City and county councils are in talks with the Government to recruit about 150 new staff after being directed under the Housing for All plan to boost the construction of social housing.
Local authorities have increased building in recent years, with annual construction approaching 6,500 social housing dwellings before the pandemic struck. Now they have been told to increase construction to 9,500 dwellings per year, a huge step-change from the period before 2016 when only 600/700 homes were being built.
Frank Curran, chief executive of Wicklow county council, said local authorities can meet such targets but added that they need more staff.
Each local authority is required under Housing for All to produce a housing delivery plan by December.
“The plans are realistic,” said Mr Curran, who is chairman of the housing, building and land use committee in the County and City Management Association, which represents the chiefs of all local authorities. “It’s going to be a challenge but I think we can deliver on them.”
Mr Curran estimated that some 150 new staff will be required, about three-quarters of them in technical posts such as architect, engineer, quantity surveyor and clerk of works. As it stands, the housing capital offices city and councils employ 330 full-time equivalent technical staff and 200 in administration.
“What we’re talking about to the Minister [for Housing] and the Department is that we need to expand those teams and do some recruitment around that, giving people five-year contracts so they have security.”
Despite the increased target for building, Mr Curran said the foundation was “very strong” already. “There’s 10,000 dwellings currently under construction. There’s 3,500 to commence in the coming months. There’s 7,000 at design and tender stage. There’s 5,000 at planning stage,” he said.
Local authorities were looking to expand their land banks. Still, the fact that many have used up their greenfield sites meant more social housing would be built in town centres. “Things are going to get a lot more complicated into the future,” he said.
“As you move into the town centres… it gets a bit more difficult so we’ll be expanding our design teams to do that.”
Another senior local government official, who declined to be named, pointed to potential difficulties as costs rise and the supply of labour and serviced land tightens.
“There’s the construction sector and the labour and material requirements of the construction sector - and then there’s the ability to find enough serviced land for building social and affordable housing,” the official said.
“We have over the past 12 months started to see labour shortages and material shortages that have led to price increases.”
A third local government figure, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the biggest constraint on county councils was inadequate water infrastructure.
“I think one of the significant challenges here is water services infrastructure,” he said. “There is a lack of water services in villages and towns: sewage, treatment and water supply.”