Check against delivery
Thank you. President, Chairman, Ministers, ladies and gentlemen.
I am delighted to be addressing the Federation’s conference this morning.
It’s fair to say that a lot has happened since I addressed this conference last year.
Due to the pandemic, at the beginning of this year, work on non-essential sites was stopped in its tracks, in order to keep communities safe.
Then, as we were able to gradually lift these restrictions, the construction industry adapted incredibly well to the changes that had to be made so that it could operate safely.
I would also like to acknowledge the constructive role that the CIF has played through social dialogue as a member of the Labour Employer Economic Forum during this difficult period and the process of reopening.
In particular, the CIF played a leading role in supporting the Work Safely Protocol, including its application in the construction sector.
More recently, as we made sustained progress in bringing the virus under control, rolling out our National Vaccination Programme, and as the economy has begun to reopen, I have had the opportunity to visit a number of new housing and infrastructure projects and see first-hand the calibre of the construction sector in this country and its capacity to deliver despite the challenges of the pandemic.
And these have without question been very challenging times.
But as Ireland moves into a new phase of managing the pandemic, we have set out a clear path in front of us to push forward and build for the future.
This Government understands the importance of investment in infrastructure.
Throughout Covid-19, public investment in construction in Ireland in 2020 and 2021 remains among the highest in the EU.
Next week we will launch the revised National Development Plan.
This will provide for unprecedented levels of investment over the next decade to deliver on the Programme for Government and provide the infrastructure that our society and economy needs.
The review includes a central focus on climate action and ensuring that we make the investment needed to support our forthcoming Climate Action Plan. Given the scale of the challenge, climate action is factored into all investment and project decisions across all areas of infrastructure.
The revised NDP also incorporates the resources to deliver the recently published Housing for All Plan.
As I said when I launched that Plan, Housing is the single most urgent and important social issue facing our country at this moment in time.
A generation of people are demoralised and close to despair on the issue, and if we don’t respond appropriately it has the potential to be profoundly destabilising for our country.
And that is why we have committed in excess of €4bn per annum in the housing sector, setting extremely ambitious targets for the construction of new homes across all tenures.
We aim to build over 300,000 new homes by the end of 2030, including a projected 90,000 social homes, 36,000 affordable purchase homes and 18,000 cost rental homes. It's the largest State led building programme in our country’s history.
I don’t underestimate the challenge that these targets will pose – but the Strategy includes measures to support the availability of the land, workforce, funding and capacity to enable both the public and private sectors to meet the targets.
Funding through the Croí Cónaithe Cities Fund to incentivise greater activation of existing permissions in areas where development is not currently viable.
The Croí Cónaithe Towns Fund will ensure the provision of serviced sites for housing to attract people to build their own homes and live in small towns and villages, in a sustainable way.
€3.5 billion in the Land Development Agency to assemble strategic sites in urban areas and to ensure the sustainable development of social and affordable homes for rent and purchase.
€75 million in State funding for the ‘First Home’ Shared Equity Scheme to incentivise new builds for new buyers in the right places at the right price points, in order to address the affordability/viability mismatch on new build homes.
The Housing for All Plan outlines a multi-faceted approach to improve planning and land use. Urban Development Zones aim to deliver a coordinated, plan-led approach to the delivery of residential and urban development, while Land Value Sharing measures will ensure local communities benefit as a result of land zoning.
There will be new planning arrangements for Large Scale Residential Developments, as well as a major overhaul of our planning legislation led by the Attorney General to modernise an unduly complicated system.
Reforms are also planned for the judicial review system to reduce unwarranted delays, alongside establishment of a new environment and planning court.
Given what is at stake and given the scale of our investment plans, it is important that the construction sector has the capacity to meet that demand.
The NDP, the Housing for All Plan and the National Retrofitting Programme are entirely dependent on the industry being able to deliver.
A critical element of delivering on our ambitions is containing costs. We want to deliver quality housing and infrastructures but at a cost that is affordable.
We all know that the combination of the pandemic, Brexit, and spikes in demand is putting pressure on costs and on the supply of certain materials.
As the global economy recovers and supply levels rebalance these pressures should recede and it is important that the cost increases do not become permanent.
Measures to promote productivity and innovation play an important role here and government continues to work with the sector on these. And for our part, we are working to improve our own processes around planning and project management – which will lead to productivity gains right across the sector.
And in terms of house prices, a key objective of Housing for All is to ensure the increased delivery of quality and affordable housing to meet demand – which will then work to moderate prices in the market and provide greater certainty to buyers and the sector alike.
The Government and industry must work together to ensure the industry also has capacity to deliver, not least in the area of skills and innovation both of which I will discuss in more detail shortly.
But I think that it is worth stating that the NDP review has provided an opportunity to look at how we as Government can better manage and deliver infrastructure – this includes increasing project management capacity internally and also how we communicate and work with the sector.
As part of this, the new NDP will highlight construction projects in the pipeline, particularly for the period between 2021 and 2025 so that the industry can identify and plan for opportunities over a longer time horizon. In particular, we aim to provide more opportunities for SMEs in this sector to be delivery partners on the NDP.
Alongside investments in research and training, these steps will, I hope, also work to strengthen the sector.
They have been informed by engagement with the sector through forums including the Construction Sector Group which the CIF has played a crucial leadership role in.
I know the CIF is helping to deliver on a range of actions to promote productivity in the sector, which is an issue I know the industry is grappling with.
These actions include delivery of The Construction Technology Centre, which is under development, to drive innovation in the sector, especially in residential construction. The Centre is expected to be up and running from 2023 and I encourage the industry to work closely on the development of the centre so that it can help to support our common aims.
A priority for the Government I lead is to ensure that we have the adequate skills in the economy to ensure a sustainable and equitable economy in the future.
The construction sector is no exception. We recognise the changes in the sector and the response needed to support innovation in construction, and the need for targeted and relevant education and training.
The growing need for skills supporting our climate action work in the construction sector is also supported with a number of collaborative industry- focused educational and training opportunities. These are and will be available across all levels of the tertiary education and training system.
Employers will need to play their part in supporting skills development, through engagement in traineeships, apprenticeships and Skillnet Ireland programmes.
We also need to market the sector to young people – highlighting the attractiveness of construction as a career option.
We recognise the critical importance of apprenticeship as a key supply of talent into the construction sector and we have committed to expanding apprenticeship substantially. As Minister of State with special responsibilities in this area, my colleague Minister Niall Collins will be working to deliver supports to employers and making it easier for employers and apprentices to engage with the system.
Covid-19 has had a detrimental impact on the delivery of apprenticeship and this Government is investing heavily to ensure that the existing backlogs are eliminated as soon as possible.
My colleague, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris T.D, who is speaking later, will go into more detail around the plan and its impact on the sector.
Never before in our history has the State dedicated this level of investment in housing, climate and national infrastructure.
The Government and industry must continue to work collaboratively to improve productivity and quality in the industry, while enhancing and marketing its attractiveness as an industry to build a career.
I have no doubt that through collaboration and collective effort, we will deliver on making Ireland a better place to live, work and do business.