‘New generation’ of construction workers needed for housing supply

Green Party leader points to ‘huge challenge’ retrofitting homes under climate action plan

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan: ‘Those builders and retrofitters will be at the frontline of the fight against climate change.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications Eamon Ryan: ‘Those builders and retrofitters will be at the frontline of the fight against climate change.’ Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Meeting the demand for skilled workers to increase housing supply to an average of 33,000 homes per year combined with retrofitting 500,000 homes under the Government’s climate action plan by 2030 “is a huge challenge”, Minister for the Environment and Climate Eamon Ryan has said.

But, on the day Leaving Cert results were announced, it should be regarded by young people as an opportunity, with guaranteed work over the next 30 years, he pointed out.

“These are well-paid and well-regulated jobs,” he said, while they would come with status as “those builders and retrofitters will be at the frontline of the fight against climate change”.

Speaking to The Irish Times, the Minister insisted increasing supply in line with the Government’s Housing for All plan published on Thursday, combined with a plan to retrofit 500,000 houses in coming years, is not an impossible ask.

The targets would, nonetheless, create a big demand for 55,000 construction workers, Mr Ryan said on Friday.

Some 27,000 skilled workers will be needed for the retrofitting programme alone, a critical part of a commitment to a 55 per cent reduction in Irish carbon emissions by 2030, he confirmed; Ireland’s homes are responsible for one quarter of overall energy use and 10 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions.

Apprentices

Mr Ryan said the increase in construction industry apprentices was already happening, with the total at 4,000 this year – though this figure needed to increase to 10,000 a year. Shortage of construction workers, however, was a problem throughout the western world due to an ageing workforce. “We need a new generation of construction workers.”

As of last week there were 12,000 construction workers still on the Government’s Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP). He hoped those people would come back into the sector.

The housing plan is strongly underpinned by environmental sustainability, he said, and complements objectives and targets of the national planning framework and the climate plan. A new version of the latter, including commitments on reducing energy and fossil fuels used in homes, is due later this month.

The housing plan is also in line with compact urban growth policies, whereby “a greater proportion of residential and mixed-use development needs to be delivered within the existing built-up areas of our cities and towns”.

Resilient

The plan underlines how compact growth contributes to a low-carbon, climate-resilient society. As a result it would be targeting a greater proportion of development to take place in settlements of all sizes, through urban infill and the reuse of brownfield lands. “Higher densities and shorter travel distances will minimise transport demand, and therefore lower energy demand,” it adds.

“A plan-led approach to housing delivery will ensure greater public participation at the earliest possible stage and this is a key principle of environmental sustainability and in the assessment of the environmental implications of development,” it says.

This approach will increase “long-term visibility and certainty for housing development proposals that deliver compact urban growth firmly grounded in established planning policy, legislation and guidance”.

New homes constructed under the plan are to be built to “nearly zero energy building” (nZEB) standards. “In addition, Housing for All will also assist the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications to deliver the retrofit of 500,000 homes by 2030 to a B2 BER [rating],” it points out.

The department is to introduce a targeted retrofit scheme for approved housing bodies and will enable local authorities to provide low-cost retrofit loans to individual homeowners. A roadmap to implement minimum BER standards for private rented dwellings will also be introduced for rental properties commencing in 2025.