Government’s ‘rapid-build’ schedule in realms of fantasy

None of planned Rebuilding Ireland estates outside Ballymun have been completed

Recently completed rapid-build homes in Poppintree, Ballymun, in Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Recently completed rapid-build homes in Poppintree, Ballymun, in Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

In a fit of excitement a year ago the Government launched its Rebuilding Ireland plan to sort out the housing and homelessness crisis, and deliver 47,000 social homes by 2021.

The “rapid-build” element of this was to deliver 1,500 by the end of 2018. It would work like this: 200 homes would be in place by the end of 2016, 800 by the end of 2017, and another 500 to finish the job by the end of 2018.

From day one this was clearly a fantasy.

Rapid-build, or “modular housing” as it was then known, had been produced as a solution to homelessness in October 2015. The then minister for the environment, Alan Kelly, announced 500 modular houses would be provided as emergency housing for homeless families, with 22 to be in place before Christmas at a site in Poppintree, Ballymun.

By the time Rebuilding Ireland was published a good year-and-a-half later, those 22 had been occupied for about two months, and no other modular homes had been finished.

So what was the likelihood of another 180 being completed by the end of 2016?

Well, in addition to the 22, Dublin City Council had issued tenders for 130 houses at sites in Finglas, Darndale, Cherry Orchard and Drimnagh with a completion date of June 2016. However, it cancelled the tender in March 2016 because the response from the potential housing providers was that this deadline was unrealistic.

The council issued fresh tenders for each of the sites, with completion deadlines from October to December 2016. Work on these four sites began in October 2016.

At around this time the council tried to inject a bit of realism into the situation. Its executive manager, Tony Flynn, said there was “no point” in seeking to complete projects in a timescale which suppliers could not meet, and that it would be 2017 before the housing at the four sites was finished.

Simon Coveney, the minister for housing at the time, wasn’t having that talk, saying 320 rapid-build homes would be under construction or completed by the end of the year. They were not.

Today it remains the case that no other rapid-build estates have been completed outside Ballymun.

Tenders

The city council is nearing completion on the 130 houses, and hopes to have them done by the end of next month.

The other three Dublin local authorities, Dún Laoghaire, Fingal and South Dublin, currently have plans for a combined total of 170 rapid-build homes. Tenders have been issued for some of these houses, and a small number have builders on site, but most are not scheduled to be completed until next year.

The head of housing of Dublin City Council, Brendan Kenny, says the current turnaround time on modular housing is 17 months.

“I fully agree that’s not rapid, but a traditional build on a housing estate of the same size from going to tender to occupation is about three years.”

“Rapid” elements of the programme are a fast-track planning process – the council did not have to seek planning permission or go through public consultation for each site – and the construction, which involves elements of the houses being factory-built and assembled on site.

However, Mr Kenny said “there is no such thing as rapid procurement, and this is where the delays lie”.

The public preachment process requires the council to seek submissions of interest, draw up a short list of bidders, advertise tenders and select a preferred bidder before awarding a contract. “Even then, that bidder could drop out, as has happened. It’s all a tremendously time-consuming process.”

The council does, however, hope to reduce the timeframe for future projects.

“The building industry was not primed for rapid-build when we started off, so there was a learning curve” Mr Kenny said.

There was also some public protest at the first sites, which he hoped would be addressed by the use of rapid-build for general housing, not just for homeless people.

Nine months

“We would hope we could get the whole process down to about nine months.”

Which still leaves the Government’s schedule in the realms of fantasy.

A Rebuilding Ireland quarterly progress report, published in May, stated a total of 350 rapid-build homes “were advancing through various stages of delivery” at the end of 2016, and work was “under way at advancing a further 650 rapid-build homes in 2017, with another 500 units to be delivered in 2018”.

It is extremely unlikely that even the first 200, due at the end of 2016, will be in place at the end of this year, when 1,000 rapid-build homes should be finished. It is even more unlikely still that 1,500 rapid-build homes will be delivered by 2018.

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