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Modular housing being held up by site issues, warns state architect

A number of rapid-build homes are being constructed at sites across the country to house Ukrainian refugees.

THE COMPLETION OF modular housing has been held up by issues with sites, Ireland’s state architect has said.

A number of rapid-build homes are being constructed at sites across the country to house Ukrainian refugees.

The first houses, at a site in Cork, are due to be finished later this month, state architect Ciaran O’Connor told an Oireachtas committee.

In June last year, the government approved the plans for 500 modular units to house 2,000 Ukrainians with Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman saying that the first of the homes would be completed in November, and all 500 in place in late February or early March this year.

Then in October, Patrick O’Donovan, the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, said that it was expected that the first homes would be complete by “January and February” of 2023 – but this has now been pushed back until June. 

Last month Taoiseach Leo Varadkar urged a “reality check” on the potential of modular homes to address the Republic’s housing crisis, saying that while they would help increase the housing stock, they would take time to build.

The Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage heard from a number of expert witnesses on modern methods of construction today.

O’Connor said the government last June requested 500 units, later increased to 700, which he said are in the process of being completed with the first to be handed over in two weeks.

He said the first homes completed will be in Cork on 18 May, followed by Claremorris, Thurles and Cavan.

“We’ve learnt a lot in that process, we have brought an industry that was at its infancy, from junior infants to secondary school, and the question is where does it go hereafter,” he said.

O’Connor said the houses are delivered fully fitted out and plugged into services such as electricity and sewerage.

He said the biggest issue has been with the sites, saying homes would have been finished earlier if sites had been available sooner.

He said the industry is ready to stand on its legs but needs a pipeline of work, secure funding and a commitment that it is part of the wider context.

Fianna Fáil TD Paul McAuliffe said he saw potential in rapid-build housing, but expressed concern around cost and speed.

Questioned about Varadkar’s comments on the speed of completion, O’Connor said 85% of the sites had been “unsuitable for building”.

“The units were the easy bit, the hard bit was getting sites fully serviced and getting them all ready, because when you have the unit all you do [is] place it into position, but you can’t put it into position unless there is a road and all the other services are there,” he said.

“The sites that we got often had significant issues and they had to be resolved, there were one or two sites that were straightforward but most of the other sites were quite tricky sites to resolve, but they have been resolved.

“Of the sites that were offered to us, 85% were unsuitable for building … site conditions like 45-degree slopes on certain sites, there were certain sites that had no services and were so remote that you would have to set up a separate bus service to bring people to the nearest village. So that process was slower than we had hoped.”

Mark Carlin, managing director of Coillte Forest, briefed the committee on the advantages of building with wood, including mitigating climate change.

He said only 25% of houses in Ireland are built with timber frames, far behind Scotland at close to 80% and Scandinavia, which is higher still.

He called for building regulations to be changed and low-carbon materials to be prioritised.

“Ireland has opportunity to be at the cutting edge of the next timber-building revolution,” Carlin said.

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