Saturday 24 November 2007

Building boom bubble bursts

PROOF of the slowdown in the house building industry in Laois was brought home this week after two major employers let off over 60 of their workers. And more lay offs are expected.

ONS, formerly known as Owenass Development Limited, called in its 400+ workers at their site on the Ridge Road in Portlaoise three weeks ago and told them they were placing them all on protective notice.

A week later 53 of their workers were let go.

An employee with the company told the Laois Nationalist at that meeting they were told by Pat Flanagan, one of the company directors, the reason they were being placed on protective notice was because of the slowdown in the house construction industry.

He said Mr Flanagan told them "where normally they would complete eight houses a week that figure was being reduced to four houses a week."

Pat Flanagan from ONS said he had reduced his employee figures by a "small percent-age," but put the layoff down to the completion of the Fairgreen Retail and Commercial Centre development along the Mountmellick Road in Portlaoise.

He said he had hoped a decision on his planning application for his other retail and commercial development at Derrycloney in Mountmellick would have been completed by now, but it was still making its way through the planning process.

Mr Flanagan said he did not expect to lay off any more workers between now and Christmas.

Asked if he thought there was a slow down in house developments in Laois Mr Flanagan said: "It could not possibly continue at the rate it was going or there'd be no fields left for farmers."

Pat Moore Builders in Emo let off eight of his workforce and placed an additional seven on notice in the past two weeks, again citing the slowdown in the sector as the reason.

Mr Moore said out of his 190 employees he expects another 15 to 20 to be let off before Christmas. "The national media predicted in mid-July 40,000 construction workers would lose their jobs and referred to it as Black Friday.

"That never happened. There may be a slowdown but it's not as damaging as they make out. The general building construction industry, which includes commercial and civil, seems to be doing ok." Pat McCabe from the construction branch of SIPTU in the Midlands said there was "every indication" of a slowdown in the construction of houses in Laois, while at the same time pointing to the positive element of the buoyancy in the civil construction sector in the county.

He said while general labourers may find it easy to transfer from house developments to civil projects, he would have concerns for those in the trades, electricians, plasterers and carpenters and how the house-building slowdown could affect them.

"If ever you wanted proof that the house building sector is in decline here in Laois, just look around you," one industry insider told the Laois Nationalist. "There have been no major housing projects started in the last few months. Those that are there, they're putting the finishing touches to them and tidying them up. I predict it will be the middle of next year when the real slowdown will hit and house building will grid to a halt," he added.

"Nobody's going to get new jobs. It's all infrastructural works now like the Portlaoise to Cullohill and the Castletown to Neagh motorways. All attention in the industry is now focused on the likes of those development."

Joe Barrett
Laois Nationalist

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