Before Questions, I was referring to the retarding effect of having dual responsibility for the provision of houses, and having this responsibility shared between the Department of Local Government and the local authority. I think I said the Minister tried in some measure to remove the need for the submissions that have been made for years. We on this side of the House have been pressing for years for some sort of an arrangement whereby a submission would not be necessary. The Department have laid down normal building standards and so long as these standards were roughly conformed with, that would meet the situation and the local authorities could just get on with their job. The Department would tell them in advance the approximate amount of money it was proposed to spend on building in any particular year, based on an assessment of their building needs at that time and the amount of money available for building generally throughout the country.
I cannot see why the Minister still continues to insist on submissions and tenders which create additional hold-ups in the provision of housing. I do not think that serves any useful purpose whatever. Local authority engineers and architects are quite capable of deciding what is or what is not a suitable site, what is or what is not a nice type of building, and what is or what is not suitable accommodation. Ordinary standards could be laid down to be followed, and provided the local authority kept within those standards, I do not know what the Minister or the Department would have to fear by allowing the local authorities to do their own job and by allowing the professional men employed by local authorities to take full responsibility for the siting and carrying out of housing schemes.
The Minister has said that it is no longer necessary to consult him in relation to a housing site. This is right and it is wrong. I have had experience of this, as the Minister knows. If there is in the area of land being purchased by a local authority a portion to be set aside for recreational purposes then the whole area must be submitted for sanction to the Minister. Here is where the Minister can hold up a building project. I am sorry to say that in one case that I am only too well aware of the Minister refused to sanction purchase of a first-class building site in an area very close to him and to me. I am sorry to have to say that I believe that site was turned down on nothing more than political grounds. There were two owners concerned in a 36-acre site. They were both well-known Fine Gael supporters. For this, and for no other reason, the site was turned down by the Minister. Never again will land in that area be purchased as cheaply as the price at which that site was offered.
I raised the matter in the House by way of Parliamentary Question and was told that the town planning people advised the Minister that this was an unsuitable site. That is contradicted at local level by the people concerned who say that this is an excellent housing site. Some of it has since been sold for building and sanctioned for building and it was sold at a higher price than the price at which it was to have been purchased by the local authority.
This is a serious indictment in an area where there is considerable housing need. There was included in this site an area for a recreation centre, a football field and something for the people locally. In this case it was possible to purchase land at a reasonable figure for that type of amenity. We hear a great deal about the importance of these amenities. Immediately a proposition came to the Minister to provide housing and amenities it was turned down and, I am sorry to say, for no good reason. In case the Minister might be in any doubt, I am referring to the site in Newcastle and giving the reasons why, as I believe, it was turned down. I am glad the Minister is here because I want to say it in his presence.
Generally speaking, it is right to say that in relation to the purchase of sites for building, the local authority can go ahead and buy except in a case where part of the area is to be used for recreational purposes. Invariably, where there is a tract of land, some of it cannot be used for housing but can be used as a recreational centre. When this is involved, the Minister must make the decision in regard to it. In my view, this reference to the Minister is totally unnecessary. Local authorities are keenly aware of requirements, especially in a rapidly developing area such as Dublin city and county. They know where the failures have been over the years. If it is possible to learn from mistakes, certainly there were enough mistakes made in relation to the non-provision of amenities in places where there are large communities.
I must emphasise that over the years the Department have failed to take an active part in keeping down building costs. We had the National Building Advisory Council. I do not know what that council were doing and nobody else knows what service they provided for the building industry. That has not been evident. The cost of that council was £40 000. I do not know what advice they gave, what work programme was set for them. Nobody knows what the performance was. Now, after a number of years it has been decided to do away with this council because, apparently, nothing came from them. It was jobs for the boys. That is the only thing anybody can think of. The council produced nothing. Now they are to be merged with An Foras Forbartha. I hope there are useful people among them who can give service in An Foras Forbartha. They have not given any indication of doing anything worthwhile for the building industry where they were.
The Government have done a good deal to increase building costs. There was the turnover tax and the wholesale tax, increasing building costs by approximately eight per cent. There was the failure to extend services. There was the rapid increase in the cost of building land and people were allowed to speculate. That is Government responsibility. The Government allowed it to happen.
The latest thing is devaluation. I am reliably informed that building materials generally will increase by 17 to 20 per cent; that the cost of timber will increase, certainly, by 17 to 20 per cent. The people in the timber business anticipate that they will be permitted to increase the price by 20 per cent. A great variety of fittings will also increase in price as will copper and many other building materials.
In addition, there has been an increase in interest rates on money for building purposes. Of course, this increase was permitted by the Minister for Industry and Commerce and it is not a matter over which the Minister for Local Government has any control but it will certainly increase the cost of building and the price that people purchasing houses will have to pay. I know that this whole matter is under consideration. A peculiar thing about it is that in England where they operate on a lesser margin they have more money than they know what to do with. They cannot get sufficient people to take it from them and they are now looking elsewhere to invest the money that they got for building and they will buy furniture and household effects of one sort or another. Here we do not seem to be able to get enough money at this high rate of interest for building. All the factors to which I have referred are increasing building costs enormously. It emphasises how we missed the bus by not building houses when the cost was very much less than it is today.
Deputies have referred to the housing grants. Most of the housing grants were fixed in 1948. There is no justification for continuing those grants at the present level. There are upper limits of £1,650 and £1,100 for serviced and unserviced houses. It is supposed to be two-thirds and one-third. They bear no relationship whatever to present day building costs.
The Minister may say that the percentage contribution from the Department has increased over the years. It has increased only because more houses have come within the two-thirds subsidy group. People in overcrowded houses are now included in that group. Heretofore they were excluded if they were living in overcrowded conditions as cottage tenants. The number of people eligible for the higher subsidy has increased. In that way the Department's percentage contribution has increased but it is no longer a realistic figure. It would be far better if the Department were to say: "Here is the money. We will give you 50 per cent. of all housing costs. Go and do your job and we will not interfere any more." Perhaps then we would get something done.
Of all the private houses built in the country, it is right, I think, to say that about 55 per cent are built in County Dublin. This is a very important matter for us and I think it is completely unrealistic now to have the upper loan limit pegged down at £270. There are people who are now debarred from buying their own houses because of the amount of deposit they have to find. It is time a sensible look was taken at this. I do not know whether or not the Minister is aware of this, but for some time past there has been only a trickle of applicants to Dublin County Council for SDA loans. This will have a very serious effect on the building industry all over the country and on the employment position in Dublin and elsewhere.
The Minister has said there is no shortage of money: he has emphasised that. As far as I am aware, that statement is correct; I do not think we have any building scheme held up at the moment for want of money. But many people do not believe that there is no shortage of money because, for years, we had a Minister here telling us emphatically there was no scarcity of money and, at the same time, plans were being trotted up and back, up and back, and every possible artificial delay was resorted to simply because there was no money. No money, or only very little money, was provided for years. At the moment I know of no project in County Dublin held up because the Department say they have no money. The money is forthcoming but building development is not always possible because services have not been provided. It is the past rather than the present which is responsible for the present slow pace and the hold-up in building generally.
Private house building will, I am afraid, suffer a severe blow unless a keen look is taken at the present grants and the upper loan limits. As well as that, if the Government are satisfied it is necessary to increase interest rates, then there should be a subsidy provided by the Government to enable people to avail of housing finance. As I said earlier, a house is a fundamental need. There are many people affected by the present unsatisfactory grant and loan system. Young married couples or young couples anxious to get married can do nothing to provide themselves with houses because they have not got the necessary qualifications. Unless they are flowing out the windows of their in-laws' houses, they do not qualify for consideration by the local authority. Many of these young people have told me that if there was some system whereby local authorities would build houses which they could purchase paying an initial deposit of £150 to £200, they would be able to get houses. They have not got the means to build their own houses.
It would be well worth the Minister's while going into this matter to see if it would be possible to provide a scheme which would encourage these young people to save for a deposit in order to provide themselves with their own homes. They could then marry in the knowledge that they would have a house into which they could walk on marriage. At the moment many of them get disheartened and emigrate. They will not find things any easier on the other side; they may even find them more difficult, but they go in the hope that things will not be as bad as they are here.
I said earlier that we provide one-third local authority houses here while in the North the figure is two-thirds. We have a much greater number of people in the lower income group and something should be done to enable them to get houses. They should not have to suffer the humiliation of living in overcrowded conditions and in accommodation devoid of sanitation.
Deputy Foley commented at some length this morning on the difficulties of getting planning permission and on the question of the taking-in-charge of unfinished estates. With regard to planning permission, the real problem here is that water supplies and sewerage are not available. I cannot understand why it is regarded as more sanitary to have no septic tank than to have people living in conditions devoid of any sanitary accommodation of any kind. The danger of pollution and the hazard to health should be infinitely greater than they would be if septic tanks were provided. Yet, local authorities are adamant about this and they have the last word. It takes considerable pressure to get permission to build a house on a fairly small plot with septic tank accommodation. Our standards are quite different from those in certain parts of the Continent. In some cases the septic tank on the Continent is actually under the house. I would not, perhaps, recommend that, but I think we could be much more liberal in our approach thereby facilitating more people in providing themselves with better housing accommodation and facilities.
We seem to have an antipathy to treatment works of any description. That may be because we are a small island with easy access to the sea. In countries very much bigger than ours, the technique of treatment works must by now have reached a very high standard. I do not think enough research has gone into this kind of thing here because I am aware of developments which have been held up for years simply because nobody is prepared to accept that treatment works are sufficiently safe in dealing with sewerage to ensure that the effluent need not be regarded as a hazard to health. This attitude retards development and more consideration should be given to the possibilities in this direction.
Once services are provided planning is fairly straightforward but sufficient consideration has never been given to the development of recreational amenities. Development has taken place in a haphazard sort of way. Building started and went on, and on, and there was no overall comprehensive scheme for a large community area. That has resulted in bad planning. We have now areas which have been built up for as long as 15 years which have not yet been taken in charge. Deputy Foley spoke about how unreasonable officials are in relation to this.
Considerable progress has been made with a very difficult situation in the past two or three years but an immense amount of work still remains to be done. The Minister should appeal for the fullest measure of co-operation from developers in relation to unfinished estates, open spaces and such difficulties. It should be decided in advance what will be a public open space and a private open space, whether it has to be paid for and, if so, at what price. It should not be a question of horse-dealing and bargaining when it is done. The residents should know in advance.
Invariably, when people set out to buy a house, they are shown an artist's impression—wonderful layout, trees, a public park, and so on. At the end, however, it is not a public park. It is something the county council or the local authority, or whatever it may be, have to set out to try to purchase from the developer and the haggling goes on for years while the place remains like a prairie. I do not know who is responsible but the open spaces in the whole area of County Dublin that are not taken in charge are a disgrace to the wide world.
As far as I know, at the present time the Department of Agriculture are responsible, under the Noxious Weeds Act, for having the place cleaned up. Whether or not they consider that their responsibility ends in rural Ireland, the fact is that nobody seems to have responsibility here. The Garda Síochána will not do anything about it unless they get instructions from the Department of Agriculture. The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries should see where his responsibility lies and if possible, take it over himself because these patches are an eyesore and a disgrace in many of the housing schemes throughout this whole Dublin region. They are a blot and a disgrace.
On the one hand, we have an active group working on Tidy Towns. On the other hand, we have this eyesore which is being ignored, together with the derelict sites that have been described here by so many people. I think the reason the whole derelict sites situation has not been taken seriously is that the grant is far too small. Coupled with decent grants, the local authorities should be given sufficient power, if the owners of derelict sites are no longer interested, to go in and, by some sort of compulsory purchase arrangement, to deal expeditiously with the take-over of these derelict sites and clean them up and make our towns and villages much more pleasant to look at and to live in.
What does the Minister intend to do about the serious question of rates? In the Dublin region, this year, on health alone, we are confronted with an increased demand for £2 million from the ratepayers. This is a staggering increase in the rate demand. It is due in some measure to the fact that, early this year, we were promised that the Government would continue their undertaking to stabilise rates for health at the 1965 level. The estimates were prepared on that basis. Then, when they were prepared and passed and the demand was made on the local authorities concerned, we were informed that this could not continue. That leaves us with the backlog of last year and the rising prices of the present year. When we consider all the other services that have to be provided by local authorities, I believe that the increase in the present year will simply be intolerable.
I said earlier that 55 per cent of all houses being built in the country are in County Dublin. This will hit those people particularly hard. They have stretched their resources to the limit to provide themselves with a house. They are confronted with repayments on the advances they got to build their house. In addition, they are now confronted with this staggering rate. Many of them have young families who are reaching their most expensive stage.
The whole rating system needs radically to be changed. It is all very well to say that an inter-departmental committee is sitting to consider this whole question of rates but something must be done in the meantime while they are working out what is equitable. Rates are levied regardless of the ability of an individual to pay them. Whether you are a millionaire or a pauper, your house is valued in the same way; the rate demand is the same and you must pay it. This is a very serious matter.
I am amazed at this serious juncture there has been no comment from the Minister in respect of a county that will be so affected by rates that are rocketing. I am amazed that there has not been a single suggestion as to how to lessen the burden. There has been no indication as to what proportion of rates will in future be transferred to the Central Exchequer. Is it not even proposed to increase from 50 per cent to 75 per cent the cost of general hospitals and tuberculosis hospitals? Is it not advisable to transfer the housing subsidy from the local authorities to the central authority or, in large measure, to change that whole system?
A considerable amount of criticism of the Naas Road has arisen recently because of a number of serious accidents and, in some cases, fatal accidents. Unfortunately, the man who has come in for the brunt of this criticism does not in any way deserve it—the county engineer. There is not a more brilliant man, a better man or an abler engineer in the whole of Ireland. If there is an accident on the Naas Road, people immediately jump to conclusions and ask what the county engineer was thinking of when he allowed that road to be built. This is an excellent road. When the cost of land and all the other factors that go to the making of a road are added together, I believe it is costing £150,000 per mile. A motorway, instead of a dual carriageway, would cost at least £1 million per mile and that sort of money is not in the country. We should be quite happy to get a motorway between Dublin and Swords but it will cost something like that.
I think the Naas Road is a perfect road. What I think is wrong is the inadequate signposting there and the excess speed and the excess drinking which are the cause of the accidents. I think it fair to say that the local authority in question are confined to the standard signs available up to the present. This road has been designed by the county engineer but designed in full agreement and co-operation with the Department's engineers. They had to be satisfied, and were satisfied, at every stage in the design of that road that this was the best possible road in the circumstances. The signposting is totally inadequate, and if people want the type of safety they are looking for, I think you need two other roads on either side of the dual carriageway, two service roads that people can go on and off any way they like.
A count was made a short time ago and at least two per cent of the people using the road were travelling at over 90 miles an hour. That is the sort of thing that is responsible for accidents. At that speed, or at much lesser speeds, there is no possibility of pulling up at junctions or dealing with any possible emergency likely to arise. I give full credit to the Minister for having speed limits on this road. There would have been fewer accidents—I know there have been some since the speed limits were imposed and I believe those involved were not observing the speed limits, although I cannot say that positively—if the limit were general. If there is justification for a speed limit of 60 m.p.h. on a road as good as the Naas Road, surely there is justification for a national speed limit of 60 m.p.h.? Where will you get a better road? The thing is completely contradictory.
I think the people of this country have gone mad speeding and I ask the Minister, for goodness sake, to get the professional people in his Department to get down to the problem of signposting on the Naas Road. You need a special set of signs for a dual carriageway carrying the volume of traffic there is on the Naas Road, signs for crossing and signs for junctions. Some people condemn the straight crossings on the Naas Road. This got adequate consideration not only by the county council engineer but by the Department's engineers also and they were satisfied that this was the safest type of crossing, that if you had turns left and turns right, you would have vehicles crossing the road at an angle and they would not have anything like the same vision as by going straight across.
Another thing that is wrong is that we have no control over access on this carriageway. I cannot advocate legislation in speaking on an Estimate but this is a serious snag, that the legislation is inadequate to control access. That gives rise to many difficulties. The signs are completely inadequate. If you go down that road, at night particularly—somebody spoke today about the effect of a wet night and windscreens— you go in the face of a blaze of light and you have no hope of seeing those junctions in time to be ready for somebody crossing. Also it has been pointed out that trucks and trailers in Northern Ireland and England are compelled to have lights on the sides as well as in front and behind. For this type of crossing, they need lights at the sides. I want to emphasise that this is a first-class road and any criticism of it is, I think, totally unjustified. The only thing wrong is the speed and the signposting. The speed limit has already been imposed and not too soon.
I have dealt with most things I wanted to raise but I missed one thing in dealing with housing, that is, the fact that the National Building Agency are now engaging in a fairly big way in local authority housing. I have some doubts whether this is a good development. It rather confines the number of people who can undertake this work to a few and there is considerable criticism about this. If you advertise a scheme of the size of Ballymun or of the size of the scheme in Cork and you want the whole job undertaken by the one contractor, you narrow the field down and you can almost know in advance who will get the contract because the number of people able to undertake a scheme of that size with a hope of finishing it in a reasonable time is limited.
I should like to know something about how we set about giving out schemes of this size and why we choose to do this. For instance, is there any reason why the Limerick scheme of 600 houses should not be split up into six units of 100 houses or three lots of 200 houses and so enable greater competition to take place among a greater number of contractors? I have heard very severe criticism from contractors throughout the country that they are debarred from tendering because of the way these schemes are given out. I do not know how tendering takes place but there is something here, if I might quote from the Minister's speech, where he says:
The dwellings to be built in Cork will be constructed on the Domus system which has been developed by the Sisk organisation, based on in situ concrete crosswalls, with specially designed floors and spandrils. The Limerick houses will be built by Messrs. Burke on rationalised traditional building methods. I have undertaken that the local authorities concerned will be consulted with particular regard to layouts, design, and pricing on the negotiation of the terms of the contracts. This definitive step marks the culmination of efforts, to evolve special housing projects which will enable the housing authorities to come to grips once and for all with the serious housing problems which still exist in both cities.
How do we set about getting contracts? I saw something about "letters of intent" having been issued to these groups and accepted by them. What does the Minister mean by "letters of intent"? I think he should explain to the House the manner in which these tenders are given out because these things are always surrounded by suspicion that somebody is getting a hand-out of some kind. I can see the difficulty in the case of large contracts of this size of tying it down. As far as I know, there is no exact plan and specification. The firms concerned seem to be asked to provide a package deal and there is a rough agreement on the type of package deal put up but how the pricing takes place afterwards, I do not know. Especially does the question arise when I see that local authorities are to come in on some sections of this and decide something about prices and one thing and another. I do not know where the local authorities come into it when it is being done by the National Building Agency and directed by them.
I have heard all these criticisms and I think this is the place to bring up the matter. There is no use in talking outside the House and assuming certain things are being done for certain reasons. This is where the Minister, when replying, will, I hope, tell the country what is taking place, how this business is tightened up and how they let out large building schemes, and indicate, beyond yea or nay, that it is not on the Government's preference for the colour of an individual's eyes that large contracts of this sort are given to him.
I should also like the Minister to explain how consultants are appointed for various big works throughout the country. There are very big development schemes ready to start in County Dublin, and there are a number of consultants to be appointed. I should like to know how we advertise for these consultants. Are they selected by the manager or are they selected on a competetive basis, so that all consultants are given an opportunity to apply? There is a great deal of jealousy about this sort of thing. There is the feeling that many people are being debarred and that there is about £30 million worth of work in the hands of a few consultants at the present time.
In relation to the work of the National Building Agency, it has been said to me by people who have tendered for a couple of these schemes that one of the things you are required to do when tendering for houses being built by the National Building Agency is to put in a p.c. sum for trusses provided by the consortium in Ballymun. There are ten trusses in the ordinary house and the p.c. sum is fixed at £6 per truss. My information is that the maximum price for a truss, if provided on the site, would be £4. I should like to hear from the Minister if that is so. If it is not so, it should be said publicly that it is not so. I have had this from somebody who has put in tenders on a number of occasions and who said he was required to put in this p.c. sum, and it is specified that this must be used.
The Minister has said he has provided a booklet to advise house purchasers. I am very glad, and it is not before time. The Minister is to be congratulated on that. Most people buy a house once in a lifetime, and it is often enough, because many of them run into a pile of difficulties in this regard. It is only right that they should be forewarned and, particularly, that they should be told that even though there is a loan and a grant from the local authorities and from the State, this is no guarantee of the quality of the house they are buying, that no clerk of works has been employed to supervise the various stages of the work, and that it will be up to them to get a qualified person to advise them on the quality of a house before they buy it and on the various amenities that are supposed to be provided adjacent to the house which they propose to purchase.
I have some doubts about this whole idea of high-rise flats. I have visited the Ballymun site and I have said here in the House before that I think the quality of these flats is first-class, that a very good job has been done. However, land is not so scarce that people cannot be given a traditional type home. It is wrong and unnatural to put people with families 15 storeys up. It is completely unwarranted. I am totally opposed to it, and I should like to be on record as saying that. If there had been any proper anticipation of housing needs this panic effort would not be required, and it represents a panic effort in my view.
I have dealt with the principal matters with which I wanted to deal, and have given my view as to what are the main causes of the difficulties in relation to what I believe to be the most important activity in Local Government at the present time, that is, the provision of houses in sufficient numbers and the extension of services.