019:
“The growth of institutional investment is the result of a structural change in the market. The change has come from a combination of post-crisis capacity constraints in the financial and construction sectors; long-term societal changes such as increasing urbanisation and changing tenure profile; and the desire to avoid previous mistakes by improving spatial and urban planning”.
Looking forward, it is imperative that Government policy facilitates the positive impact institutional investors have in Ireland.