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Collaboration key to accelerating use of Modern Methods of Construction in housing delivery

Minister Coveney hosts construction stakeholder event on how to accelerate adoption of MMC in residential construction

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Simon Coveney TD, today hosted a construction sector stakeholder event focused on identifying ways to drive innovation and boost productivity in residential construction, including through the adoption of modern methods of construction (MMC).

The event is part of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment led cross-departmental and cross-agency initiative on MMC under Housing for All.

Stakeholders heard updates on various government initiatives currently underway to speed up delivery times for new home construction, increase use of off-site manufacturing and drive transformation in the sector, including:

  • Enterprise Ireland’s new €5 million Construct Innovate Technology Centre
  • Solas’s new Housing Modern Methods Demonstration Park at Mount Lucas Co. Offaly
  • increasing digitalisation in the sector through TU Dublin’s Build Digital initiative
  • new innovation and productivity advisory and financial supports to the residential construction sector from Enterprise Ireland under its Built to Innovate programme
  • changes in procurement of social housing delivery under Housing for All

Industry and professional bodies from across the residential construction value chain engaged on further steps that could be taken to remove barriers to MMC adoption and effective ways of encouraging innovation. Together with representatives from a cross-section of State agencies and bodies active in supporting the transformation of the sector, from certification though to procurement, digitisation and upskilling, they also reflected on the long-term vision for the industry.

Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Simon Coveney TD, said:

“We all know that solving the housing crisis is a complex challenge that requires a collective effort to speed up delivery times. Government is committed to working with the construction sector to embrace innovation and boost productivity in house building, to ensure it delivers the Government’s ambition in Housing for All.

“Ireland has a track record of being an innovator in commercial and industrial building and our abilities in house and apartment building, need to be part of that reputation.

“We need to step up our collaboration between the public and private sector to develop and implement workable solutions to accelerate the adoption of innovation and modern methods in construction.”

The feedback captured during the event will be used to inform the development of a roadmap for MMC adoption in publicly procured residential construction, a priority action the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment is leading with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage under the updated Housing for All Action Plan. This work includes progressing MMC in procurement frameworks and addressing related implementation challenges across regulation, skills development, targets for MMC in public procurement, and capacity building/leadership in the construction sector.

Forging partnerships with industry stakeholders is an important output of the event.

This is the first in a series of construction industry engagements planned by the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment for 2023.  

Notes to editors

The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment’s role in Housing for All implementation

As part of the whole of government Housing for All plan, DETE is working to promote construction sector innovation and productivity, including through the adoption of Modern Methods of Construction (an umbrella term used to capture a range of innovative construction processes like panelised housing or 3D volumetric/modular pods), to help in the faster delivery of high-quality (compliant), environmentally sustainable, and more-affordable housing.

Examples of key Housing for All actions that DETE has already delivered to promote the wider adoption of innovative construction methods are:

  • On 9 December 2022, the department (with Enterprise Ireland) launched Construct Innovate, a construction specific and industry-led research and development centre, which represents the latest addition to the joint Enterprise Ireland and IDA “Technology Centre” Programme that has been operating for over a dozen years. To ensure that it delivers for housing, it will be focused on key industry challenges and innovation in residential construction in its first three years of operation. Construct Innovate has initial funding of €5 million over 5 years, and is a consortium hosted by University of Galway that also includes Trinity College Dublin, University College Dublin, University College Cork, and the Irish Green Building Council. Through the Housing for All Implementation Fund, the department has secured an additional €0.5 million in funding for Construct Innovate for 2023.
  • The expansion of the remit of Enterprise Ireland to work with the domestic housebuilding sector for the first time. As part of its ‘Built to Innovate’ programme, Enterprise Ireland is focused on driving productivity and innovation in housebuilding, including increased use of Modern Methods of Construction, and has opened up lean and digital grants and funding for research and innovation projects in the domestic residential construction sector (previously these were only made available to exporting firms).
  • The introduction of comprehensive changes to the employment permits system in Ireland in October 2021. An additional eight categories of occupation within the construction sector were made eligible for a General Employment Permit. The number of construction sector employment permits issued in 2022 was over 140% higher than for 2021, reflecting the general increase in applications for employment permits. Notably, processing times for all employment permits have seen significant reductions.
  • The tasking of the IDA with engaging their network to promote Ireland as a destination for innovative international construction firms to locate.
  • The publication by NSAI of information on the certification process for Modern Methods of Construction and overseeing the onsite installation of such products to ensure that they comply with relevant legislation. 

DETE has established and Chairs (at A/Sec level) a cross-departmental and cross agency MMC Leadership and Integration Group to drive the development and greater adoption of MMC in residential construction. The Group brings together policymakers relevant to the success of the construction sector including on innovation, public procurement, sustainability, housing and the education and skills agenda.

The Group is identifying and progressing actions to accelerate innovation and MMC adoption in residential construction, and also has a key objective in ensuring that there is an integrated approach across various initiatives and entities with a role in promoting MMC.

The MMC Group has already delivered on several actions relating to MMC that have been included in the updated HfA Plan in 2022. These include:

  • developing a roadmap (with targets) for MMC adoption in publicly procured residential construction – including progression of new procurement approaches in social housing that will promote the use of MMC (DETE with DHLGH)
  • the launch of the first phase of the National Demonstration Park for MMC (DFHERIS/Solas/Laois-Offaly ETB)
  • training interventions for public procurers, and Building Control authorities, on MMC (DHLGH)
  • training interventions for relevant construction professional bodies on MMC (DHLGH and relevant departments/bodies)
  • skills forecasting for MMC through the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs (DETE/EGFSN)
  • enhancing Ireland’s Agrément system (an NSAI scheme for certification of innovative construction products or systems) for MMC (DETE)
  • developing a dashboard of MMC metrics to benchmark adoption and track progress (DETE)
  • identifying and responding to gaps in leadership training for the residential construction sector in the areas of company leadership, change management, and financial management (D/FHERIS with Skillnet, EI)

The MMC Group is also working to ensure an integrated approach across a range of existing and emerging MMC relevant entities and initiatives, each of which presented at the event. These include the Construct Innovate tech centre (Enterprise Ireland/DETE); the planned Demonstration Park for MMC (led by SOLAS/Laois-Offaly ETB); the Build Digital project (sponsored by DPER); and Enterprise Ireland’s Built to Innovate initiative (extension of innovation and productivity supports to domestically focused housing firms), so as to maximise synergies and ensure rapid transfer of knowledge and skills to the construction sector.

Ireland’s construction sector

In 2021, Ireland’s population reached 5 million for the first time since the 1850s. Some estimates, including Project Ireland 2040, predict that we will have an extra million people within the next 20 years. To service the current population and the projected 20% increase, the Government is investing billions (€165bn National Development Plan) - substantially above the EU average – in building new homes, roads, public transport, schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure. The Irish construction sector employs over 171,000 people which is 6.7% of total employed in the economy and represents 2% of GDP.

The Irish construction sector is a major driver of economic activity. It provides the social, economic, and productive infrastructure required to sustain economic growth and competitiveness and attract foreign direct investment.

Enterprise Ireland’s High-Tech Construction and Housing team works with a portfolio of 450 client companies that achieved exports of €2.89 billion in 2021, up 24% on the previous year.

Enterprise Ireland's Agency Mandate has been expanded to allow a suite of existing research, innovation, lean, digitalisation and green offers to be made available to domestic residential construction sector. This 'Built To Innovate' campaign was launched on 21 March 2022.

Despite having some high performing companies, the construction industry overall has major challenges including fragmentation, boom-bust cycles and comparatively low productivity compared to other sectors of the economy.

Working with the Government’s Construction Sector Group, and supporting the implementation of Housing for All, Enterprise Ireland is leading the drive for productivity and innovation through the establishment of the Construction Technology Centre which will sit alongside a Build Digital Centre (est. 2021), the forthcoming Demonstration Park at Mount Lucas, and other related initiatives.