Niall Gleeson, CEO of Irish Water, talks about how working with the construction industry and remaining committed to supporting housing delivery are collective goals
In my career as an engineer, spanning more than three decades, I have worked on many different projects, from building power plants in Alaska to developing the Luas project in Dublin, all involving vastly different challenges and conditions.
But there has been one common factor in every successful project I have worked on, and that is the importance of collaboration and co-operation.
We may all have different competencies, expertise and skillsets but in working together towards a common goal we can achieve great success. There is no doubt that one of the greatest challenges facing us in Ireland today is that of housing.
The Government has set a target of increasing the supply of housing to an average of 33,000 units per year to 2030. This is our collective goal now. It is an ambitious goal but it is one which I believe can be achieved through that spirit of collaboration between all the stakeholders.
We in Irish Water recognise that we have an important role in the national drive to provide homes to people. We are committed to supporting the construction industry by providing the infrastructure that will enable new homes and businesses to be connected to our networks.
As CEO it is my priority to ensure that Irish Water continues to build our capacity to support national housing objectives including the Housing for All Programme. We have one of the largest investment portfolios in the State, with €5.35billion being invested between 2020 and 2024 to improve water services infrastructure.
We have also significantly increased our capability to support the delivery of housing. In 2021 Irish Water issued positive connection offers associated with 32,404 housing units.
And we are on track to exceed that in 2022, with positive connection offers associated with over 18,000 housing units in the first half of this year alone.
Our Connections and Developer Services team is actively engaging with developers and their representative bodies, including the Construction Industry Federation, on an ongoing basis to identify where and how we can improve our service to them.
Engaging with developers
This has led to the roll out of initiatives such as the publication of water and wastewater capacity registers, which give guidance to developers as to what areas have the water infrastructure in place to support development.
We have listened closely to the industry and moved fast to alleviate any blockages in the connections process, for example through the roll out of our Self-Lay in the Public Roads programme and the Experience- Based Contractor Accreditation scheme.
Both of these innovations have helped streamline the connections process while also allowing us to ensure the integrity of our infrastructure now and into the future.
We are also working with our regulator, the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU), to develop a policy in relation to the First Mover Initiative whereby developers who are first to develop in new areas do not face disproportionate costs in relation to the rollout of new infrastructure.
We hope to make further progress in this area in the coming months. Notwithstanding the significant progress
that we have made, challenges remain. Construction inflation is an issue for everyone involved in
infrastructure delivery, and Irish Water is no exception.
We recognise that our suppliers, contractors and other delivery partners are facing increased costs and we are working with them to ensure that investment in essential infrastructure continues.
Another issue impacting the delivery of strategic infrastructure is the lengthy and complex process associated with planning, land acquisition and other statutory consents.
We need to ensure our planning and regulatory system is fit for purpose to support sustainable development, while also respecting the rights of all citizens to have their say on developments which affect them.
We will continue to work with all stakeholders to find the best way to achieve this when it comes to water and wastewater services. Finally, my message to the construction industry is this: We want to work with you. We have the team in place and we have the capacity to deliver.
I would encourage all developers and builders to familiarise themselves with our codes of practice and our connections process, engage with us early in your project, and let us help you get the job done.
I am confident that by working together and combining our knowledge, skills and expertise we can meet Ireland’s housing needs, while ensuring these new homes have reliable, sustainable water services, and that we protect the environment for future generations.