Cost of building a house could rise by €15,000
THE cost of the new National Children’s Hospital could rise by as much as 40pc because of new Covid-19 workplace safety measures, the construction industry’s representative body has suggested.
Construction Industry Federation director general Tom Parlon told the Dáil’s Covid-19 committee that the new protocol for building sites, which include measures like physical distancing, would add significantly to the cost of large and complex projects.
The cost of the new National Children’s Hospital is expected to run close to €2bn with the recent estimates putting the bill for the project at €1.7bn and rising - making it one of the most expensive hospitals in the world.
Asked by Labour TD Duncan Smith about the impact of new safety measures on projects such as the Children’s Hospital, Mr Parlon told committee: “Industry people have said that to me that for the most complex ones it could be in the range of 40pc.”
Mr Parlon, who did not directly reference the NCH project, gave an example of one site where there would usually be 1,800 workers but that because of the new measures “500 to 600” would be the maximum number of workers allowed on a site at any one time.
A 40pc increase in the cost of the NCH project would bring the final bill close to €2.4bn.
Mr Smith said: “This figure is astronomical. The Irish people have already contributed a significant amount into the National Children’s Hospital to the tune of €2 billion.
“The Government Procurement Office needs to now publish revised estimated final costs for the National Children’s Hospital and make known how much they anticipate the cost of the project to rise by.”
Mr Parlon also said that the cost of building a house could rise by as much as €15,000 and as much as €20,000 for an apartment because of the new coronavirus workplace safety measures.
He said that based on conversations with colleagues in Europe the extra cost would be between 5pc and 10pc across the sector in answer to questions from Fianna Fáil TD John McGuinness.
Mr Parlon relayed a conversation he had with a “very substantial” contractor in Ireland who estimated that the extra costs per house would be between €10,000 and €15,000 and that this could add as much as €20,000 to the cost of building apartments.
He said that physical distancing measures would mean that the 15 weeks it usually takes to build a house will increase to 25 weeks.
There has been a “significant drop in productivity” on construction sites as a result of the safety measures to protect against Covid-19, Mr Parlon said.
He said it would take months for the industry to reach previous output levels and that there was “no big bang return to work” on building sites yesterday.
Larger contractors allowed a reduced workforce on site yesterday to assess sites, test new measures and embed the new protocols, Mr Parlon told TDs.
He said that the sector’s standard operating procedure (SOP) translated the latest HSE, WHO and medical advice for use on sites.
He told the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee: “Reports are positive but implementation of the SOP is challenging and companies are reporting a significant drop in productivity.”
Mr Parlon said that the sector has been able to recommence work without significant support and that 100,000 employees “can now gradually be taken off” the State’s pandemic unemployment payment and the temporary wage subsidy scheme.
Dr Sharon McGuinness, Health and Safety Authority chief executive, told the committee that the authority had 67 field inspectors to ensure compliance with the new workplace protocol and that they have already been out checking and enforcing compliance with it.
She said there have been over 80 unannounced inspections since Monday and the HSA carries out 10,000 inspections per year. She said the authority would need additional resources to oversee compliance with the protocol. “I am confident the resources the authority needs will be fully there,” she said. She declined to say how many extra inspectors the authority is seeking.
Under questioning from Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane, Dr McGuinness said there were eight inspectors for the south-east region, including Athlone, Kilkenny, Waterford, Tipperary. Patricia King, Ictu general secretary, said that 67 inspectors were “not adequate at all” to ensure compliance with the new protocol.
Mr Parlon said that HSA inspections on sites so far had been “quite robust” but that no major issues had arisen.