Green light for building work on selected social housing building sites

The Department of Housing has given the green light for the resumption of building work on a number of specially selected social housing building sites around the country.
Green light for building work on selected social housing building sites

By Eoin English and Noel Baker

The Department of Housing has given the green light for the resumption of building work on 1,000 social housing units on sites around the country.

The decision will allow builders to finish a raft of near-completed housing projects on 35 schemes in 14 local authority areas where construction work was shut down following the Covid-19 outbreak.

It is understood that the department asked local authorities in recent weeks to identify a number of schemes which were near completion, or substantially complete, with minor snagging or other works to be completed.

A number were put forward for consideration and a process has now been agreed with the department to designate 35 specific housing projects as essential projects within the meaning of the COVID-19 health regulations.

A spokesperson for the department said this housing is necessary to alleviate homelessness, overcrowding, numbers in emergency or temporary accommodation in order to prevent, limit, minimise or slow the spread of Covid-19.

And all contractors will have to adhere to the strict public health guidelines, he said.

"Local authorities are working exceptionally hard in these challenging circumstances to ensure that they have sufficient accommodation available to meet the needs of families and individuals who are currently in emergency accommodation and to households at risk of homelessness during the current public health emergency," he said.

"In order to ensure sufficient accommodation is available, local authorities identified a number of social housing projects."

Combined, they will deliver 1,000 finished units within a matter of weeks.

Work will resume within days on three schemes in Cork city - a 25-unit project on White Street, a scheme on Blarney St, and a key phase of the Knocknaheeny regeneration scheme which includes 32 houses and 15 apartments.

Combined, these projects will deliver almost 100 units to the city's stock of social housing units.

Fianna Fáil Cllr Tony Fitzgerald welcomed the resumption of work.

"This will be a huge boost to addressing the housing crisis and will also support companies providing construction materials to complete the projects under Covid-19 construction guidelines," he said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education has confirmed that remediation works planned for some schools where fire safety breaches and structural defects were discovered have been put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Some of the schools constructed by Western Building Systems were due to undergo continuing works but a department spokesperson said: "The Department’s current construction programme of work has temporarily halted as a result of COVID-19, in line with public health advice.

"When more is known about the timing for the resumption of construction sites, the department will liaise directly with the relevant school principals and patron bodies. This is an evolving situation and any decision to recommence work will be on foot of public health advice."

By last November the state had already spent some €40m on a number of schools that needed remediation works.

The Department said it also continues to liaise with the Chief State Solicitor’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office on the on-going legal process.

Separately, ICTU-affiliated trades councils have welcomed the department of housing's decision to provide mortgage breaks for those repaying local authority home loans.

The Trades Council Network said while banks had agreed to provide a three-month break for mortgage holders hit by the Covid-19 crisis, there was no such deal for those with Rebuilding Ireland home loans.

TCN national coordinator, Fiona Dunne, said they have now learned that the Department of Housing has put in place a scheme which provides for a temporary break in repayments.

"In a time of such uncertainty and worry for many workers and their families, this will help allay some of those fears and ensure that workers can survive this crisis whilst keeping a roof over their heads," she said.

She urged any worker experiencing financial difficulties due to the Covid-19 crisis and which hits their mortgage repayments to contact their local authority.

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