Other Questions. - Local Authority Housing.

Jim O'Keeffe

Question:

6 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the number of people on the local authority housing lists following the most recent assessment of housing needs; the number of local authority houses to be acquired or completed in 2000; the proposals, if any, he has to deal with those who will not be accommodated; and the average estimated time before they will be accommodated. [9763/00]

Ruairí Quinn

Question:

18 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the number of applicants on local authority housing waiting lists at the latest date for which figures are available; the number of local authority housing units completed in 1999; the number expected to be completed during 2000; the number of persons estimated to be on local authority waiting lists at the end of 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10032/00]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

127 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government when he expects to be in a position to make a serious impact on the housing waiting list; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10335/00]

Bernard J. Durkan

Question:

128 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the number of local authority houses likely to be completed and occupied in 2000; the number occupied to date in 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10336/00]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 6, 18, 127 and 128 together.

As two of these questions are oral questions, the time available is not more than 12 minutes.

I refer the Deputies to my reply to Question No. 4 on today's Order Paper in relation to the assessment of housing needs undertaken by local authorities at the end of March.

The total number of houses completed or acquired by local authorities during 1999 was approximately 3,700. Details will be included in the Annual Housing Statistics Bulletin for 1999 which is due to be published shortly by my Department. Local authorities were notified of their authorised programmes for the coming four years on 25 November. The programme provides for a total of 22,000 houses to be constructed or acquired in the period 2000 to 2003. I expect that authorities will commence the construction of or acquire in excess of 5,500 houses this year and that the level of house completions, including acquisitions, will be in excess of 4,000 units. Figures in relation to the number of starts/completions for the first quarter of 2000 are currently being compiled.

The local authority housing programme is only one of a range of ways in which the needs of households on local authority waiting lists may be met. I am confident that the enhanced multi-annual local authority housing programme, together with the output from the complementary social housing measures and vacancies occurring in the existing stock, will enable the housing needs of 11,000 households to be met this year compared to 9,300 last year. My Department will support and co-operate in every way with local authorities to help them achieve their housing programmes.

Mr. Hayes

Does the Minister accept that at a time when in excess of 40,000 families are waiting for a local authority house, 5,500 new starts this year is pathetic and an indictment of the Government's performance to date in building local authority housing? Does he also accept that since coming to office the number of new local authority homes has dwindled compared to the number of private homes and that this has been a consistent feature of Fianna Fáil policy over the years?

One can talk about lies, damned lies and statistics and Deputy Hayes has given statistics on the dwindling number of local authority houses compared to the number of private houses. The total capital provision for the local authority housing programme this year is £312 million, which is an increase of £82 million or 36% on the 1999 provision, £98 million or 46% on the 1998 provision and £137 million or 79% on the 1997 provision.

Mr. Hayes

Has the Minister factored in total Government spending? The figure is reducing. The Minister should ask the Minister for Finance—

It is almost 100% more than the 1996 provision. That speaks for itself. The fact we have brought forward the multi-annual programmes to allow the local authorities to plan ahead is also an indication of our commitment. The fact we have £6 billion for the first time in the national development plan is a fair and clear indication of the Government's commitment to ensure that the needs of local authorities and those on local authority housing waiting lists will be met. I remind the Deputy that we are talking about looking after the needs of 11,000 households, not 5,500, this year.

Mr. Hayes

That is a fictitious figure.

Does the Minister accept that there are more people on local authority housing waiting lists now than there were this time last year and that there will be more people left on local authority waiting lists this time next year on the basis of the programme he has again outlined? Does he also accept that the output and performance of local authorities in delivering housing allocations is poor and that the number of completions each year falls far short of the number of dwellings allocated? What is his expectation for the number of housing completions in 2000?

The output of local authorities and the number of completions have been raised by the Minister of State and by me in recent years. For that reason we took on the concept of multi-annual programmes. Some local authorities were having difficulty getting builders to build small estates – the emphasis is increasingly on smaller estates rather than the huge sprawling estates that were built previously – in the current buoyant construction market and when they got builders there was a problem holding onto them. The concept of the multi-annual programme was introduced as a response to those difficulties.

It was also a response to the disappointing returns. I agree with the Deputy that the output of local authorities fell short over the last number of years. I looked at the figures for the years since 1993 and in each year they did not reach their completion targets. We were trying to address that problem.

Mr. Hayes

What action does the Minister propose to take against local authorities who cannot build the number of start-ups they are allocated each year? The total amount of expenditure on housing is increasing but does the Minister agree with the view of his colleague, the Minister for Finance, who told me in reply to a parliamentary question that the provision for social housing as a percentage of total Government spending has reduced from 10% in the mid-1980s to approximately 7% today? Is that not another example of the indictment I mentioned earlier?

The idea of taking action against local authorities might seem attractive but what does one do? Penalise them financially? I often feel frustrated that there are no sanctions against the local authorities when something is not done. On a positive note, however, we have asked them to let us know as soon as possible if they believe they are not going to meet their targets and allocations for this year. If they do that, we can reallocate to other local authorities. We have given a guarantee that it will not reduce their allocations in future years. Difficulties can arise. We are trying to encourage local authorities to let us know the position in time. Previously, local authorities waited until November or December to inform the Department that they could not meet their programme targets. That meant we could not reallocate the moneys.

We offer every assistance and back-up to the local authorities in terms of cutting out red tape and bureaucracy. We have also increased the threshold limits for unit costs.

Given the scale of house building that will be required, whether or not it is approved by this Government, to provide homes for people, perhaps a different way might have to be found to deliver that output. It could be done through a national housing authority, for example, or another vehicle. In relation to the expected output for 2000, how many houses have been completed so far and how many are currently under construction? Those figures will indicate the number of likely completions. When will the housing statistics bulletin for the last quarter of 1999 be published?

The statistics sought by the Deputy will be available shortly. The figures on the starts and completions for the first quarter of 2000 are currently being compiled and I expect them to be published in the next quarterly bulletin which is due this month. The same applies to the other figures sought by the Deputy. I do not have the figures with me now but if the Deputy puts down a relevant question for the next Question Time they will probably be available then. They will be compiled at that stage in relation to completions.

Could the Minister be a little more muscular in his approach to the completion rates of local authoritiesvis-à-vis their targets? Can he ensure that his Department notifies local authorities earlier about their allocations for a given year? The Minister is aware of the problem in this regard. In November or December local authorities often still do not know their allocation for the following year.

When his Department is making decisions on the allocations, can it not adopt a more rigorous approach and ensure that when local authorities put plans forward they have the necessary services, sites and contracts in place? Everybody knows that if a local authority does not have its plans put together properly in October of a given year, it will not have the houses completed by December of the following year. If there were a more rigorous approach, there would be a better distribution of the allocation to local authorities that can perform and deliver.

The Deputy's points are valid. With multi-annual programmes the Deputy's suggestions would be easier to facilitate than heretofore. Once the local authorities know the allocation, they can go through the procedures for the full number of houses they intend to build over the next four years in a particular place. That will cut down on a great deal of the red tape associated with this process. The Deputy is right in relation to how soon the local authorities know their allocations. They now know them for the next three years. This will give rise to better completion rates and more accurate predictions.