Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Joint Venture Housing Scheme.

19.

asked the Minister for the Environment the measures he intends to take to ensure that the joint venture housing scheme proposed in the national plan will not lead to an overall reduction in the quality of housing.

20.

asked the Minister for the Environment if he will give an assurance that his Department's Circular N8/82 will not be waived in order to accommodate joint venture housing.

21.

asked the Minister for the Environment if he will give an assurance that the building control regulations will not be waived in order to accommodate joint venture housing.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 19, 20 and 21, inclusive, together.

Joint venture housing involves the construction of private houses for sale to local authority tenants, local authority tenant purchasers and other persons in need of housing. The essential feature of the scheme is that the houses are built under licences granted by local authorities on lands made available by them for this purpose. Joint venture housing is not part of the local authority house building programme and as such the standards and procedures set out in my Department's circular N 8/82, issued in April 1982, are not applicable to it. However, private houses built under joint venture schemes must have all the necessary planning and by-law approvals and the requirements relating to the payment of new house grants and mortgage subsidy must also be met. I can assure the Deputy that there will be no question of waiving the requirements of building regulations in relation to joint venture housing and that I am satisfied that joint venture housing will not lead to an overall reduction in the quality of housing.

Would the Minister agree that the joint venture housing to which he referred has existed for a long number of years, where local authorities give sites to small builders to construct houses? Is this the joint venture housing to which the Minister is referring?

No. The joint venture housing scheme to which I referred was the one started in February 1982 under which housing authorities could encourage owner-occupation by providing under licence building land at cost price for the construction of modestly priced houses for sale to purchasers approved by the local authorities. That was the 1982 scheme.

Is the Minister aware that a local authority, in particular the Dublin City Council, are considering opening up this to a wide extent to replace building their own houses by giving sites to builders to build houses for the corporation? This is the type of joint venture housing to which I am referring. If the corporation invite builders to build houses and then sell them back to the corporation, will the Minister give me an assurance that in those cases the existing standards of the Dublin Corporation will be adhered to? Is the Minister aware that the standards set by local authorities are to ensure minimum maintenance costs for which local authorities are responsible? Will those standards be maintained?

Joint venture housing is intended as additional housing. It is not to replace local authority housing. I am satisfied that the standards will comply with the regulations. Local authorities now can go to the market-place and purchase "spec" built houses for their own housing stock and we have instructed them to do this if it would help them to get on with their housing programmes. Local authorities are in the business of providing houses. If they are purchasing houses they have the necessary expertise to ensure that they are of the standard required by them. Under the scheme we are talking about, they can go to the market-place. They will decide whether they should buy but houses should be of a reasonable standard. Otherwise they should not buy them.

Will the Minister agree this has not been the case in the past? Local authorities in former years were burdened with what was called cheap housing and they are still paying for this low cost housing. In the past decade, they have had to pay enormous sums for repairs and structural changes. This is why I am asking if the Minister will give an assurance that local authority houses, whether built to local authority standards or purchased by them, will be of the standard referred to in the circular from the Department of the Environment, No. N8/82, and will be in accordance with the building regulations set by local authorities.

There is no question of local authorities getting back into the area of low cost housing. We had that in the past——

Exactly. The question is how can we avoid it in the future.

The technical people in the corporation have the competence to know if a house is of a reasonable standard.

Did they not have that competence before this?

The low cost housing was of a particular design. The technical people would not necessarily have agreed with it but because of the particular instruction and the format that was designed in that case they did not have a say in the matter. However, we have got that behind us. We are not in the business of having low cost housing but we are allowing local authorities to purchase "spec" built houses if they wish to do so. When they are expending public money local authorities have responsibility to ensure they are getting value for their money and that the houses they buy are of the required standard.

That is precisely the point I want to make. If I may ask a final supplementary question: where local authorities are buying "spec" built houses, will the Minister ensure that they adhere to the standards set out in circular N8/82 and the building regulations?

There would be no question of waiving building regulations under any circumstances. As houses become available on the open market a local authority can buy them. We are not tying them down to circular N8/82 because I do not think that would be advisable. However, that does not mean that the standard will be any lower. We do not want to tie the hands of a local authority from buying houses that might not necessarily be——

Of as good a standard?

No. There will be no question of the Department issuing any instruction to local authorities that they get into the area of buying low cost housing.

Is the Minister saying——

We have had a considerable number of supplementary questions on this matter.

I have not asked any supplementary questions.

I understood Deputy Mac Giolla was dealing with this when he said he was asking a final question.

The Deputy is entitled to ask his questions and surely I am entitled to ask my questions.

I thought the Deputies worked in double harness.

Will the Minister accept that if the requirements of the circular letter to which he referred are not complied with we will have houses with smaller rooms, that do not have adequate thermal insulation and which will not have proper segregation between stairwells, kitchens and living rooms? That would be a disastrous step for local authorities to take in relation to buying such houses for tenants. In the long run they will have to repair, maintain and reconstruct these houses.

As I indicated, local authorities now have the option to buy these houses. It is up to their technical people to ensure there is proper insulation and that the stairwells and other parts of the houses are up to standard. To say that if a room is six inches smaller than it should be a local authority should not buy that house would be to tie their hands. However, that would not mean that the actual fabric of the house or the building standards would be lower. It might be smaller——

The Minister is creating a goldmine for "spec" builders and trouble for local authorities.

We are not putting an imposition on local authorities to buy such houses. We are giving them the option. We are also giving them the option to buy second-hand houses in the market-place and these may not necessarily measure up to the requirements of the circular. Local authorities have the option to act in the interest of getting a good social mix and of getting houses quickly if their building programmes are falling behind. However, I wish to emphasise we are not forcing local authorities to engage in buying. They have an option to buy but they also have the responsibility to ensure that they purchase houses that are up to standard.

Are there limitations in regard to the number of privately built houses local authorities may purchase?

There are no such limitations but obviously local authorities would require the permission of the Department to buy houses. If, for instance, a local authority wished to purchase 50 houses we would not turn down their application for permission on the basis of the number of houses involved. If there were good reasons for their purchasing that number of houses, we would give the permission.

I am pleased to hear the Minister confirm that because some builders are of the opinion that the instruction from the Department was that local authorities would not be permitted to purchase more than five houses in any scheme.

That is not the case. But we would not wish builders to be under the impression that if they build 50 houses the local authority will purchase them. The idea is that at any time a local authority may purchase houses in the market-place. We are not talking about a long-term project because in that case the local authorities could build the houses themselves. The idea is that if their housing programme is falling behind at any time they can take up the slack by buying houses quickly in the market place.

Have local authorities not had the power up to now to purchase on the open market houses that were built privately and have they not exercised that power in many instances? What the Minister is doing now is not new. He is simply encouraging what is already in existence.

It is good housing policy.

I agree but it is not new, as Deputy Mac Giolla seems to think.

Now that we have this new coalition perhaps Deputy Molloy would move over to the other side of the House.

The Government are not doing much that is good but in this instance their policy is good.

Would the Minister agree that builders who would hope to sell houses to local authorities should realise that they must comply with certain standards? The only way of ensuring that is to ensure that the relevant circular is complied with.

The Deputy is making a speech.

Standards can be complied with in the absence of a circular.

Local authorities have at their disposal the services of first class technical people who will examine houses. If the houses are considered to be well constructed and to be good value for money the local authorities can then go ahead and purchase them. I can assure the House that they will not be in the business of buying inferior houses.

It is obvious that the Minister does not represent Finglas West, that he is not aware of some 1,500 houses there.

The Deputy is referring to something that happened a long time ago.

The remaining questions will appear on the Order Paper for Tuesday, 13 November 1984.