Some of the delegates at the SCSI National Conference 2017 in Carton House.

The SCSI National Conference was held outside Dublin for the first time in Carton House,
Co. Kildare, on March 31.*

SCSI President Claire Solon said in her opening remarks that the future was about being ready for uncertainty, that it held huge hope, but fears also. Claire set out a number of challenges that she sees as affecting the profession, with the housing shortage being the obvious one. She called for the cost of supplying units to be brought down, and criticised the fact that repeated calls from the Society for this have so far gone unheeded.

IDA CEO Martin Shanahan (left) with SCSI President Claire Solon and speaker Daniel Susskind.

Future of business in Ireland

The head of the IDA, Martin Shanahan, spoke about the future of business in Ireland. He is concerned about the supply of office space. He thinks the situation will improve in Dublin but has concerns about elsewhere, especially Galway. He said: “We want to increase investment outside of Dublin by 30-40%”. Residential building is becoming a pinch point and Martin said he will find it increasingly difficult to convince investors that housing is coming, particularly in Dublin. He explained that in the absence of knowing what the future relationship between the EU and the UK will be, companies are preparing for a hard Brexit. Similar uncertainty around what policies President Donald Trump will introduce is making some companies hold off on investing.
Founder of recruitment agency CPL, Anne Heraty, spoke of the change going on in the world. She remarked that the largest ‘hotel’ in the world owns no property – Airbnb; the largest car company owns no cars – Uber; and, the largest publisher produces none of its own content – Facebook. She noted how the top 10 in-demand jobs of today didn’t exist 10 years ago.

Claire Solon said in her opening remarks that the future was about being ready for uncertainty, that it held huge hope, but fears also.

There was an excellent attendance at Carton House for this year’s National Conference.

Future of the professions

The keynote speaker was author and Oxford lecturer Daniel Susskind, who co-wrote The Future of the Professions with his father, Richard. Daniel told the crowd there would be two futures for the professions. In the medium term, we will see a more efficient version of what we have today. In the long term, machines will displace the professionals.
Computer processing power is continually growing, doubling every year since 1965. This has led to exponential growth and if it continues to 2020, we will create a computer which will have the processing power of a human brain; if it continues to 2050, one as powerful as the human race. Machines are becoming increasingly capable as well.
Daniel said a lot people say they aren’t worried about losing their jobs to technology because no computer could ever think like a human, but he pointed out that just because a machine can’t think or behave like you, doesn’t mean it can’t achieve the same results. He asked at what point will it become negligent to choose a person over a machine? He gave the example of a doctor in the future trying to figure out what’s wrong with you using their knowledge (which, while good, can never be perfect) instead of using a piece of technology which is completely accurate.

Marian warned that rather than the stated requirement that 25,000 housing units need to be built yearly, we really need to build 35-40,000.

From left: Donall O’Shea of AIB, Michael Cleary of Cleary, McCabe and Associates, Fiona Cormican of Clúid Housing and Colm Lauder of Goodbody.

Breakout sessions

After lunch, the Conference split into three breakout sessions. The first three sessions covered how the Irish property market will be funded in the future, what technology is available to help surveyors, and what can be gained from regulation. There was a second group of breakout sessions, which dealt with the impact of Brexit in detail, and with the brave new world of digital construction.

Fiona Cormican, Clúid Housing.

Concluding plenary

The first panel of the afternoon featured: Damien English TD, Minister of State for Housing and Urban Renewal; Robert Hoban, BIDX1; Simon Betty, Hammerson; Colin Bray, OSi; and, Jackie Doheny, Linesight. Minister of State English said he wants industry and local authorities to become more urgent in their approach to housing and that we need to be able to deliver units more quickly. He also raised the issue of vacant housing and highlighted how there are grants of €40,000 available to make vacant properties liveable. He said there will be a vacant site levy in 2018 and that a vacant housing levy is being considered.

Jackie Doheny, Linesight.

Provocateur address

Former Secretary General of the Department of Finance, John Moran, in his provocateur address, said that Ireland is Dublin heavy and that we should “put the east on a diet”. (Read our interview with John here.)
He said that we have a great country but we’ve done a terrible job of planning for the future. He has a vision of growing Ireland’s other cities and said this is as important for Dublin as it is for the rest of the country. He believes we can fix the capital by focusing on other places.

Kevin Nowlan of Hibernia REIT contributes to the discussion.

In the absence of knowing what the future relationship between the EU and the UK will be, companies are preparing for a hard Brexit.

By properly connecting Ireland’s cities nationally and internationally, it will take the pressure off Dublin. It is vital that countries invest in infrastructure he said, and that we can’t just go on a spending splurge in terms of taxes, wages and the public sector. He said we need to make hard choices and have hard conversations. He was critical of how infrastructure decisions are made by people who drive cars, like putting train stations in the middle of nowhere, saying you should be able to get off a train and walk into a town. We should be looking to reduce car usage and ownership almost entirely. He believes there are many Irish people under 35 who may never aspire to owning a car.

Minister of State English said he wants industry and local authorities to become more urgent in their approach to housing and that we need to be able to deliver units more quickly.

Dr Chris van Egeraat, NUI Maynooth.

Panel discussion

After John’s address, he took part in the final panel discussion of the day with: Paul Hogan, Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government; Niall Gleeson, Veolia; Dr Chris van Egeraat, NUI Maynooth; and, Marian Finnegan, Cushman & Wakefield.
Paul agreed with much of John’s address. He said Dublin faces real problems and there is too much reliance on the city. Chris said that regional development requires a large urban centre with international, national and regional connectivity. Marian warned that rather than the stated requirement for 25,000 housing units yearly, we really need to build 35-40,000. Niall said we should build an alternative to Dublin but not at the expense of the capital.

Krystyna Rawicz (left) and Society Director General Áine Myler.

*This is an edited version of the Conference report which appeared on the SCSI’s blog. Read more about the different talks and sessions in detail here.