The Central Statistics Office (CSO) published data last week relating to the number of planning permission applications approved in quarter two of 2021. There was a total of 423 approvals relating to agricultural buildings, including 366 new builds/developments, 53 extensions and four approvals to convert the use of agricultural buildings.

As detailed in Figure 1, the quarter two figures rose significantly on quarter one with total approvals increasing by 91. This increase in quarter two follows a normal trend line, which occurs annually, with quarter two applications increasing by 58 in 2019 and 154 in 2019.

The exception to this trend occurred in 2020, when planning approvals were majorly disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic and just 193 applications were granted in quarter two of 2020. As a result, the number of planning permission approvals in quarters three and four of 2020 recorded a much higher level than usual.

Regional variation

The total number of approvals granted in 2020 was recorded at 1,347, which is 126 more than the number approved in 2019 and about a similar figure behind the level recorded in 2018.

The south of the country has typically dominated the number of approvals in recent years, which is not surprising given the number of new developments in dairying.

In the latest quarter, there were 178 approvals in the southern half of the country, 113 in the west/northwest and 66 in the east/midlands.

Dwelling approvals

While on the subject of planning permissions, the number of dwelling units granted permission in the first half of 2021 was 18,113, including 11,138 apartments and 6,975 houses. This represents a reduction of 15.9% in new apartments and 14.5% in houses when compared to the corresponding period in 2020, with the overall decline in approvals recorded at 15.4%.

One-off houses made up 19% of all planning applications, with the CSO data showing 3,447 approvals issued for the first half of 2021.

This compares to just 2,024 in the first half of 2020 and is also running above the 2,843 granted for the corresponding period in 2019.

Construction materials costs

The latest CSO detailed wholesale price indices (excluding VAT) for building and construction materials released at the end of August shows further increases, recorded in July, for the majority of materials. The exception to this was costs for stone, sand and gravel, which eased by 1.1% to 1.7% on June levels. The cost of ready mixed concrete and mortar also steadied and reduced ever so slightly by 0.4%.

This is in sharp contrast to timber and steel prices, where costs continue to escalate. Structural steel and fabricated metal recorded an increase in price of 2.5% and 1.3% respectively, while reinforcing metal jumped by 23%.

This is out of line with other steel products and some commentators predict it will have settled in line with others in the August figures.

Timber prices also edged upwards, with prices ranging from largely steady to an increase of 4% for rough timber. Domestic timber supplies continue to be undermined by ongoing issues with the granting of felling licences.

There is a backlog of up to 4,000 forestry-related licences, including felling, planting and roadway licences. The licensing debacle continues to put huge pressure on sawmills, with a doubling of imports from Scotland in recent months.

On the global front, futures prices for timber have fallen dramatically in the US on the back of reduced demand. This is stemming from building works being cancelled due to a spike in construction costs.

This reduction will take some time to feed in to global prices however, with other factors at play.

For example, Russia recently introduced export duties of up to 10% on certain timber products to curb increasing domestic prices caused by a sharp rise in export volumes.

Many industry sources in Ireland forecast that timber prices will not reduce significantly until current stocks, which have been purchased at higher prices, pass through the system and there is finally a resolution in licensing issues which can support increased domestic production.