The Society’s newly-elected leader wants members to engage in the forthcoming strategic review of services. He spoke to the Surveyors Journal.
The new President of the Society, Andrew Nugent, articulates his view of the current state of the organisation very well: “We have successfully merged two bodies and in doing so have added further to our numbers. It is an important point at which to take stock and assess if we are fit for the purposes required by our members now”. He is, therefore, going to lead a strategic review of the Society and is appealing to members to engage fully with the process. “External communications to date have been very successful. In my term of office, I want to look internally into the Society and assess what we are doing and ask if that is what the members want?” What sort of questions does he intend to ask? “Well, while I believe we are the recognised leaders in the construction, land and property sectors, I wonder if we are too broad a church with 11 specialist areas? Do we have too many professional group committees?” At the core of those questions is his desire to maintain the quality of service provided by the Society to members. “I believe, strongly, that we have maintained our services very well, but we need to hear from the members what services they want, and how they want us to deliver them.”
Why would the members want or need new services? “Industry, and practice, has changed substantially in recent years. We are over the worst of what has been a very traumatic time for members. Now is a good time to touch base and see what services we might provide to help members in an upturn – practice advice, marketing advice, education advice, services that might help us capture more of a growing market.”
Andrew Nugent says the Government has to tackle the issue of the viability of building houses if it is to solve the housing crisis. As a quantity surveyor, Andrew is especially well informed on these issues. “Houses are expensive again. Unfortunately, they are not expensive enough to justify building them. Therefore, the Government will have to attack costs on all fronts. Our analysis shows that 20% of the cost of building a house is tax and levies. Under the new Planning Bill, councils can reduce the development levy and that will be a help. Meeting the terms of the new Building Regulations is another issue for cost – people do understand that there are substantial benefits attached to the Building Regulations, but with those benefits come additional costs.” On the issue of apartments, Andrew says that the Society’s view is that the minimum size of apartments could be decreased in order to provide accommodation for the young, urban, professional and transient population that are quite prepared to live in smaller spaces.
Listening to the profession’s voice
Having articulated the difficulties facing all parties interested in solving the housing crisis, Andrew does say that the Government has listened to the Society in consultations in recent years. “The new Planning Bill will create a better environment for development – but the Government needs to enact it as soon as possible. We are in crisis.”
Asked if he would assess the performance of the Government, the new President turned the focus on his own profession. “The construction and property sectors have created a lot of problems. We are in a better position now than we were, and we have learned from our mistakes.” What mistakes would he identify? “We didn’t communicate the risks of over-development. It is incumbent on us to be cognisant of our role of protecting the public interest.” How would the Society protect the public interest? “By communicating to the public the risks of over-development and of increasing property prices. For example, the current housing crisis could result in Ireland becoming less attractive to the foreign direct investment sector – a sector with which this country has had great success.”
Asked about the outlook, Andrew says the consensus is that the outlook is positive. “We are over the worst and we would like to see a return to a sustainable level of construction activity that allows growth – but certainly not to the point where construction and property are driving the economy.”
What are the challenges associated with an upturn? “The biggest challenge is the potential skills shortage. We need to look at how we can attract new entrants to our profession. In particular, we need to see if we can attract entrants from non-traditional sources, especially mature applicants.”
Andrew Nugent grew up in Dublin (Rathmines to be precise) and went to school in CUS in Leeson Street. He qualified as a quantity surveyor from DIT Bolton St in the early 1980s and spent three years after graduation working with PKS on Hatch St. He moved to London in the mid 1980s, returning to Ireland in the early 1990s to set up his own practice – Andrew P. Nugent & Associates. It was at that point that he began a real engagement with the SCS (as it was then), commenting: “As a sole practitioner, the services provided by the Society were very helpful”. Over the years, through his involvement with the Society, Andrew states that it has been very good to him. He has a team of half a dozen people in his practice and says they survived the downturn because they had a wide range of services. “Legal and insurance work had grown and we kept that going through the worst of the downturn. Now, it’s a good time to invest and build in Ireland – we’re in a better place.”
A keen fan of most sports, Andrew is a regular tennis player at Brookfield Tennis Club. He also likes to fish when he can, and enjoys an occasional game of golf. However, he says that to survive in business in Ireland is very tough – “you need a strong work ethic”. Andrew is married to Collette and together they have four daughters: Chloe (23); Aisling (19); Sophie (17); and, Caroline (15). Chloe and Aisling are in third-level education, and Sophie and Caroline are in school.
Varied careers on offer
As someone who describes himself as having been born with an interest in how things are built, Andrew says he has had only positive experiences throughout his career. He would encourage any student with an interest in building to explore getting into the profession. “It is fair to say that very few careers can offer as much variety as a surveyor – and you can travel when you get your qualification.”
The new President is an ardent advocate of the Society’s role in promoting the public good – especially in its dealings with Government and its agencies. “Part of our role is to engage with Government and provide relevant information. We are very fortunate that we have such a breadth of expertise in our Society.” It is an expertise that, he points out, runs from initial planning, through mapping and building, to marketing, renting and selling