Building firm takes High Court challenge over €500m home project contract

Up to 520 homes are ready to go under the scheme

Coolsivna Construction Ltd has brought the challenge against Meath County Council. Photograph: iStock

A building firm has brought a High Court challenge to the awarding of a construction contract under an agreement aimed at ensuring some €500 million worth of social and affordable homes are built over a four-year period in six local authority areas.

Coolsivna Construction Ltd has brought the challenge against Meath County Council, which is the lead local authority for a framework agreement for awarding building contracts for councils in Meath, Longford, Louth, Westmeath, Monaghan and Cavan. There are 520 homes ready to go under the scheme.

Coolsivna has brought the proceedings against the council under European Union public procurement regulations, which mean the awarding of contracts is suspended until the case is dealt with or unless an application to lift the suspension is successful.

The case was admitted to the fast track Commercial Court by Mr Justice Denis MacDonald on the application of Ross Aylward BL, for Meath Co Council. Counsel said Coolsivna supported the application for admission.

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Cunningham Contracts (Building and Civil Engineering) Ire Ltd is the first company under the framework agreement to be awarded the contract to build 47 homes in Athboy, Co Meath, and is a notice party in the case.

Mr Aylward said an application is to be made to lift the suspension. David Dodd BL, for Coolsivna, said he was not objecting to admission of the main case to the commercial list but said an application to lift the suspension should be adjourned.

The judge said he would hear any lift application next month.

Coolsivna claims the council’s decision to appoint six other parties to the framework agreement was unlawful and invalid.

It claims the council, among other things, failed to provide any or adequate reasons for its decision, failed to advise on the characteristics and relative advantages of the lowest scoring successful tenderer and a failure to correctly apply the award criteria.

It seeks that the awarding of the contract be set aside and that Coolsivna be appointed as a member of a framework agreement under which successful tenderers are appointed. It also seeks an order that the council commence a new process.

In an affidavit seeking entry of the case to the commercial list, Meath Co Council senior engineer Corrina Elder, said under an accelerated delivery programme of the Department of Housing Local Government and Heritage aimed at tackling the housing crisis, legacy debts on council owned-land bought during the Celtic Tiger era is to be discharged.

The department and the councils agreed that greater efficiencies could be achieved under framework agreements, whereby a number of selected builders are appointed to carry out the work and then mini-competitions held among them for the awarding of the contracts.

The first such contract went to Cunningham Construction last April for the 47 homes in Athboy and work is ready to start there, Ms Elder said.

Meath Co Council and the other local authorities are concerned that the Coolsivna proceedings will delay the implementation of the framework agreement which has a 2024 deadline for commencement of works which is a condition of the discharge of legacy debts by the department, she said.

The council views the complaints by Coolsivna to be without substance and that it should not be granted any of the reliefs it seeks, she said.