Minister English address to the NZEB Ireland –
Rapid Build Housing Conference, Fri 22 June, DIT, Bolton St

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be here this morning in the Dublin Institute of Technology to open the first NZEB Ireland – Rapid Build Housing Conference.

My Department is working closely with all local authorities in relation to increasing and accelerating the delivery of a range of social housing programmes and supports, rapid build methodologies is a key element of these.

At the end of 2017, 208 Rapid Delivery Homes had been completed across the Greater Dublin area.  An additional 24 rapid build projects, involving over 650 new homes, are now being advanced, 283 of which are scheduled for delivery in 2018.

Dublin City Council is also developing a volumetric rapid delivery programme of apartment developments. This could yield in excess of 700 homes and my Department is working very closely with the Council to prioritise some of the larger apartment schemes, given the current demand.

Local authorities have been advised that rapid build approaches should increasingly become the norm in terms of delivering social housing projects; ultimately, we will likely reach a point where there will be no differentiation between traditional and rapid build approaches.

I’m particularly pleased that today you are bringing a focus on Nearly Zero Energy Buildings. As you are all very much aware, the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive sets ambitious goals for energy efficiency and renewables in buildings by requiring NZEB performance for new buildings from 31st December 2020.

In April I published a draft amendment to Part L of the Building Regulations for Dwellings and Part F dealing with Ventilation for public consultation.  Many of you here today have sent in your comments which we are currently reviewing.   When implemented, these new NZEB regulations will represent an improvement of 70% in energy performance and carbon dioxide emissions over 2005 building regulations provisions. Currently 98% of all new dwellings are built to an A3 rated BER standard. The new A2 BER for a typical dwelling will apply to new dwellings which commence construction after 1st of April 2019 subject to transition arrangements.

The benefits associated with nearly zero energy homes such as improved levels of comfort, better indoor air quality and reduced energy and heating bills will have a very positive effect on the health and wellbeing of our citizens.

It is estimated that the cumulative improvements to regulations mean that a dwelling built to the 2011 regulations would require 90% less energy than the equivalent dwelling built in 1978 to deliver the same standards of heat, hot water and light. So we have already made enormous progress in this field.

Many of the techniques required to achieve NZEB, such as improved fabric and renewables, have been introduced on a gradual basis into Part L of the Building Regulations since 2007.  This effectively eases the transition and minimizes the additional cost and effort required, to achieve NZEB for dwellings.

These are key actions for the built environment in contributing to Ireland’s National Low Carbon Transition and Mitigation Plan to address Climate Change, and I am confident that they will be implemented and achieve the projected emissions reductions.

They are also beneficial to our economy – creating and protecting jobs. The benefits associated with nearly zero energy homes such as improved levels of comfort, better indoor air quality and reduced energy and heating bills will have a very positive effect on the health and wellbeing of our citizens.

The NZEB process aligns closely with offsite construction. More robust quality assurance processes can be developed in factory environments.   Greater consistency can be achieved in the construction of elements and indoor fabrication is not affected by weather.  Offsite manufacturing also has many benefits in reducing construction waste and the environmental impacts of construction.
Repeatability of design will reduce cost and increase scale, with the factory environment also allowing for greater flexibility in the skills and trades required to build dwellings. In relation to those skills and trades, I am very pleased to see Dublin Institute of Technology and Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board here today. They are both working closely with my Department, the Department of Education and Skills, Solas and other key stakeholders to develop training programmes in vocational and professional skills for existing crafts persons and professionals in the delivery of NZEB.

NZEB has improved the quality of construction such as detailing to improve air tightness and avoid thermal bridges. It has also driven innovation in construction by providing a robust method to assess the energy and carbon performance of dwellings. The Dwelling Energy Assessment Procedure (DEAP) has provided a transparent method of advancing the performance requirements for dwellings.

As well as offsite construction providing many benefits in terms of delivery and affordability, I will also ensure that it continues to provide sustainable and durable housing. All new dwellings must comply with Building Regulations, Building Control requirements and achieve a 60 year durability for all key elements.  They should be built with quality materials which are fit for the use for which they are intended and for the conditions in which they are to be used. Rapid delivery construction systems must comply with an appropriate Irish Standard, Agrément Certificate or European technical Assessment or equivalent, demonstrating compliance with Irish Building Regulations.

To support rapid delivery housing, the Office of Government Procurement (OGP) put in place a framework of Rapid Delivery contractors in 2017. This framework is available for all Local Authorities and Approved Housing Bodies to use in the interest of accelerated delivery. In this regard, my Department has organised information seminars for Local Authorities, as well as visits to rapid delivery projects under construction. Local Authorities and Approved Housing Bodies have also been asked to consider schemes which are suitable for early commencement, particularly in terms of their approved planning status.

Many of the issues around delivery that ‘standard’ social housing construction projects face, are also faced by rapid build projects, such as preparing sites, services/access to the site, community consultation, planning, etc.  There are, however, savings in terms of design and construction and these advantages are growing as more use is made of the Office of Government Procurement framework contract, and contractors gain more experience in implementing these projects. Under this mechanism, acceleration is delivered both by the use of the Design and Build services of these contractors and reduced construction time periods due to considerable off site fabrication.

My Department will continue to work with local authorities to maximise delivery and harness appropriate opportunities to bring forward additional housing units over the course of the Rebuilding Ireland Plan, through rapid delivery schemes of housing and apartments.

We will continue to develop frameworks and measures which support the delivery of quality rapid delivery housing systems which comply with NZEB and all parts of the building regulations.

I can see that you have a busy day ahead of you with some very interesting speakers.  I hope you enjoy the conference and I wish to thank you for the opportunity to address you all here today.