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!'

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