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Housing Agency Projects and Procurement: Providing more services than ever before

Norman Jackson, Senior Procurement and Projects Advisor in The Housing Agency.

The Housing Agency procurement unit aims to provide technical and professional services and support to local authorities and approved housing bodies (AHBs) in the delivery of homes within sustainable communities, writes Norman Jackson, Senior Procurement and Projects Advisor in The Housing Agency.

The procurement unit was enhanced and expanded in response to the Government’s Housing for All Action Plan as published in 2021. Having worked as Senior Procurement and Projects Advisor with responsibility for the unit since its formation, I have seen the significant impact the team has made through their extensive knowledge and expertise. The residential construction sector is currently going through a transition period, with a greater emphasis on innovation and sustainability and it is therefore an exciting sector to be involved in. Outlined below is a cross-section of the breadth of the work undertaken by the team.

Our team is made up of architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, and project managers who provide professional and technical support and advice. We have assisted in excess of 50 AHBs and 10 local authorities since Housing for All commenced. This was achieved through the team expanding by over 100 per cent in that timeframe. We continue to attract construction and design professionals for key roles.

We work closely with other services within The Housing Agency and stakeholders including the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and many others involved in public procurement and housing delivery, aiming to ensure that the information and technical assistance we provide is up to date and beneficial.

Our projects team has expertise, and experience in the planning, design, and construction of social and affordable housing. We can assist and support through all stages and sizes of housing projects, which is particularly important to smaller AHBs or those with specialist care requirements, and who may not have in-house technical expertise. We also provide sketch designs and feasibility studies for a wide range of projects. These include large inner-city urban developments, refurbishment, and conversion of existing buildings.

The procurement services that our team offers covers the various requirements of the Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS) process. This includes budget estimates and cost plans, advice on procurement strategy, assisting with procurements and assessments to ensure processes comply with the Capital Works Management Framework (CWMF), compilation of contract documents and general procurement advice. We can also assist local authorities and AHBs in the establishment of frameworks for contractors, consultants, or other technical services.

Our projects section is mainly architect-led, with support from other technical professionals. We primarily focus on the development of early-stage feasibility studies for projects, with a limited number being carried through to completion and handover. We have worked with many different specialist service providers including those providing accommodation for those experiencing homelessness and domestic violence, as well as homes for older people and those with additional needs.

We have a particular interest in the Town Centre First initiative to support and enable local authorities and AHBs to bring life back into towns and villages across Ireland. Town Centre First is a government policy launched in 2022 and aims to give our towns the tools and resources they need to become more viable and attractive places in which to live, work, visit, and run a business. Our part in this is done through assessment and design to refurbish vacant buildings and redevelop derelict sites.

“We have a particular interest in the Town Centre First initiative to support and enable local authorities and AHBs to bring life back into towns and villages across Ireland.”

The Government’s Housing for All Action Plan calls for increased innovation in construction. The use of modern methods of construction (MMC) and building information modelling (BIM) has been adopted in the industry as the need for more efficient and sustainable development increases. These innovations will be critical in ensuring the delivery targets set out in Housing for All are met. The Housing Agency has been tasked with promoting and assisting in the delivery of social and affordable housing using MMC. To this end we have developed a guidance document for the use of the design and build public works contract for local authorities and AHBs, as it allows for more innovation and the use of MMC through a public procurement process.

MMC is used to describe a range of offsite manufacturing and innovative onsite techniques that provide alternatives to traditional construction methods. The benefits to adopting MMC include safer and more efficient delivery of construction projects, high quality homes, increased sustainability, and affordability. We are working with the Department of Housing and the Housing Delivery Coordination Office in supporting local authorities across the country to deliver social and affordable housing by setting up frameworks for design and build contractors, which will allow innovation in house construction through MMC.

We are also focused on developing our expertise in BIM, which is a process for creating and managing digital information on a construction project over its whole lifecycle. Using BIM will be compulsory for most construction projects across all state bodies by the end of 2028. The use of BIM on construction projects allows for better collaboration between design teams and contractors, resulting in improved accuracy, efficiency, reduced risk, and greater sustainability. Our aim is to position The Housing Agency as a leader in this area so we can assist AHBs and smaller local authorities in their implementation of the BIM mandate.

At The Housing Agency, our work affects communities across Ireland, and the team can see the work it carries out making a real and tangible impact. Projects such as building social and affordable housing, domestic violence refuges and homeless accommodation all play a role in the delivery of the Government’s Housing for All Action Plan. The housing sector is fast paced, but it needs to be, to keep up with how Ireland is changing. Our team strives to constantly be at the forefront of policy and innovation in the sector. I am optimistic that the delivery targets can be met by industry across many different delivery streams over the coming years.