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924 new beds for UCD - if building sites can reopen


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University College Dublin (UCD) has announced it will build more than 900 new rooms for students before next September - but the plans are subject to the reopening of construction sites in the coming weeks.

Phase One of the 3,000-bed development - that includes a village centre for the students - was due for completion last year but was delayed due to the closing of the construction sector.

"With the proviso that construction is allowed to open up, UCD expects to open 924 new bed spaces for the coming academic year," a spokesperson for the university told the Sunday Independent.

The university has kept campus residences open this year despite lectures going online. It means that up to 2,000 students have been able to live on campus over the past year.

UCD says it has specific Covid-19 protocols for residents and, although there were a small number of cases, it did not experience any outbreaks or clusters. It has pledged to refund rent pro-rata to any student resident who decides to return home during the academic year and says it will maintain this pledge for the coming year.

The current number of resident spaces on campus is 3,168 and will rise to 4,092 when the 924 beds open.

UCD also expects to start construction of a further 1,254 beds once the Government allows construction to open up, giving a total of 5,346 beds.

A further project to deliver another 700 beds is in the pipeline.

"We are acutely aware of the pressure on our students in finding accommodation," the university's bursar David Kelly said.

"This significant extra supply of 2,200 beds of on-campus accommodation, which comes with many added benefits including sports and amenity facilities plus pastoral care, will make coming to UCD a better experience for our students needing local accommodation.

"It will also alleviate some of the wider pressure on the housing market in Dublin."

In recent weeks the head of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) Tom Parlon has expressed his frustration that, despite stringent protocols and a commendable safety record, the majority of the sector has remained closed amid Ireland's growing housing crisis.

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It is estimated up to €3bn in construction output will be lost this year due to pandemic restrictions while half of the 1,500 building sites in Ireland for projects worth more than €1m have stayed closed in the Level 5 lockdown.

"We understand that this is a very difficult time for the Government," Mr Parlon said.

"We've presented the facts around how minimal a risk construction is reopening. Last week there were 404 new Covid outbreaks, one was associated with construction. There were four in hospitals, two in nursing homes, 24 in schools and 16 in childcare facilities.

"We have the procedures in place to mitigate Covid-19 and that's been proven over the past year. With 40,000 people working on sites currently, this shows exactly how we can manage Covid-19.

"There's a lot of speculation that the Government might only reopen half of the half it shut down in January. This will consign about 20,000 workers to another month of unnecessary misery and cost hundreds of millions.

"A partial reopening of the partially closed construction industry is a cop-out and only prolongs the negative impacts of Covid without any positive impact on the Covid-19 numbers.

"The data show that whatever level of industry is open, our workers do not spread Covid. Since November 2020 only about 145 cases of the thousands we have seen have been associated with outbreaks on construction sites."

The ESRI has predicted the restrictions on building will lead to a 25pc collapse in new housing construction this year, which may mean prices will be pushed up.

With would-be buyers chasing fewer homes, and savings growing in lockdown, tougher Central Bank rules may be needed to curb rocketing prices, said Kieran McQuinn of the ESRI. The worsening housing crisis will be one of the lasting effects of the pandemic, he said.

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