Ambitious Government housing and development plans mean nothing unless serious work is done on fixing issues which are holding back the construction sector, Construction Industry Federation (CIF) director-general Tom Parlon said.
The CIF head also said the Government should take advantage of the current era of cheap money to borrow what it needs to advance its housing and capital infrastructure plans.
And he defended the investment funds that have been funding much of the housing under construction. Without the funds, which have been the subject of much criticism, “there would be damn all being built” right now, he said.
Mr Parlon’s comments came as he unveiled the construction sector’s pre-budget submission, urging the Government not to delay or curtail investment in capital infrastructure.
But he said: “There’s no point announcing a €4 billion housing strategy and the €160 billion national development plan unless you sort out the planning, procurement and basic utilities like water and waste water.”
The Government is expected to announce details of the national development plan and the climate action plan over the next week or so.
On planning, Mr Parlon said that even at a time of a major shortage of housing, it was all too regularly taking close to three years to get plans for modest developments through the planning process before any work can begin on-site.
Problems with necessary utility connections – particularly water and waste water connections – was further hampering projects, and the CIF is calling for a specific €2 billion injection into Irish Water to “enable it to accelerate essential water infrastructure”.
“The provision of water and wastewater infrastructure is currently the slowest-moving part in the provision of State-controlled essential infrastructure nationally,” the CIF says.
Mr Parlon said Irish Water was “not fit for purpose” and said there needed to be a sense of urgency within the agency. The failure to provide water connections was a major cause of delay in starting work on projects, he said.
“Water and wastewater infrastructure is one of the most critical areas for increased investment in Budget 2022 to enable all other forms of investment and development to follow,” the CIF says.
It is also calling for “urgent reform” of the Government’s public sector contract and procurement processes. Mr Parlon said there had been 10 years of summits between the industry and Government on addressing procurement issues, but that “zilch has come out of it”.
Where Britain and Northern Ireland had developed “more enlightened” processes, Mr Parlon said, Irish legislators had kept amending the existing process which was now so convoluted and rigid that a fresh start was required.
With a major €160 billion national development plan in the offing, it was critical that it was undertaken efficiently, making best use of exchequer funds, he said.
“Given the current fiscal and financial constraints, Government is urged to consider maximising all non-exchequer financing opportunities in the form of the European Investment Bank’s lending capacity and support for sustainable climate-resilient investment projects, a growing interest from the private sector to engage in long-term infrastructure investment and EU funding in the form of the recently announced European Recovery and Resilience Facility,” the CIF said.
On the issue of 10,000 or so construction workers still drawing down the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, Mr Parlon said capacity in the sector was very elastic and he had no doubt the workers required would make themselves available when there was the prospect of work to be done.
CIF president Frank Kelly said every €1 billion invested in construction would deliver an economic uplift of an additional €1.85 billion as well as 1,200 jobs “in addition to the delivery of essential housing and infrastructure that our society, environment and economy requires”.
“Support for the industry is not a cost, but an investment, with myriad social benefits,” he said.