The State ordered 700 units for Ukrainian refugees in December before enough suitable locations for them had been confirmed. The Office of Public Works (OPW) subsequently warned that 10 additional sites needed to be “quickly sourced” so that it could be “assured of delivering the target number of units”, according to records released under the Freedom of Information Act.
It is unclear whether enough sites have since been identified, with the Government saying only that it was “confident” there were “sufficient number of sites under review to accommodate the 700 units”, when asked last week.
First mooted almost a year ago, the modular home project aimed at easing the refugee accommodation crisis has been beset by delays. It had been initially hoped the first modular homes would be delivered in November. That target slipped to Easter, and the first homes are now not expected to come on stream until mid-June.
Orders were placed for a total of 700 units from a number of suppliers by the end of December 2022 in an apparent bid to avoid higher costs in the new year.
On January 10th, the OPW emailed the Department of Housing saying it was “imperative” that it identify 10 more “good sites”, noting the department had been “confident” before Christmas that they could be found.
An OPW briefing document dated January 20th – which was prepared in advance of a planned meeting between the agency and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar – outlined the status of the sites at the time.
Sites either confirmed or “imminently expected to be confirmed” had a capacity for 340 units, which the document noted was “just short of half the number of units needed for the entire programme”.
Seven additional sites with an overall capacity of 350 units were “still under consideration”, the briefing document noted.
“Early engagement” with local authorities on at least two of these “raised different opinions” on whether they should accommodate modular homes. One of the sites had already been earmarked for social housing.
The document stated: “Given the experience of site assessments to date, some of the remaining sites might ultimately prove unsuitable, thus reducing the available capacity to meet the programme’s target for 700 homes.”
It added that the Department of Housing had “committed to providing additional sites to facilitate the completion of the programme”.
It also said: “It will be imperative that at least 10 additional good-quality sites are quickly sourced, so that the OPW can be assured of delivering the target number of units, particularly as experience shows that it is likely that only around four of those sites will ultimately be viable.”
In response to questions about whether the 10 additional sites have been found since January, the Government said in a statement: “The Programme will see 700 units installed on a range of sites over the course of 2023 and Government is confident that there are a sufficient number of sites under review to accommodate the 700 units.”
It added that the OPW is continuing to work with the Department of Housing, local authorities and other State agencies to assess potentially suitable sites.
It said work is “well under way” on seven sites, with the delivery of homes “already happening” on one of them.
The records released by the OPW also discuss estimated costs of the project, though this information was redacted.
The last publicly available estimate is €140 million for the first 500 homes.
Some the documents suggest that the 700 modular homes were ordered before the end of 2022 to avoid higher costs in the new year. The Government did not provide details of the current estimated cost of the project.