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Lack of infrastructure could hit new housing, construction industry warns

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Much of the land zoned for residential development in the Republic is inadequately serviced by utilities and other infrastructure, potentially making the future provision of housing more problematic, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) has warned.

The lobby group’s director-general designate, Hubert Fitzpatrick, said the uptick in housing output seen in recent years took place on lands that were zoned in previous development plans and in many instances had been serviced with critical infrastructure such as water, wastewater, electricity, roads and public transport.

However, he warned much of this land bank was now exhausted while much of the incoming supply lacked vital infrastructure.

“A significant amount of the serviced and zoned lands for residential development have now been activated or built on and we are now entering a much more difficult phase of housing provision,” Mr Fitzpatrick told the Oireachtas Housing Committee.

His colleague, Conor O’Connell, said in many locations lands have been zoned for housing that are difficult and expensive to service “and in other locations serviced or easily serviced lands have been dezoned or not zoned”.

Mr O’Connell said the State’s land management process for housing delivery was “fundamentally flawed”.

He said it almost applied “a just-in-time process for delivery rather than a predictive model based on realistic time frames for the delivery of infrastructure to facilitate housing”.

Housing output rose by 45 per cent to 30,000 units last year, the highest level of residential construction seen in the State since the Celtic Tiger era. However, this level of homebuilding is still seen as too low.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien acknowledges that more land needs to be zoned for residential if the Government is to reach its Housing for All target of delivering 33,000 homes a year for the next decade is to be met.

He has commissioned a review of the National Planning Framework to assess how much zoned residential land is needed across the country.

Delays connecting new housing developments up to water mains were often as developers had “pushed ahead” and started building without engaging with the utility body, a senior Uisce Éireann official has said.

Yvonne Harris, housing programme director Uisce Éireann, previously known as Irish Water, said connection delays were “very unlikely” if developers discussed housing plans with officials throughout the process.

“What often happens is the developer may push ahead without engaging with Uisce Éireann, they start the build” she said.

This could lead to “everyone being put on the back foot” if Uisce Éireann later came on site to find technical standards in a development did not meet their requirements, she said.

“That is generally why we have longer delays in housing estates … The longer delays are generally because of that lack of engagement,” she told the committee.

Fine Gael Senator John Cummins said allegations some ESB Networks staff had sought cash payments from developers to complete electrical works near construction sites had done “reputational damage” to the utility company.

In response, Nicholas Tarrant, managing director ESB Networks, told the committee it had taken the allegations “very seriously”.

The utility body had reported the matter to the gardaí as well as taking legal action to seek information from the developers.

“We are a company that depends on public trust … If allegations come forward we have progressed them to get to the bottom of them. Ultimately there is a Garda investigation ongoing,” he said.

He said there had been no reports to a confidential ESB phone line about other instances of alleged requests for payments to complete electrical works.

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