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FactCheck: Is Richard Bruton right to say housing starts are on the rise?

The Education Minister made the claim during Leaders Questions last week – our readers asked for it to be tested.

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IN THE FACE of questions about the government’s housing strategy in the Dáil this week, Education Minister Richard Bruton noted what he called “considerable growth” in the number of new private houses being built.

Several readers contacted us on Twitter to bring our attention to the claim, and some argued it was mistaken.

So we’ve had a look at the numbers, and reached a verdict.

(Send your FactCheck requests to factcheck@thejournal.ie, tweet @TJ_FactCheck, or send us a DM).

Claim: The number of new private houses being started is increasing

What was said:   You can watch a short clip of Bruton’s remarks, along with a breakdown of the basic facts, in a video below.

For our purposes, this is the statement we’re most interested in, which was made as the Education Minister took Leader’s Questions on behalf of the government, on Thursday.

…It is encouraging to see, at last, in Dublin and in other parts of the country, we’re seeing housing starts showing considerable growth.

The Facts

The chart below shows the number of private residential units commenced in Ireland each month between January 2014 and November 2016 (the most recent month where figures are available).

A commencement is an administrative notification sent by a house-builder to the relevant authorities, to let them know they are about to start construction.

Commencement notices are sometimes known as “starts” – the term Richard Bruton used – and are one of the primary measures of housing construction.

The other primary measure of housing construction is housing “completions”, which track when a newly-built house is connected to the electricity network.

Source: For a full-size version of this chart, click here

As you can see, housing construction rose in 2016.

Between January and November there were 11,320 commencement notices – that’s a 46.5%% increase from the same period in 2015, when there were 7,727.

In response to FactCheck, Richard Bruton’s spokesperson cited the same data, and specified that in his Dáil remarks, the Minister was referring to the last year.

He correctly pointed out that in the last 12 months (December 2015 to November 2016) there had been 11,681 commencement notices – 44.8% more than in the previous 12 months (December 2014 to November 2015).

It is true, as noted on Twitter, that the number of commencements declined in November 2016, the most recent month for which data is available.

But it’s important to note that they declined from 1,759 in October (the highest monthly rate since February 2014), to 1,324 in November (the second-highest monthly rate since February 2014).

Let’s take a broader view, and look at commencement notices over the past 12 years.

Since we only have figures for January to November last year, we’re comparing that number to January-November in every previous year, as far back as 2004.

Source: For a full-size version of this chart, click here

As we’ve already shown, housing starts rose significantly between 2015 and 2016.

But this chart shows that commencement notices in 2016 were also significantly higher than in every year between 2009 and 2014.

The number of housing starts has also risen every year since 2012. The figures are not even close to what they were between 2004 and 2006, but in 2016 they were the highest in eight years.

Conclusion

Richard Bruton’s claim was: “We’re seeing housing starts showing considerable growth”.

In 2016, housing starts (commencement notices) increased by 46.5% over 2015, and were the highest in eight years.

While there was a month-to-month decrease between October and November 2016, this constituted a fall from the highest monthly rate in almost three years to the second-highest monthly rate in almost three years.

On the whole, the trend is clear – there has indeed been “considerable growth” in housing starts in the last year, compared to the year before that, as specified by Richard Bruton in response to FactCheck.

We therefore rate Richard Bruton’s claim TRUE. As our verdicts guide explains, this means: “The claim is accurate, and is not missing any significant details or context”.

This is the third claim by Richard Bruton that we have fact-checked. Previously, we gave him verdicts of FALSE and UNPROVEN. You can read his FactCheck File here.

To download a spreadsheet of data on housing starts from March 2014 to November 2016, click here

To download a spreadsheet of data on housing starts from January 2004 to February 2014, click here.

FactCheck File Richard Bruton

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here.

For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here.

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About the author:

Dan MacGuill

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