Thursday, July 16, 2020

4 Social Housing Schemes Designed to Need Retrofitting!

We are planning retrofitting for homes to be more energy efficient but at the same time there is an open competition, from before government was formed to build hundreds of houses. I really wanted to make sure the Housing department had seen it and reconsidered the design to make sure they're up to a reasonable standard for living and environmental efficiency. So I attached the plans. To my eye, they looked modern enough and possibly architect-designed - Although nowhere near as beautiful as Harmony Hall. 

Just because something is architect-designed does not mean the perfect proportion has always been taken into account!

Development of Social Housing Schemes - Wexford, Waterford, Kilkenny and Laois.

Environmental Benefit Clause = Must have greenhouse and be off-grid

Obviously for 4 major social housing projects, there will need to be a big housing developer of some sort for each Lot, to manage the process. However, if we put a call out for local quantity surveyors, bigger builders or developers with an environmental objective and a committed 'housing as a right' objective, then they could be encouraged to enter the tender process and commit to use direct labour and ask only a 10% profit for their trouble rather than 30%. 

I was also worried that the property developers must organise the 'sale of the houses'. This part should obviously be managed by a public company/authority. We want builders to come in and build but not end up owning the land and the houses they've built.

We all have a huge investment in changing the system and so hoped the government department had a team that could get their hands on in this first opportunity to manage social housing differently. 


Out of everyone, the brilliant TD, Paul Murphy responded:

But, wow, the situation for planning is worse than we thought. 

'Your proposals are very appropriate and sensible. We fully agree regarding the virtues of direct build – for all of the reasons you mention.

Additionally, the form of housing provided in most new build by private developers is low density, minimum standard / size housing which is expanding the spread of suburban sprawl and is unsustainable because it requires car transport and renders public transport dysfunctional; or it is minimum-size apartment developments without the necessary social infrastructure – which will degrade in the not too distant future but which get approval from Bord Pleanala because the proposals meet the requirements of the regulations put in place by successive FF and FG governments.

In my opinion the primary, overarching housing policy of both FF and FG is to support the profitability of the private construction industry; a second, related element of housing policy is to support the profitability of the finance industry. Providing housing is not the primary objective of FF-FG housing policy: if it was, they would embark on a program of public housing construction – as many, including yourself, are arguing.

I haven't read the full specifications in the Clúid document you sent. But I have to say that I am dismayed / shocked to read on p.57 that the construction specs are based on 2011 regulations and that the target BER is only A3 – not even A2 / NZEB and certainly not passive. It seems climate change is not really of much importance for Clúid?

The Building Regulations lays down mandatory standards for thermal insulation in new dwellings. Technical Guidance Document L – Conservation of Fuel and Energy – Dwellings 2011 – advises on how these requirements may be met. It also provides guidance for efficiency of heating systems, heating controls and requirements for renewable energy resources. All new units are to be designed to achieve a minimum building energy rating of A3. We note that any amendments to the minimum requirements in the Building Regulations standards must be achieved for overall compliance.”
Concepts such as ‘carbon neutral’ and ‘passive-house’ should be investigated to establish their practicality on a project by project basis.”

That said, the government is clearly not at all serious about reducing carbon emissions. The most recent publication of TGD Part L, which deals with energy ratings and thereby carbon emissions from buildings other than dwellings, has again stretched the date for implementation of a 2010 EU Directive by another year from January 2019 to March 2020. See 'Transitional Arrangements' on p.2 here:

And Clúid are probably using the utilising of a similar loophole for dwellings – see slide 6 here:

In fact, as you may be aware, the government intervened in 2015 against Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown’s proposal to mandate the passive house standard for new build.

As the residential developments in Enniscorthy show, it is quite possible to build to passive spec at reasonable cost – which would be even less using direct labour by a state building agency:

Our office does not have the resources to drive a campaign for change at local authority level. We can and will however, pose questions and push for a change amongst the new ministers – though I don't hold out much hope regarding FF and FG.

With regard to tenders, change will be needed at local authority level – particularly in the county development plans. As far as I know DLR eventually did specify passive for all new build in their 2016-2020 Development Plan.

While I was a councillor on Kildare Co Council I argued for a minimum spec of A2 / NZEB for all new build to be included in the Kildare CDP but was defeated by the Exec and by the FF and FG councillors.

Getting inclusion in county development plans of a requirement that all new build should be at minimum A2 / NZEB specification will be essential in order for these specs to be included in tenders. Tenders with higher specs than what is specified in county development plans will be challenged by developers.

If you have a network or links with people on the councils concerned – or any councils – perhaps you might suggest that to them and start working now to get passive building spec included in future county development plans?

I also promoted the ideas embodied in Vauban and Reiselfeld – for high density, ecologically and socially sustainable settlements, by design – as against the developer-driven and unsustainable suburban sprawl of low density estates.

In a context of the need for about 500,000 new housing units in the coming 40 years, there needs to be a move away from sprawling estates of semi-detached houses – which typically require the use of cars for commuting and social purposes, rendering public transport dysfunctional and being therefore unsustainable.

Unfortunately I didn't get far with that either. But my point is that the left must not simply argue for the delivery of more public housing: we must also argue for new settlements which are socially and ecologically sustainable. Living in a semi-D with two cars at the arse-end of a housing estate on the periphery of a town or city – which is where people on low incomes frequently get housed – is neither socially nor ecologically sustainable.

Anyway, unfortunately our office doesn't have the resources to really push this at present. But I would encourage you to check out the building specs in any development proposals and also the settlement design; and to push for passive building specs and settlement designs that are integrated with public transport as part of future county development plans.'

Geoff Colley from PassiveHaus magazine may be of help with interpreting building specs – but he's a busy person so you'll probably need to swot it up yourself!'

Sunday, July 12, 2020

EU? Did You Check His References?

EU,  Always Check References 

Especially if The Future Depends On Your Choice

I have spent many weeks now, exploring public tender opportunities. So many supplies and services needed that could really bring the economy and people's lives back to life. Of course, each RFT says responses must include a case study and 3 references. Seems fair! Except, I can't imagine how Paschal Donohoe was elected to lead the Euro Zone Group 'the most powerful economic group in Europe' without these arbitrary  levels of compliance adhered to. If a case study (such as Ireland) was considered they would have seen how Mr Donohoe has not seen fit to put even 50cent aside to do anything for the environment since 1992, when Europe told us to. 

The twelve years went by that was given for implementation of the EU directive in '92, then 6 more years past the deadline. Currently, Ireland is being fined thousands of euro every day for his decision to neglect biodiversity or rather flout the European law. 

On his watch, any services with a public interest have been starved of supports - the health service, education and housing for example. The whole structure of his Fine Gael economic policy is based on the population also dying of neglect, as they are sold food laced with pesticides and any attempts to supply something different or educate on healthy choices are undermined.  

It is a repeat, I suppose, of when Phil Hogan was minister for the Environment here (God bless us and save us) and then was made EU commissioner for Agriculture, another terrible choice that has clearly led to an increase in our carbon footprint and overlooking tax or regulations for damaging agricultural industries. I don't know if anyone else has noticed but that CAP payment also includes rural broadband now?! So no farmer gets support to do anything positive, he just gets the payments to pass on to big technology, big veterinary pharmaceuticals and big agrichemical companies....while the meat industry are still allowed to import meat if a farmer doesn't stoop low enough on his animal prices at slaughter.  That is where the farmers' payments go: Monsanto/Bayer, big pharma for antibiotics for all the calves separated from their milked mothers and all the chickens and pigs in intensive housing. 

I feel so sad for all those European States now with good practice who care about the people socially or health-wise, or the environment or anything. They are now within Paschal Donohoe's austerity lead too. Worse again, the Fine Gael ex-Central Bank manager has taken up a lead economist post in Europe too. No wonder we're having such difficulty bringing public banking into Ireland. Can i just say, Everyone else, hold on to your public banks! They are your only hope in this recession. Ireland has been shafted and all our public money is being directed to big business - Our government are literally funding marketing exercises for Supermarkets!! Yes, they ask the tenderer to explain how we can get low welfare, processed ready meals into post-Brexit Britain and dairy into Japan. But they stipulate they only want submissions from multi-nationals...can't they do their own marketing, one might ask. Oh yes and he is dishing out farm recovery payments to Larry Goodman's intensive feedlots and millions for his private hospital/s as well. 

I swear there is not one euro Green Deal money being requested for farmers to trying less damaging land use. And if there is, it will be too late as all the money is being frittered through apalling public projects and misspending in the meantime. 
I don't know if anyone else has seen the film 'When The Wind Blows'. It is an animation about a couple after a nuclear bomb. They are so innocent. They try and patch up the windows and have some supplies in place....that to me is how the following Green submission reads.

It is educational, it states what Ireland grows and can grow. It states what  we need to do for a secure food supply. It talks about people's diet and the environmental affects. Lord, it would be really good if Europe had Stiofan Nutty or someone else who was involved in this DAFM report in that European group. It is too much to ask for someone compus mentus, capable of evaluating a nuanced economy of environmental, social and economic dynamics. But please read on and skip the link. 

These are the green economic plans we could deliver if we have our wits about us, while Mr Donohoe is hopefully away, busy planning how to ruin the rest of Europe.  I really would apologise but the EU should know to always check references.

  C. Food Security – Scientists expect that Climate Change and soil degradation will cause world food production to become increasingly volatile. Ireland needs to implement an effective national policy on Food Security to meet the threats posed by Brexit and Climate Change to our food supply; 
➢ Ireland grew enough Carrots in 2014 to feed its population for 268 days, Tomatoes for 48 days, Onions for 32 days and Strawberries for 306 days7 
➢ The increasing impact of Climate Change will make the growing of fruit and vegetables ever more challenging in Ireland and the UK
 ➢ As an island nation imported food must be flown or shipped into the country, which makes Ireland even more vulnerable in the event of food “shocks” and points to the need for Ireland to maintain and develop its capacity to produce food

 2025 Deliverables 
• A significant increase in supply of Irish fresh produce to the domestic market to support a drive to make Ireland more Food Secure in an increasingly volatile world 
• Improved cultivation practises to protect soil fertility and the sustainability of production 

D. Climate Change – Horticulture production can reduce the levels of greenhouse gas emissions of the agriculture industry and support Ireland’s efforts to meet our international climate change obligations. A 2014 study of British people’s diets , conducted by University of Oxford scientists, found that meat-rich diets - defined as more than 100g per day - resulted in 7.2kg of carbon dioxide emissions. In contrast, both vegetarian and fish-eating diets caused about 3.8kg of CO2 per day, while vegan diets produced only 2.9kg.

 2025 Deliverables
• An increase in the proportion of agriculture land devoted to horticulture production, which would deliver a reduction in national greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture  

Friday, July 3, 2020

Green Investments Success Indicators

The indicators for a doughnut economy, as it is being heralded, include social protection, environmental protection and public health. 

As I identify the 5 pillars and therefore a pentagon as the economy's foundation, I am reminded of the geodome at Harmony Hall: Similarly, a green economy can provide sheltered growing spaces for plants, biodiversity and productive and social enterprises....rather than leaving them exposed to the elements.

This is what I've been working on today. How to build in to the public procurement system a wider award criteria - with social, health and environmental protection compliance. At the moment there are only two capacities in which you have to comply; Technical Capacity, in that you have enough qualified people to manage the contract and financial capacity; do you have an annual turnover of €1 million a year. For most businesses, after the pandemic and quite probably before it, they wouldn't be a contender!

I have made it my mission to explore this situation and match competencies to funding. As there is a lot of despondency about the Department of Finance, Bord Bia, Teagasc or any party, apart from the Greens and all the opposition, asking for this shift in economic model, I believe we need to empower Local authorities to enter EU Green Deal funding applications themselves.

This is also crucial as one of the concerns about the Programme For Government was that it suggests they (representing Ireland) don't intend to draw down a significant amount of this major financial stimulus from the EU. Implicit in that is that they don't envision much greening let alone a whole green transition and fair circular economy ahead for Ireland.

Once we have evidence that the five pillar award system works - This evidence might include the measurement that meaningful and gainful employment has been created and city centres are thriving and that residential care and health facilities are being managed by organisations with some semblance of an ethos - then we can revisit the Public Banking plan and the Indecon Report (which is a very long winded study that asked irrelevant questions about lending in Ireland but succeeded in blocking the legislation needed for a public bank, last year).

The fact remains that Ireland pays 16.5 billion a year in interest to private banks. That correlates to €3,600 for every man, woman and child. And I'm sure that figure has gone up in the last 5 years again.

Credit is a public utility. Well, it should be! At the moment the State's entire Sovereign right to create money has been handed over to the private banks. They have our whole market in comparison to, say, Germany (who have offered to help us) where private banks only have 12% of the market.

(Public banking proposal and related works in the search bar. Based on work with Richard C Cook (Credit as a Public Utility (Six Part Youtube Series and author of 'We Hold These Truths')

Thankfully, we still do have public contracts which are grants rather than loans, so we can stimulate local economies that way. With good governance at local authority level and competence in devising this new award criteria, we can direct the public money there is to the right businesses and Cooperatives. Even better, we empower them to access more Green Deal funding as confidence in greening methods, well building institute methods and materials, re-purposing and retrofitting initiatives grows and they learn how to put a monetary value on conservation and health and other societal benefits that currently flounder around underfunded by increasingly depended upon.

Equally, we depend on our biodiversity and the Independent said today that we are neglecting that too. To the extent that the EU are taking us to court. We really have to do better and I'm here to help connect you to supports for what every environmental solutions you've got...or are prepared to try!

Today I connected a local conventional farmer to a regenerative farming group and the Irish Rural Link who offer tangible help and courses in accessing farm payments, otherwise very difficult and time-consuming to fill in. We can have good news for the environment and good news for farmers too we just have to understand what's important and advocate for each other.