I thank the Senator for raising this important issue and for giving me an opportunity to clarify the relevant regulations as well as the importance of having modular homes and the use of off-site construction, which is something that our Department is for. We would like to encourage as many local authorities as possible to use the option of off-site construction, modular housing, rapid build or whatever one would like to call it. It presents many opportunities and is commonly used in other countries.
"Modular housing", "rapid build" and "off-site construction" are terms used to describe modern methods of construction. They are recognised as having an important role to play in speedy delivery, alleviating skills constraints and increasing productivity. This support is reflected in the development of a number of procurement frameworks of design-build contractors using off-site construction for social housing delivery.
As part of my Department's social housing capital programme, more than 400 homes had been delivered under the rapid delivery programme to the end of 2018 and more than 200 more will be delivered across ten projects this year, with more to follow from next year onwards. I was on three sites in recent weeks that were being developed under the rapid build framework.
To support rapid delivery housing, the Office of Government Procurement, OGP, put in place a framework of rapid delivery contractors in 2017, which is available to all local authorities and approved housing bodies, AHBs. My Department has organised information seminars as well as visits to rapid delivery projects under construction in order to support the roll-out of the programme. Local authorities do not have to use this framework and can engage other providers of off-site construction. However, we are trying to encourage the use of this option. At the workshops, we sit down with the people involved in housing and planning and encourage them to consider this sector as an opportunity for building houses. We are open to that. It is not a case of us shutting out modular homes.
Many of the issues around delivery that standard social housing construction projects face are also faced by rapid build projects, for example, preparing sites, services, access, community consultation and planning. However, there are savings in terms of the design and construction and these advantages are growing as more use is made of the OGP framework. We have tried to intervene in planning timelines. We have cut down the time it takes a project to get from greenfield site to building stage. It used to take three, four or five years but that has been cut down to approximately 59 weeks. That is the target. In the majority of cases, the period is approximately 61 weeks. We are getting to site much quicker, and off-site construction can deliver housing more quickly from that point. A figure of eight weeks is often cited but that does not include all of the time needed to get a site valuation, planning permission, etc. Once a contract is up and running, a house can be built quite quickly using this system. I have been in the factories and have seen this.
In addition, Dublin City Council is developing a volumetric rapid delivery programme of apartment developments. A procurement framework of design-build contractors for the delivery of these units will be in place by the end of next month and will be available to all local authorities and AHBs to use. It is envisaged that over 1,000 fast-track homes will be built using this framework, the majority of which will be in Dublin, but there will also likely be schemes in other cities and towns.
It is important to bear in mind the related development of the energy performance of buildings directive, EPBD, which sets ambitious goals for energy efficiency and renewables in buildings by requiring nearly zero-energy building, NZEB, performance for new buildings from 31 December 2020. The NZEB process aligns closely with off-site construction, with scope for more robust quality assurance processes to be developed in factory environments. Greater consistency can be achieved in the construction of individual elements and indoor fabrication is not affected by weather. Off-site manufacturing also has many benefits in reducing construction waste and the environmental impacts of construction.
Regarding building standards, as well as off-site construction providing many benefits in terms of delivery and affordability, we will also ensure that it continues to provide sustainable and durable housing. All new dwellings must comply with the building regulations and building control requirements and achieve a 60-year durability for all key elements. They should be built with quality materials that are fit for the use for which they are intended and for the conditions in which they are to be used. In many cases, the conditions that must be met in Ireland differ from those in other countries but we have regulations. With my officials, I have met numerous producers of all different types of housing at the Department, in Leinster House and at many conferences.
I am familiar with the company mentioned by the Senator and I visited its stand at the ploughing championships. I believe the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, visited as well. We would be happy to engage with the company with respect to Irish regulations but I want to be very clear. We have strict regulations for housing in Ireland because we want high-quality social housing provision as well as private housing. The Senator is very familiar with the difficulties that have arisen in Mayo with poor quality in housing because of mica and pyrite. Part of my job is dealing with housing that was built poorly over the years. We cannot go back to that. We have regulations that are there for good reason, but when many of the providers engage with us, we find ways to explain where they might fail because of these regulations and how they may need to work on that. We are happy to engage in that respect.
The performance requirements of buildings and works are set out in the second schedule to the building regulations. They are written in broad terms and do not refer to materials or methodologies. Certain materials, methods of construction, standards and other specifications, including technical specifications, are referred to in the technical guidance documents that accompany the regulations, but the adoption of approaches other than those outlined in the guidance is not precluded provided that the relevant requirements of the regulations are complied with. We are not for or against any method of construction once it meets regulations and gives people a quality home that will stand the test of time and the conditions we have in this country as well. Where works involve products, materials, techniques or equipment for which published national standards do not yet exist, third-party certification can demonstrate compliance with Irish building regulations and durability requirements. Such certification may include, in part or in total, a European technical assessment or agrément certification or equivalent. This is key to ensuring minimum quality and durability standards are met and providing confidence to investors, construction industry professionals, builders and, importantly, the consumer, especially in the context of the building defects and building system failures that have arisen in the past. Local authorities rely on these certificates to give the guarantee that the quality product will provide a proper home for people who want to live there.
My Department will continue to work with local authorities, the construction industry and all other stakeholders to support the rolling out of modern methods of construction in a manner that delivers high-quality homes efficiently and at a good price for the taxpayer and consumer.