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Catalan Architects warn building recovery is an illusion

Building new homes in Barcelona, capital of Catalonia
Building new homes in Barcelona, capital of Catalonia

Catalan architects warn that a rise in building activity is not what it seems, writes Óscar Muñoz, in the Spanish daily La Vanguardia.

On the face of it, a big increase in new home building looks like good news for the industry and economy. Housing starts are on the up, and the surface area being built increased by 26% last year, having increased the year before by 7.5%. But most of the increase comes from big projects of more than 10,000 sqm, which were planned in the boom years and put on ice during the crisis, explains Muñoz in La Vanguardia. And most of the new building activity last year was concentrated in the first six months of the year, and fell off sharply in the second half of the year.

Last year saw planning approval for 2.9 million square metres in Catalonia, and 6,351 homes, up 47% on 2014. Even so these numbers are “very low and still far from adequate,” says Lluis Comerón, from the Catalan College of Architects, quoted in the article. “This rate of growth is too slow, and not enough for the sector to recover, for the economy to get back to normal, and for unemployment to fall.”

What’s needed to get the Catalan building industry back on its feet? “The right policies, more incentives, and better strategies,” says Comerón. And renovations in Barcelona and other Catalan cities should be the motor of the building recovery, as has happened in other European countries.

What’s a normal level of building activity for Catalonia? Given demographics there should be 20,000 to 22,000 new homes built every year, three times more than were built in 2015. With the right policies this level could be reached in three to five years, says Comerón.

More alarmingly still is the loss of “human capital and knowhow” in the building industry, creating problems for the future. Architects and building professionals are still largely idle, despite the increase in housing starts, and architectural firms and other professionals in the industry continue to go to the wall in high numbers. Many are still living off their savings, rather than income. So despite the better headline data Catalan architects are still suffering the crisis and the outlook is “worrying,” concludes Muñoz.

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