Forum hosts discussion on challenges and opportunities facing the construction sector in Ireland and sets out six key themes that require governmental focus.
Safeguarding homegrown construction jobs
As part of 'construction month', held by business membership organisation Guaranteed Irish recently, a roundtable discussion on 'Planning for a sustainable Irish construction sector in post Brexit Ireland- the challenges and opportunities', focused on safeguarding home-grown construction jobs and building a future for the construction industry in Ireland.
Guaranteed Irish designates September as ‘Construction Month’. Now in its third year, the business membership organisation highlights the contribution its construction, manufacturing and engineering members make to Irish jobs, local communities and the Irish economy.
Members of Guaranteed Irish in the construction sector include Kingspan, Saint Gobain, Tegral, Kilsaran Concrete, Combilift and many more.
The forum, attended by business leaders from the construction, manufacturing and engineering industries, highlighted the solutions and actions required by the government to successfully sustain quality construction jobs in a post-Brexit Irish economy.
It was held in Croke Park and the panel of experts consisted of a number of key decision makers in the Irish construction sector including: Rachel Kenny, director of planning, An Bord Pleanala; Kathryn Meghan, CEO, RIAI; Brian Dolan, managing director, Saint Gobain Ireland; Paddy Kelly, CEO, Tegral and chair of Guaranteed Irish; Pat Lucey, regional manager, SISK; and Patrick Atkinson, CEO, Grafton Group.
All attendees of the Irish construction supply chain were represented. They shared their concerns regarding the impact of Brexit on the Irish construction industry and discussed opportunities that Guaranteed Irish members should be focusing on that can help us to avoid a boom and bust scenario in the industry in the near future.
Retrofitting could future-proof opportunities
The 500,000 homes across the country currently requiring retrofitting could future-proof opportunities within construction regarding employment for the next 30 years. The government need to continue to support this programme and reassure consumers that there is funding in place to support deep retrofitting.
There was a strong focus on how the sector can play its role in achieving environmental targets and reduce the carbon footprint of the Irish construction industry.
The expert panel discussed how the construction sector needs to be incentivised to achieve zero carbon emissions if it is to have any chance of reaching its target.
They called on the government to define sustainability to include locally sourced materials, reward less travel required and incentivising creation of regional enterprise and employment.
Six main areas government must review include:
1.) Brexit’s effect on Irish construction and how to avoid a boom and bust economy in the construction sector.
2.) Driving towards a zero-carbon target by rewarding those who use local services, sources and supply chains.
3.) Building houses using materials and products that are available from companies in Ireland who support local jobs.
4.) Rebranding the construction industry to attract educated and innovative design and engineering talent.
5.) Creating a national design competition to attract innovative solutions to the housing crisis.
6.) Creating regional opportunities to support regional construction jobs through retrofitting.
1. Brexit’s effect on Irish construction
- Logistics and transport of goods across the border in the case of a No-Deal Brexit.
- Construction jobs in border areas are faced with uncertainty.
- Day-to-day concerns include how construction sector employees will be able to commute to work should border checks come into place.
- There is currently an over-reliance on private construction projects.
- There is little or no government investment in public sector construction in the regions.
- The procurement process needs to function in an adaptable, intuitive and intelligent manner following Brexit.
- There is a need for procurement briefs to be written by someone with expert-level industry knowledge.
- Supports/ incentives for retrofitting
- Brexit and border are detrimental to the Irish construction sector. The sector supports the Government in their bid to avoid a no-deal Brexit. They are prepared as much as they can be and stockpiling is having a negative effect on cashflow. Decisions need to be made soon.
- There needs to be more Government spending/investment in schools, housing, public sector projects in the regions. This reduces over-reliance on private investors who offer no loyalty to Irish construction sector
- The 500,000 homes across the country currently requiring retrofitting could future proof opportunities within construction regarding employment for the next thirty years. The Government need to continue to support this programme and reassure consumers that there is funding in place to support deep retrofitting.
2. Environmental impact assessments
- Project Ireland 2040 and Ireland’s global target to comply with the green agenda (reduction of carbon miles to achieve zero emissions target).
- Redefining sustainability within the construction sector.
- Need to advocate for a sustainable mindset to replace a regulatory mindset.
- Review of the BER system (currently focuses primarily on the end-product house and not the carbon footprint of the entire construction process).
- Need to manage the performance of BER ratings over time (different products perform differently as they age).
Information and supports to incentivise retrofitting are not being promoted heavily enough by government.
- The construction sector needs to be incentivised to achieve zero emissions/reduced carbon footprint if it is to have any chance of reaching its target. This requires defining sustainability to include locally sourced; reward less travel required and incentivising creation of regional enterprise and employment.
- Choosing sustainable local alternatives – source locally manufactured products, local innovative design, transport to strive towards zero emissions targets, including employment in communities as part of the understanding of “sustainable”, which the Guaranteed Irish licence demonstrates.
- The BER programme needs to be reviewed to include the holistic view and include the entire carbon footprint of the house over time– not just the end product.
- If funding is available to incentivise retrofitting it would offer a more environmentally favourable solution while also ensuring the construction sector could flourish regionally, supporting smaller builders and attract new young innovative talent into the sector.
3. Supporting local suppliers and retaining local jobs
- Lack of collaboration and communication with manufacturers, suppliers and the public.
- Need to improve visibility surrounding locally-produced goods and services.
- Opportunity to be our own showcase for Irish architecture (showcasing innovative design) and the Irish construction industry.
- Need to support locally sourced and produced products to suppliers and distributors with potential incentives (rewards through tax, EIA at planning stage).
- Improved visibility is required for locally-produced construction products and services (planning criteria and building regulations in line with reduction of carbon footprint target).
- Construction is currently associated with a boom/bust cycle, heavy-lifting and a lack of education.
- Positive news related to the construction industry is often neglected and this undermines trust in the sector’s image.
- There is growing interest in trades among younger generations, which should be capitalised on.
- We need to push that a trade is a successful option for young people and that there is a viable career path within construction. Trades need to be perceived as entrepreneurs and celebrated as same.
- We need to implement a fundamental change of seeing apprenticeships as equal to degrees.
- A new generation of architects and designers could be attracted through national design competitions.
5. National Design Competition
- Demographics are changing and we need to be innovative in finding solutions locally to satisfy housing needs.
- The appetite for innovation is there, but people/planners/builders/developers revert to simplicity for ease, speed and cost of application.
- Opportunity to look at future populations and their housing requirements
- Innovative design needs to be embraced by local authority planning and incentivised by same- reward innovation with contracts/work.
- National housing competition should be resurrected as could be a meaningful solution.
- Need incentives for innovative and sustainable guidelines and penalise those who do not adhere to regulations.
6. Decentralisation of construction boom through retrofitting
- The construction industry is currently focused primarily around the greater Dublin region, with the majority of construction jobs and opportunities located there.
- The lack of economic resilience West of the Shannon is impacting construction projects in that region.
- The Atlantic Economic Corridor should become a reality as a counterbalance to Dublin.
- Towns and cities should work as ‘clusters’ in a region first to collaborate rather than compete against each other at a regional level.
- There is a need to give local construction companies outside of the Dublin area the confidence to lead on innovation through incentives relating to carbon reduction and zero emissions which need to be communicated and demanded via government.
- The government could further invest in implementing a registered listing of local construction suppliers, products and supply chain providers through Guaranteed Irish.