Selected social housing sites to reopen as CIF cautions against complacency

The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has confirmed that construction of 35 social housing projects will recommence shortly to complete in the region of 1,000 social housing units. This comes as the CIF cautioned members that if they do not comply rigorously with health and safety regulations, sites may again be closed.

In a statement to RTE, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government outlined how local authorities had identified a number of social housing projects which were in some cases “substantially complete with minor snagging or other works to be completed”.

The Housing Agency, the Department and the Housing Delivery Coordination Office (HDCO) has established a process where the relevant local authority will apply through the HDCO for a special designation if a specific project falls within the meaning of essential activity under the health regulations.

In a CIF letter to the relevant developers entitled ‘Recommencement of Social Housing Classified as Essential Projects’, James Benson, CIF Director of Housing, Planning & Development Services highlighted a new Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and a Residential Sector Back to Work Implementation Framework (BTWIF) around COVID-19 prevention measures on site, which can be accessed online.

The letter outlines what the new processes involve, “…radical changes to how work is carried out and how employees travel to work, work, and return home. As with most measures, personal responsibility is critical to successfully stopping the virus.”

The letter then goes on to caution against complacency: “…as an employer, the equation is simple: if the SOP & BTWIF guidance is not followed by employees, they are at risk and our understanding is that construction sites will be shut down again.”

The construction sector may be part of first phase of the economy getting restarted under strict health and safety regulation, but the new measures will inevitably “increase costs and slow projects”, says the CIF.

Construction was stopped last month on all but essential projects to comply with Government guidelines. The value of projects halted has been estimated at in the region of €21b.

CIF Director of Communications Shane Dempsey told the Examiner that the return to site “could happen relatively quickly” from May, once health protocols were “stress-tested” across different parts of the sector. He outlined how induction programmes mandated by the HSE were starting soon and once validated, employees could go back to work on a site-by-site basis.

An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has outlined some details on what he called a “stepwise plan” to ease lockdown restrictions. “What we are working on is a stepwise plan, whereby we could start to reopen certain services, certain parts of the economy, and then review every two to three weeks, depending on how things are going in terms of the spread of the virus. But I’d rather give people certainty when we have that towards the end of April/early May than to speculate on that when it is not yet agreed,” said An Taoiseach.

The plan will detail a step by step guide on how the country will reopen with criteria for each step to be met before moving on to the next.