RIAI Statement on the new Land Development AgencyPosted on Sep 27, 2018
The announcement of the new Land Development Agency by the Government has prompted reactions from all sides of the debate around housing. The supply and cost of land have often been held up as obstacles to the delivery of housing stock in Ireland. With supply and cost being so closely related the Government hopes that increasing available land for construction will drive down prices and encourage further building of houses in our urban centres.
The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) welcome this initiative which signals a more coordinated approach to the provision of housing. However, the Land Development Agency needs to be properly resourced and the establishment of this new agency will not solve the other obstacles that exist in delivering housing stock.
Our members see first-hand the challenges in getting housing projects from concept to completion. Research undertaken by the RIAI late last year showed that, despite the huge demand for new houses and apartments, a range of structural and administrative issues means that it still takes upwards of three years for new homes to become available to purchase or rent.
Will the new Land Development Agency reduce this time-frame and ensure that both the pipeline of new housing developments, particularly for social and affordable housing, grows and lead-times are reduced?
We certainly hope so but would call on the government to empower the new agency to address the other issues that exist in the delivery of housing stock.
The word ‘procurement’ fills every construction professional with a sense of dread. And rightly so. The current procurement model is slow and ineffective. Limited understanding of the complexity of the building process by procurement agencies inevitably means that briefs are unclear and the ambitions for the project are not achieved. Quality briefs achieve quality outcomes and the processes being employed to deliver housing through planning and procurement need to have quality, alongside cost and speed, as an end goal.
It is critical that procurement processes are redesigned to get projects moving. There is a need for a transparent process to ensure that public funds are being correctly and efficiently used, however the LDA most come up with a model that matches this transparency with a procurement system that is fit-for-purpose. A focus on cost management exists in commercial developments yet procurement is faster and more efficient; a partnership arrangement between private and public sector is needed to redevelop the public procurement model as the current processes being used at both central and local government levels are not serving the State or citizens effectively.
Our members are reporting issues at existing sites under public ownership. Public-private partnerships are not always the solution to our problems and delays in the issuing of tender documents have already held up developments at sites in Dublin that could provide almost 1,000 much-needed homes.
The hope of the new agency will be that increasing the supply of land will be like waving a wand that will somehow make housing magically appear. While the supply of land may increase, land is just one factor in construction. And other factors are under extreme pressure.
The Irish construction sector is now operating at near capacity with significant increases in demand for the services of all professionals working in the sector to deliver not just homes, but also the hospitals, schools, infrastructure and improvements urgently required in the public realm.
The healthy state of the construction sector is a welcome indicator of just how well the country has recovered since the recession hit a decade ago. The Government has committed under the Land Development Agency to build 150,000 homes in the next 20 years which will require significant more capacity than currently exists.
Capacity within the construction sector can only be properly managed if there is sight of the pipeline of projects through a rolling, coordinated infrastructure and building delivery programme across all government departments and agencies.
Housing developments are not built in a vacuum, they require a range of essential services - roads, drainage, water and energy utilities. Delays in the provision of these services can result in projects either being postponed or cancelled. Recent examples of this are a development of 130 houses in north Co Kildare which was refused planning permission due to the incomplete essential upgrades to the sewerage system, a site in Navan where 90 houses were planned for construction which have been postponed due to issues with having a piped water supply and a number of developments close to the Luas line in South Dublin delayed due to issues surrounding the upgrading of nearby roads. While this last issue was resolved as recently as last week, it is another example of the obstacles that must be addressed if these new swathes of development land are to be productive.
So what is the verdict on the Land Management Agency? The RIAI believes it has the capacity to deliver on our most pressing societal issue. However, it is not a stand-alone solution and more than ever well-written design briefs, a joined up approach across all public agencies and co-ordinated delivery are needed to provide quality housing for our citizens.
Kathryn Meghen, RIAI CEO
This Statement has been published in the Irish Independent on 14 September 2018