Dublin City Council faces six-year wait to start housing projects

Department should ‘give us the money and let us get on with it’, city council surveyor says

The EU procurement process accounted for half of the delay, with waiting for approval from the Department of Housing adding to the pre-construction time lag. Photograph: iStock

The EU procurement process accounted for half of the delay, with waiting for approval from the Department of Housing adding to the pre-construction time lag. Photograph: iStock

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Dublin City Council faces waiting times of up to six years before it can start construction of housing on its own sites, according to the council’s chief quantity surveyor, Mark Bourke.

The European Union procurement process accounted for half of the delay, with waiting for approval from the Department of Housing adding to the pre-construction time lag, Mr Bourke told a council housing symposium.

The department should “give us the money and let us get on with it”, he said.

The procurement process councils must follow to choose housing contractors took several years to complete, while in the private sector it took a matter of weeks, the conference heard.

“If you take from inception, or identification of a site, to getting on to site – not even the construction process of it, that’s probably taking us between four and six years,” Mr Bourke said.

“Probably 50 per cent of that time is wrapped up in the process of procurement. We need to look at streamlining it in whatever way possible.”

While there was the possibility of establishing “frameworks” for certain jobs, where the council could choose from a panel of pre-approved contractors, this was causing its own difficulties, Mr Bourke said.

“The constant question that comes up is, what if we get a legal letter on this? I think we need to show a bit more leadership in that space and not be afraid of those challenges and let them run their course a little bit because I think the vast majority of them would be unfounded.”

Approval process

While the department’s approval process, which starts ahead of the procurement process, had been streamlined to four stages, there remained “sub-stages” within that process, he said. A separate, shorter approval process for projects under €6 million was “not really relevant” to the council, because almost all of its housing projects would exceed this threshold.

The council should be able to secure department funding for a five-year building programme, he said. “If we have our programme, and we have it accurately costed up, essentially, give us the money and let us get on with it.”

Housing Agency chief executive John O’Connor told the symposium “too many experts” had become involved in procurement.

“Without denigrating the legal profession, maybe we’ve got too many solicitors and legal professionals involved in advising on procurement, and have over-complicated it and made it too bureaucratic.”

Each project was a blank slate, with the rules prohibiting local authorities from choosing a contractor on the basis of previous work. “You often procure a design team or a contractor you are not happy with, and you know you’re not going to be happy with, that’s one big restriction.”

Claire Solon, of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, said the private sector “has it easier than the public” because it was not bound by the procurement process and would typically chose a contractor in four to six weeks.

“It is a lot more streamlined than public procurement and of course nobody can take you to court afterwards.”