Priority Questions

Leader Programmes Funding

Barry Cowen

Question:

55. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the legislation that will be used to amalgamate Leader and integrated local development companies into local authorities under Putting People First; if their financing will be ring-fenced; the discussions he has held with the bodies involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54347/12]

There are no proposals to amalgamate local development companies into local authorities. The report, Putting People First: Action Programme for Effective Local Government, recommends greater alignment between local government and local development, including the 51 local development companies that currently deliver important programmes for the Department. This follows from the Government's acceptance of the recommendations made by the steering group on alignment between local government and local development. The group's report was published alongside Putting People First and is available on the Department's website at www.environ.ie. Under those recommendations, local development companies will continue to have a role in local development activities and programmes. The availability of funding to local development companies and the level of such funding is dependent on the programme activities that they are contracted to deliver, and therefore ring-fencing of funding has not in the past arisen and does not now arise. In line with the alignment steering group's recommendations, the local development model is to be retained and local development companies will continue to have a delivery role.

Both the Minister, Deputy Hogan, and the Department have met the representatives of local development companies on these matters and this dialogue will continue as the alignment process is advanced.

I thank the Minister of State for what appears to be a concise answer. I accept his statement that there is no proposal to amalgamate but rather to align them. I am sure that will consist of a sharing of facilities and administrative staff. If that is the case, will it have a knock-on effect on existing administrative staff who are employed by these agencies? Can the Minister of State categorically say that funding that has heretofore been given to these agencies for distribution among the communities they serve and represent will be ring-fenced?

The Minister of State says he has spoken to some of the agencies' representatives. I have had numerous contacts with different agencies, Leader groups and development companies in recent weeks. I agree with the concept but will this process be negotiated to achieve the end result rather than being imposed? No success can be gained by imposition and a lack of negotiation in arriving at a solution one wants to see.

Can the Minister of State confirm that all funding for these programmes will be ring-fenced and can be expected to continue as heretofore? Will administrative staff be shared and, if so, will it mean a loss of jobs in those agencies? Is there a timeframe for the negotiations, when will they progress and when are they likely to conclude?

The report refers to new synergies between local government and development agencies. As regards sharing facilities, if there is space in a local authority office, why should a development agency not go in there, if it is free from its lease? It makes sense to reduce costs, including electricity. The key issue is that it will be recommended, where possible, and it is very practical in that more money will go to the front line for community projects. According to the review group, of the €135 million involved in the four main programmes, €35 million was spent on administration and overheads. There is no issue about people keeping their jobs, but we will get new synergies and will reduce our costs.

Like the Deputy, I have met people from the network. Their views are clear, as is the Government's view. It will remain a bottom-up approach and they will make a contribution, especially at the socioeconomic committees in local authorities, to be established by legislation. Their views will be very important and they will have a dedicated role to perform.

Is there a timescale for whatever negotiations or discussions take place to satisfy these agencies? Such a timescale would allow the Minister of State to agree a means by which this can take place seamlessly. It would be to their satisfaction as well as the Government's and, ultimately, to the satisfaction of those whom they represent and whose funding the Government targets in various areas. That is all I am asking. There should be an arrangement and an understanding that this can be done in partnership.

The local development network is an important part of the process and pays a significant local and national contribution. The Minister will establish an implementation group shortly and the network will be part of that. This is to make better use of the money we have through new synergies and directing money to the front line. I can assure the Deputy that nobody is dictating the pace. It will be a bottom-up approach. The commitment and contribution that development agencies currently give will continue in the new socioeconomic committees. This will involve other stakeholders, including public private partnerships, local authority members and voluntary groups, in order that the good work will continue into the future.

NAMA Social Housing Provision

Brian Stanley

Question:

56. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he has explored the possibility of lease agreements with the National Asset Management Agency housing, which would result in properties over time coming under the ownership of local authorities and remaining within the social housing system. [54241/12]

Since December 2011, NAMA has identified more than 3,800 properties as being potentially available for social housing. The local authorities and the Housing Agency are working systematically with NAMA to determine if there is a social housing demand for properties identified as potentially suitable for social housing, including the need for accommodation for those who are homeless. Where a demand is identified, this information is provided to NAMA and efforts are made to secure as many of the suitable properties as possible for social housing. It is anticipated that in the main, suitable properties will be secured through leasing arrangements with the property owners or receivers or directly with NAMA. The local authority will have the option of leasing the properties directly. Alternatively, the preferred approach may be to arrange for an approved housing body, AHB, to secure the properties through lease or, in some cases, purchase arrangements and make them available for social housing support through payment and availability agreements. An option to purchase at a future date can also form part of leasing arrangements.

As of the end of August 2012, 133 housing units had been provided from the portfolio of units identified by NAMA, of which units 49 are funded under leasing arrangements, with the balance of units delivered purchased with funds from the local authority social housing capital investment programme or by approved housing bodies under the capital assistance scheme. The 49 units funded under leasing arrangements were purchased by AHBs through a combination of State and private capital.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I acknowledge some good work has been done in respect of NAMA houses and houses in unfinished estates with the money used for safety purposes. However, there is a problem with the houses themselves, not the infrastructure, in that a promise was made that many housing units would come on-stream for social housing. If I heard the Minister of State correctly, approximately 1,400 such units have come on stream to date. The problem is that the social leasing schemes cost thousands of euro every year for each unit and this is money which goes back to the developer or investor. The other point to remember is that another cost is being cooked up with regard to long-term leases, as such units must be returned in perfect condition. In effect, this is acting as a second bailout for developers. Moreover, it is pushing up the prices of rent, which sometimes are artificially high because NAMA properties are not available for rent.

The Deputy should ask a question please.

I will get to the question shortly but must first set the context. A total of 16,881 units remain empty in the unfinished estates even as 100,000 family units await housing within the State. A total of 17,070 estates have been left unfinished but 16,881 housing units remain vacant. There is a huge demand for housing at a time when all these vacant houses are available. In my constituency of Laois-Offaly, approximately 3,500 people are in need of housing and yet 657 vacant units exist there, 174 of which are in County Offaly and the other 483 in County Laois.

The question is-----

Sorry Deputy, I must share the six minutes between the Deputy and the Minister of State.

I must ask the question and will be brief.

I will revert to the Deputy if I have time.

In fairness, the Minister of State must reply.

I thank Deputy Stanley. First, all Members share a determination to ensure that as many of these unoccupied units as possible will become occupied and will become homes for people. However, I make the point, of which the Deputy probably already is aware, that not all the unfinished houses are in NAMA. Indeed, only a relatively small proportion of them actually are in NAMA. It is a question of trying to provide for the existing need in as effective a way as possible. While I am unsure whether the Deputy actually asked the question, I will provide him with the figure. The cost of leasing is approximately €7,400 per annum whereas were one to attempt to build houses, one would get an awful lot of leasing units for the cost of building a single house. Moreover, the Government must make do and, given the times, must try to house as many people as possible by whatever method it can use. The leasing arrangement provides housing for people. I admit all Members would probably prefer to be able to build more houses but we cannot because we do not have the money. In addition, only 80% of the market rent is paid under the leasing agreements. Consequently, the entity which owns the house, be it NAMA, a receiver, a property developer or whoever, does not get the full market rent. There is a possibility of purchase although that varies depending on the different units. It is a complex issue but the Government is trying, in so far as possible, to get as many such units as possible for social housing to provide homes for people.

Everything, including bank debts, can become complex when we try to do something but we must try to make this simple. There are almost 17,000 vacant houses in unfinished estates but 100,000 people are on the waiting list. The Minister of State mentioned issues regarding the purchase of houses. Many of these houses are now for sale for less than €50,000, and there is a cost at the end of the process. That is seven years of rent.

Will the Minister of State reply to me on the idea of a rent to buy scheme? There are conditions for planning in some of these estates that relate to social housing but there could be a scheme where the tenants could rent a property and own it after a period. There could also be a super-affordable scheme, as it were. I could show the Minister of State some estates where properties cannot be sold, although she probably knows them. There are apartment blocks outside Dublin for which people cannot get loans so why are we not moving to use some of them for homeless people? We are paying millions of euro for rent allowance in a process that cannot continue as it is.

There are local authority estates that have not been completed because of inadequate funds. If a local authority has to spend €100,000 finishing an estate, should it get some units in lieu of the work when there is no money for payment? I am trying to provide solutions.

We are engaging regularly with NAMA and we push the agency all the time to ensure we get the best possible outcomes. We will put the various suggestions to NAMA. If we did not have a leasing system, there would be many more people on housing waiting lists. It is the most cost-effective way to house people in the current economic climate and we must use it. There are ongoing issues and we are working very hard on them. Some of the units coming from NAMA will be for homeless people. I will ensure that as we want to prioritise the people most in need.

Pyrite Remediation Programme Issues

Joan Collins

Question:

57. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if, noting that the HomeBond company which led house purchasers to believe they were insured against major structural damage, has shown surplus funds of €25 million which will not be called upon for major structural damage for houses built before HomeBond negotiated backing by a real insurance company in 2008, he will ensure that these funds are used to remediate HomeBond guaranteed housing damaged by heave inducing pyrite. [54253/12]

Dessie Ellis

Question:

59. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the actions he is now putting in place as a result of his meetings with the construction industry insurance, quarries and banks with a view to levying these industries as was recommended by the pyrite panel; if he was successful in his discussions with these groups and an agreement has been reached or if he will seek to impose a solution. [54547/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 57 and 59 together.

HomeBond is a private limited company providing structural guarantees for new houses and, since November 2008, the HomeBond insurance scheme has been underwritten by Allianz Insurance. As in the case of any private company , its operations, including how it deals with the management of funds, inspections or claims, are matters for its management and board of directors. In that regard, HomeBond Insurance Services Limited is regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland and my Department has no function in these matters. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, has put on record his disappointment with the stance adopted by HomeBond by withdrawing in August 2011 cover for home owners for pyrite related damage.

Following receipt of the report of the independent pyrite panel in late June 2012, the Minister has engaged with all of the main stakeholders identified in the report, including HomeBond, to explore options for a resolution to the pyrite problem, including possible funding mechanisms for a remediation scheme. Discussions are now at an advanced stage and are expected to conclude very shortly, with outcomes arrived at on the basis of the pyrite report. The pyrite panel was unambiguous in its view that those with direct and indirect responsibility for the pyrite problem should bear the cost of remediation, and this has been the core of the Minister's discussions with the stakeholders over recent months.

It was considered that sufficient progress had been made to justify the continuation of these contacts for a further short period. However, matters must be concluded very shortly and outcomes must be arrived at on the basis of the report of the pyrite panel in order that the entirely unacceptable position in which affected home owners find themselves can finally begin to be addressed. The Minister has made clear that in the event that stakeholders do not, either individually or collectively, agree a voluntary funding mechanism for a remediation scheme, he will seek Government approval for the imposition of a statutory levy on the construction, quarrying and insurance sectors. He has already announced that he is proceeding with the establishment of a resolution board, as recommended by the independent panel, and final arrangements for its establishment will be made in conjunction with consideration of the final written positions of the stakeholders.

The Minister of State indicated that reports should be available soon. It is disgraceful that the Government continually provides the same information on what will be the position at some point in the future. In the meantime, pyrite remediation measures have not been carried out on a single house. People can no longer wait for action. Has HomeBond been challenged to use its surplus of €25 million to fund remediation measures or investigations to certify whether pyrite is present in homes? It is crucial that the company is tackled on this issue as it is unacceptable to leave families in limbo. The Government, which has acknowledged the scale of the problem on numerous occasions, must speed up the process. Has it raised with HomeBond the company's €25 million surplus?

With respect to the Deputy, her figure on the remediation of homes is wrong. The independent report, which I have with me, states that 1,100 homes which were seriously-----

HomeBond has not done any remediation work.

I did not interrupt Deputy Collins. The report states that 1,100 homes with serious pyrite problems are being addressed. I concur with the Deputy that all of the families involved are in an awful and extremely difficult position. They purchased homes for a fortune at the height of the market and generally before 2008 only to find significant pyrite problems with their homes. Another 850 houses, for which claims have been made, are also being addressed. It is estimated that in theory pyrite problems could occur in 11,000 houses. The report maps these homes using a colour code in which red indicates the homes in question must be immediately addressed, yellow means they must be monitored over a lengthy period and green means there are no individual problems.

It is disappointing we have not yet had word back from the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan, given that he has twice indicated to us that he has given the industry a deadline to produce a solution to the pyrite problem. He stated previously that he was considering making requests for funding remediation measures in the houses in question. The issue of funding is fundamental.

The Minister of State referred to a figure of 11,000 homes. As Christmas approaches, it is vital that urgent action is taken to address serious problems found in 850 homes. If legislation is required, as appears likely, a solution will not be found until the new year. Legislation must be retrospective as we must avoid a scenario in which people are informed they missed a deadline for submitting applications and so forth. This issue needs to be addressed urgently.

I agree with the thrust of the Deputy's argument. As he correctly noted, this is a serious problem. I stress, however, that the Minister established the independent panel in June 2011 and it did not report until earlier this year. He has held a number of significant meetings with all of the stakeholders and insists that responsibility for meeting the costs of addressing the pyrite problem rests with those who built or insured the homes in question. The Minister is committed to resolving this problem as quickly as possible.

One of the proposals in the pyrite report is to establish a resolution committee to address all outstanding issues. This will provide a fail-safe mechanism in the event that problems in certain houses are not addressed. The Minister is establishing a body which will deal effectively with any issues that may yet arise. This will provide closure for families. The Minister is working extremely hard to resolve this matter and whatever needs to be done will be done. If possible, however, it is better to have a voluntary, agreed process.

The people who are experiencing this problem are frustrated because time and again they have heard about deadlines. Pyrite remediation works on the 1,100 homes to which the Minister of State referred were carried out by Premier Guarantee rather than HomeBond.

I have been reliably informed that there has been no movement on the red category claims submitted nine months ago. For those who most need it, the pace of change is still sluggish. Has HomeBond been challenged in respect of the surplus of funds and the €25 million for quick remediation?

Regarding the resolution board, it is important that there be a mechanism for judging the cost of the remediation works. It will vary and we have heard figures from €50,000 to €80,000. Local authority housing has the same problem. While there is a mechanism to get money from the Department for such housing, would it not make sense to include local authority housing in this scheme so that it could receive funds to deal with its problems? We will get no money from the builders, the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, and so on. Insurance companies should have dealt with many of these cases. If we pursue people, we will need to go to the ends of the earth. It is important that we include local authority houses with pyrite problems.

Local authority problems in places such as Ballymun are being addressed successfully.

Fingal County Council is not being criticised. The council dealt with the issue adequately as soon as it came to its notice in 2007. However, this matter never appeared on the building horizon until it occurred.

None of the academic or training courses for professionals, inspectors of buildings and so on viewed it as an issue. The problem is being addressed.

I agree with Deputy Ellis, in that the standards must be independent and stand up to scrutiny, and the job must be done and certified. A home owner will have a certification to the effect that the house is pyrite free.

Notwithstanding Deputy Joan Collins's concerns, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, is committed to resolving this issue as quickly as possible. When the board is announced and voluntary agreement is reached, there will be finality to this issue, at least in terms of the process.

Motor Tax Yield

Barry Cowen

Question:

58. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of motorists paying road tax broken down by band; the total amount paid per band to each local authority in 2011 and to date in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54348/12]

I propose to circulate in the Official Report a tabular statement setting out details of the number of motorists paying road tax by band for 2011 and to the end of October 2012 and setting out motor tax receipts by band in respect of 2011. Arrears are broken down by motor tax class. As indicated in the replies to Questions No. 476 on 27 November 2012 and No. 362 on 2 October 2012, a breakdown of motor tax receipts by band in respect of 2012 is being prepared. I will forward this information to the Deputy when it becomes available.

Data on income, vehicle numbers and trends in payment of motor tax, such as the uptake of online payments and the proportion of discs taken out annually, half-yearly or quarterly, are compiled by the National Vehicle and Driver File, NVDF, to monitor income to the local government fund and facilitate projections on future income. Information on total income by county is made available as a matter of course. This information was set out for you in a previous reply.

A breakdown of the total amount paid per band to each local authority, as well as via the online motor tax system, is not compiled on an ongoing basis. There are over 70 separate categories of motor tax for private vehicles, commercial vehicles and various other classes of vehicle. Providing a breakdown for all these categories across 29 licensing authorities and the online system will take some time. As soon as it is available, it will be forwarded to the Deputy.

Vehicle numbers by band at 31 October 2012

Private vehicles based on engine capacity

Engine size

No. of vehicles at 31 October 2012

not over 1,000

121,325

1,001 to 1,100

5,972

1,101 to 1,200

83,676

1,201 to 1,300

101,016

1,301 to 1,400

389,771

1,401 to 1,500

52,917

1,501 to 1,600

232,654

1,601 to 1,700

5,714

1,701 to 1,800

90,749

1,801 to 1,900

119,525

1,901 to 2,000

161,651

2,001 to 2,100

403

2,101 to 2,200

20,034

2,201 to 2,300

6,474

2,301 to 2,400

3,349

2,401 to 2,500

17,646

2,501 to 2,600

1,442

2,601 to 2,700

3,369

2,701 to 2,800

4,165

2,801 to 2,900

292

2,901 to 3,000

16,401

3,001 or more

9,778

Total

1,448,323

Private vehicles based on CO2 emissions

Band

CO2 emissions g/km

No. of vehicles at

31 October 2012

A

O – 120g

126,788

B

More than 120g/km up to and including 140g/km

191,231

C

More than 140g/km up to and including 155g/km

67,068

D

More than 155g/km up to and including 170g/km

27,487

E

More than 170g/km up to and including 190g/km

10,991

F

More than 190g/km up to and including 225g/km

4,492

G

More than 225g/km

694

-

Total

428,751

Goods vehicles

Unladen weight (kg)

No. of vehicles at

31 October 2012

Not over 3,000

280,699

3,001 to 4,000

4,006

4,001 to 5,000

3,500

5,001 to 6,000

2,298

6,001 to 7,000

1,417

7,001 to 8,000

1,723

8,001 to 9,000

1,997

9,001 to 10,000

1,651

10,001 to 11,000

1,962

11,001 to 12,000

2,904

12,001 to 13,000

2,694

13,001 to 14,000

2,491

14,001 to 15,000

1,724

15,001 to 16,000

898

16,001 to 17,000

487

17,001 to 18,000

257

18,001 to 19,000

115

19,001 to 20,000

43

20,000 or more

152

Total

311,018

Miscellaneous vehicles

-

No. of vehicles at

31 October 2012

Off Road Dumper

22

Dumper/Forklift Truck

1,927

Excavator/Digger

4,106

Mobile Machine

5,312

Agricultural Tractor

63,077

General Haulage Tractor

861

Taxi/Hackney

24,137

Schoolbus

844

Large PSV/Youth & Community Bus

8,382

Motorcycles

35,084

Vintage & Veteran

28,172

Motor Caravan

9,584

Island Vehicles

929

Hearse

859

Total

183,296

Motor tax receipts by band for 2011
Private vehicles based on engine capacity
Private vehicles based on CO 2 emissions
Goods Vehicles
Miscellaneous Vehicles
Vehicle licence arrears receipts 2011 by motor tax class

I thank the Minister of State and look forward to the information. I might ask a further question subsequent to receiving it.

My question is on foot of reports to the effect that the Government is seeking to raise a further €100 million from this section in tomorrow's budget. It would come on top of last year's increase of 50% in the case of CO2 band cars. Has the Government abandoned efforts to promote environmentally friend vehicles or does it have a new initiative of which no one is aware to promote these vehicles?

In regard to the household charge fiasco last year and the manner in which the Department cut the Central Fund to local authorities on foot of the collection, or lack of, on the part of some local authorities, was the Minister not mindful at any time in the entire saga of the fact that many motorists had paid their motor tax and that they were not taken into consideration when he then saw fit to cut the budgets of local authorities, and in doing that saw fit to cut the funding available to local authorities to deal with secondary, primary and regional roads? Had the Minister not thought of them when he cut the funding? Did he not think about people telephoning radio stations this morning to report that no salt gritting had been applied to many roads throughout the country? They were not taken into consideration when the Minister made the decision to cut local authority funding in the manner in which he did. In my local authority, for example, this year more than €500,000 has been taken from a budget that it had agreed in good faith this time last year. I have no doubt it would have taken seriously its role in the collection of the household charge had it been properly organised, given proper notice, informed in time and given the support necessary in order to do it properly.

I will revert to the Deputy. The Minister of State must be given an opportunity to respond.

The Minister took the motorists out of the equation when he made the decision.

On a positive light, when people go to a Garda station to say that their car has not been driven for X amount of time and therefore they do not have to pay their motor tax, it is commonly referred to as gapping. We are dealing with that. The loss to the Exchequer is believed to be approximately €55 million per annum. The matter will be dealt with shortly. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, has a file with the Attorney General on the issue. We are ensuring that does not happen. In future one will have to declare in advance that one’s car will be off the road before one can benefit. Whatever happens in this or any other budget, any changes the Government makes will be in line with the terms of reference of the review which we announced last year. The adjustment of CO2 bands and rates of VRT and motor tax in line with technological advances in motor vehicles will maintain a positive environmental incentive to reduce transport emissions and ensure a stable funding base for motor taxes. If anything were to happen, one would still have an incremental difference.

I take it from the response the Minister of State agrees with my allegation that when the Government decided to cut funding to local authorities in the manner in which it did in the middle of the year, it had no consideration whatsoever for the motorist who had paid his motor tax in good faith and the expectation he had for the maintenance of the roads in his county.

I refute that utterly. Coming from a party which in 1977 – perhaps the Deputy was not around then-----

No, I was not elected to the Dáil in 1977. I had no hand, act or part in it.

I remind him that Fianna Fáil did away with motor tax completely.

I was elected to this Dáil in 2011 and perhaps the Minister of State would deal with the questions which relate to people's livelihood.

I did not interrupt Deputy Cowen. Let me repeat, in 1977 the then Fianna Fáil Government did away completely with all motor taxation-----

That has nothing to do with the question. The Minister of State should address the question.

-----and household charges.

We are not playing that game.

That is one of the reasons we got into the current mess. We are trying to clear up the last mess Fianna Fáil made when in government and part of the process is, unfortunately, what needs to happen. Any differentiation that existed previously with reduced CO2 emissions will continue even in the event of a change.

Question No. 59 answered with Question No. 57.