Rapid Answers


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Modular housing in Ballymun

In a post yesterday Social Democrat Fingal County Councillor Cian O’Callaghan asked a series of questions about modular housing.

Further to this, building and construction forum BRegs Blog have compiled fact-laden responses to Mr O’Callaghan’s questions [below].

Meanwhile, during a report on RTÉ’s Six One news last night journalist Mark Coughlan reported that the modular homes could end up costing €243,000 per unit, more than twice the €100,000 figure originally earmarked..

Grab a tay.

Cllr Cian O’Callaghan: How much faster will these homes be delivered than conventional housing?

BRegs:  They will not be any faster than conventional housing as the houses being built at Ballymun are conventional housing. The housing at Ballymun has taken six months to complete which is average for traditional housing of this scale.”

Time was saved in the design stage by side-stepping planning laws (there was no public consultation), side-stepping procurement rules and side-stepping building control laws by starting on site before it was legal. There will be costs and delay for all of this in any future phases.

O’Callaghan: What was the final cost of the rapid build homes at Ballymun and what is the full breakdown of these costs?

BRegs: According to Dublin City Council (DCC) the final account has not been agreed yet. It is unclear who will be liable for costs of the programme overrun of at least four months. This could be very expensive if DCC made changes to the contract after it was awarded.

The original contract figure, agreed by DCC and the Department of the Environment, of €5,340,775.00 for the 22 houses equates to a cost of €242,762.50 per house.

This figures excludes any site purchase cost, planning application costs, development levies, or developer’s profits. Comparable, index construction costs are €100,000 – €140,000 for this type of social housing.

Although we are not aware of site costs in Ballymun, 29 ‘rapid’ units are planned for a site in Drimnagh which was purchased by DCC for €3.5m. This suggests a per unit site cost of €120,000, and eventual total cost including site of over €360,000 per temporary unit.

O’Callaghan: “At what point was the idea of lower cost modular homes replaced with rapid build housing? Why? What is the rationale for the construction of hybrid modular/ wet build housing?

BRegs: Only Dublin City Council (Housing and Residential Services) can answer this question. It appears that only one tender was received for the ‘modular housing’ from Western Building Systems Ltd. who were awarded the contract .

The bar for who was allowed to tender was set very high at a €10m turnover. The tender also demanded a four-week construction programme in bad weather which was seen by many to be totally unachievable. This may have been the deciding factor if the tender proposed ‘rapid-build’ although there is nothing rapid about the housing at Poppintree in Ballymun.

O’Callaghan: What is the guarantee on these homes? What is their expected life span? Is it any different to conventional housing?

BRegs: The tender documentation specified a 60-year life span. The Certificate of Compliance and Completion from the Assigned Certifier is thought by some to be a guarantee. DCC Tender documents require the builder to sign-off on all statutory regulations.

This is of concern as it suggests no independent oversight or inspections of the quality and safety of the units provided. DCC could sue the contractor and/or the Assigned Certifier if there is a defect, if they are still around and they can prove a case.

O’Callaghan: Will a cost effectiveness analysis be undertaken to compare rapid build housing with other methods of housing delivery?

BRegs: There should be but there probably will not. Proper modular housing is more expensive than traditional housing but its inherent advantage is in being able to supply housing rapidly to meet short-term emergencies and being reusable at other locations.

There could be economies of scale if they set up the contracts to maximise value and spent adequate time designing the units and prioritising quality and value for money.

Government departments are reluctant to provide details of PPP’s and public tenders, even though all tenderers are party to this information. A reluctance to provide accurate cost information puts all other future tenderers at a competitive disadvantage, and makes public scrutiny of ‘value for money’ impossible.

O’Callaghan: What is the estimated cost per unit when larger economies of scale and competitive tendering is introduced to the process?

BRegs: There is no guarantee that there will be any economies of scale. In fact there is a risk that parceling together big contracts will reduce competitiveness and maintain high costs because only a few large bidders will be able to take part (similar to the vulture funds purchasing the large NAMA portfolios).

The successful contractor will then be able to squeeze lower prices on the sub-contractors because he will control the market. This risks reducing quality while increasing the margin for the contractor.

It is unlikely that the cost of ‘rapid’ housing will reduce by 50% to resemble average costs of more traditional forms of construction, even if built at significant volumes.

O’Callaghan: What capacity level within the sector in Ireland is needed to reach an optimum level of delivery in terms of cost effectiveness? Is the goal to reach this optimum level of delivery and if so when?

BRegs: There is plenty of capacity in the smaller domestic builders and trades, if they can compete. Standard models of procurement on smaller sites can yield significant economies due to increased competitiveness.

The high threshold of turnover specified in the next four projects, between €7m and €12m, precludes participation by a large proportion of willing and able small to medium sized contractors.

O’Callaghan: “Given the fire safety problems that emerged with a rapid build school in North County Dublin; what measures are in place to ensure that such problems do not occur with rapid build housing?”

BRegs: The quality control and safety checks in the Ballymun housing is controlled by the contractor, because that is the way that DCC has set it up.

The houses will be inspected and certified privately by people engaged by the builder. The rapid build school that had fire safety problems was built by the same company that is providing the rapid houses in Ballymun.

Our current system of ‘reinforced self-certification’ is just that – self-certification by contractors of their own work with no independent oversight.

Recent experience of defective ‘rapid’ build schools suggests that in the event of a defect later on the state, remarkably, will bear the costs of repairs.

Thanks BRegs Blog

Previously: Rapid Questions


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26 thoughts on “Rapid Answers

  1. brownbull

    here’s a good question:
    Has there been an investigation by any arm of the state into uncompetitive practices in the supply of prefabricated accommodation to the education sector? Is there a cartel in operation?

    1. DubLoony

      Prefabs are being phased out by the school & classroom building projects initiated by Labour.

      1. Anne

        “Who is involved with the various ,kabin’ or ‘cabin’ companies? You guessed it.”


  2. Kolmo

    A night of merriment in a brewing facility may not be organised in an efficient, costed and transparent manner…

    It’s like running a marathon on quicksand

    “reinforced self-certification” – I…just….can’t….breathless now, ooh, need to sit down. …..

    rhymes with custard-duck

  3. edalicious

    So basically it’s a poostorm. They wanted cheap houses fast but somehow managed to get slow and expensive ones instead.

  4. munkifisht

    What is incredible to me is how pathetically lame the design is in these pre-death coffins. Rather than making something that/s architecturally stimulating, unique and adaptable, they plonk for the most standard block they could. There worse even than bungalow blight. How can anyone be proud of these? Great design doesn’t have to cost the world, and for less money a decent architect could have delivered something truly special and community building.

    1. Panty Christ

      Could have commissioned final year DIT architecture students to design the homes as part of their final year project

      1. nellyb

        I’d ask them to re-design anything along the Liffey too, before the brains got washed with margin squeezing.

    2. martco

      you assume that any of the right-thing-to-do aspirations you’ve listed were ever part of the agenda here
      nor anything much to do with actually tackling the issue of homelessness (snigger)
      sadly, this was an election stunt that backfired nowt more or less

  5. Khanfred

    I’m curious how the units are working out at €242,762.50 each, when a recent article in the independent (http://www.independent.ie/life/home-garden/homes/is-this-the-future-of-new-homes-34613701.html) referred to passive houses being sold for €170,000-190,000 (admittedly “more or less at cost”). Without the details for the different houses, it is impossible to say whether this is comparing like with like, but they do appear to be fairly similar (3 bed semi-d in the case of the passive homes). Assuming they are similar, that would be a profit margin of more than 20% per unit. The article above suggests that the €5,340,775 contract figure does not include developer’s profits, but this cannot be the case as this is the contract price – the developer will have included their profits in this amount. Can anyone clarify why construction costs in this country appear to be so high? I would have thought that there was an excess of labour, materials and plant and energy costs (which are probably a significant factor in material costs) have been coming down.

  6. Cromuel

    Where is the law that mandates all houses built in Ireland being ugly? I’ve searched the statute books and can’t find it, but it must be there because everyone obeys it.

  7. Anne

    For 243k you could build yourself a 5 bed luxury home, probably for half that in Ballymun.

    “Comparable, index construction costs are €100,000 – €140,000 for this type of social housing.”
    I can’t understand how these ugly boxes cost 100,000 to 140,000 more.

    Bit of a rapid rip off. There’s someone making plenty of money somewhere.
    I see Western Building Systems are from the U.K.. do we not have any construction companies here that could have done the work?

    If Western Building Systems were the only company who submitted for the tender for modular homes, but modular homes weren’t built, why wasn’t a request for tenders put out again for these normal (albeit ugly) houses?

    1. ollie

      “probably for half that in Ballymun. ”
      What an arrogant comment to make. If you can get me a site in Ballymun for 50% of the cost of a site else where in Dublin I’ll wash your car every week for a month.

      For info, building costs in Ireland are given as €100 per Sq foot.
      If a 5 bed house is 1,500 sq feet (it would be bigger), then the cost to build is €150,000 excluding the land, services, levies, vat, etc.
      So Anne, your misinformed uneducated prejudiced estimate is a misinformed uneducated prejudiced estimate.

      1. Anne

        I’m sure you could get a decent site in Ballymun for under a 100k Ollie.. There’s nothing arrogant in what I said.

        I would have thought site costs should be lower in Ballymun than the likes of say Foxrock or Portmarnock.. that’s just a fact. I’m not being arrogant.

  8. Anne

    By the way, has Anne-Marie had enough of the chumps around here? Is Cian taking over?
    I hope the ladybits around here haven’t put her off.

  9. Eoin

    So. Nearly a quarter of a million Euros to live in an ugly house in Ballymun? Seriously? Why aren’t they trying to sweep this LATEST EMBARRASSMENT under the carpet? Why are they trying to present this as some sort of victory? Nobody in their right mind is going to buy these things. And anyone who wants to should be refused a mortgage on grounds of mental incompetence. The corporation will probably end up splurging tax payers money on them eventually anyway. Can we do nothing in this country without the gombeen man getting involved? Does everything have to be totally corrupted all the time? Is it really gone that bad? All eyes were on this affordable housing thing and still, they couldn’t get it done without a scandal.

  10. Jake38

    Fantastic stuff. Keep it coming. Is there no end to the incompetence of Irish public administration?

    1. Khanfred

      The construction industry claim that it costs more to build a new house than to buy a second hand house, hence there is very little building going on, hence not enough houses for people to live in. They blame the cost of construction materials, development levies, VAT, development land. Either they are telling porkies or these are issues that need to be addressed if the housing crisis is to be solved.

      1. Kieran NYC

        The construction industry claim the poor mouth all the time. They act like they’re doing you a favour by building a crappy house and charging you a fortune for it.

  11. ollie

    “Dublin City Council has entered into a contract with Western Building Systems to provide 22 modular houses for homeless families in Dublin.

    The Co Tyrone firm built the Rush and Lusk Educate Together National School, which was found to have major safety defects. The school in north Dublin was signed off by the Fianna Fáil-led government in 2008.
    However, a routine inspection in 2014 found it had so many fire safety concerns it could have collapsed during a blaze in just 20 minutes.”

    Don’t you love self certification? Aren’t you happy that Alan Kelly is responsible for this?

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