Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Home Loan Scheme

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

40. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when extra funding for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme will be allocated; the changes proposed for the scheme following interaction between his Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23685/19]

John Curran

Question:

47. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to delays in approving and the drawdown of funding under the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23989/19]

Dessie Ellis

Question:

74. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the reason some local authorities are still not accepting or processing new applications for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme; the number of loan drawdowns, offers and refusals to date from the first tranche of funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23995/19]

Thomas Byrne

Question:

93. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to ensure that Meath County Council has sufficient funding to approve applications for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23489/19]

This issue was earlier raised on Priority Questions. I am trying to find out exactly when the Minister will announce extra funding for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme and if there will be changes to the scheme. Specifically, if there are changes, for example to the interest rate, what happens to people who have tried to apply and been told they cannot apply in certain local authorities under the original scheme?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 40, 47, 74 and 93 together.

When the Rebuilding Ireland home loan was initially being developed, it was estimated that the drawdown of loans under the scheme would be approximately €200 million over three years. From the data collated on the scheme to date, the home loan has proven to be more successful than initially anticipated, as a result of which the scheme requires a further tranche of funds to be borrowed by the Housing Finance Agency in order to enable its continuation.

My Department is currently in discussions with the Departments of Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance about this amount, which I anticipate will be finalised very soon. As I said in response to an earlier question, I hope to finalise that amount this week.

I will be in a position to make an announcement on the matter when the discussions are concluded. Ahead of such announcement, the operation of the scheme is not affected. The scheme remains open and all local authorities have been advised to continue to receive and process applications up to and including the issuing of loans.

The Housing Agency, which provides a central support service to assess loan applications, has confirmed that 4,193 applications were assessed up to the end of May 2019, of which 2,153 or 51% were recommended for approval. The latest information indicates that 823 loans totalling some €139.9 million had been drawn down at end March 2019. Funding is still available in the first tranche that was originally borrowed by the Housing Finance Agency more than two years ago.

My Department continues to publish information on the overall number and value of each local authority loan approval and local authority loan draw down on a quarterly basis. Information for the first quarter of this year will be published on my Department's website today and will show that in that period 280 loans, amounting to €47.7 million, were drawn down and a further 270 loans, amounting to €46 million, were approved. This information will continue to be updated and published on a quarterly basis as additional data are compiled.

Although the Minister stated that there is still money in the scheme, some local authorities have run out of money. What are officials in those local authorities being told to do? Can they approve loans even though their local authority has run out of money? Can they get more money from the Department? What specifically have they been told to do? Deputies stated that some people's applications have been returned. If there is a change to the terms of the scheme under the new announcement, such as a change to the interest rate, will people who applied but whose local authority had run out of money qualify under the old scheme because they sought to apply before the scheme was changed or will they be subject to new conditions which may mean they cannot buy the home they had intended to buy?

No local authority ran out of funding. They were each given an allocation which some met early because of higher demand in their areas. As those allocations were met, they were topped up. However, because of the concern expressed publicly, I issued circular 7/19 in March of this year, which directed local authorities to continue issuing and approving loan applications. In addition, where certain Deputies raised concerns in the House that their local authorities were not doing so, the Department has been in touch with them directly.

After the scheme had been in operation for a few months, several proposals were made as to how it might be improved. There was a lack of consistency in its application across different local authorities. I engaged a small group of people to carry out a semi-independent review of the operation of the loan scheme, engaging a couple of local authority managers from outside the Department to work with officials on the reforms that might be made to ensure it was being operated consistently. The group returned two sets of proposed reforms: those that could be acted upon immediately, such as clarification of the forms that constitute a refusal from a bank or confirmation of the need for mortgage protection, and proposals to extend the scope of the scheme or what would be applicable under it in terms of for what one was borrowing the money. Those types of reforms are still being examined for application in a future iteration of the scheme.

Will I have a second opportunity to contribute?

The Deputy will have a second opportunity. He will not be denied his rights.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Does the Department monitor how the scheme is implemented by the various local authorities? The information we have received from colleagues and so forth is that they are implementing the scheme differently and that there are varying degrees of delay in the processing of applications and the drawdown of funding.

The Minister put several figures on the record. He stated several times that the scheme is open because there is €60 million left. The problem is that local authorities are concerned that although there is €60 million left, there is €220 million in loans yet to be drawn down and they have not seen the colour of the back-up money to underpin that. That is causing concern for local authorities that do not want to pay upfront without seeing what type of scheme is envisaged. The announcement to be made this week by the Minister is crucially important. Everybody knows the scheme is grossly oversubscribed, but the underlying reason for the delay is that local authorities do not know how much money will be provided this year or next year or for what period they might have to carry this loan. The €60 million the Minister stated is available is not sufficient comfort when local authorities know there are other loans in the system and €220 million in loans have been approved.

There are national criteria for how the Rebuilding Ireland home loan is to be implemented. As I stated, I brought together a group of people to ensure those criteria are being applied consistently across local authority areas. Each local authority has its own credit committee. After an application is approved by the Housing Agency, which acts as a clearing house or backstop, it is up to the local credit committee to make a decision on approval of the loan. That responsibility must rest with the committee.

Data for quarter 1 of 2019 will be published and show exactly what has been happening in each local authority in respect of approvals and drawdowns in that period. We will continue to publish such data. One of the issues about which I am in discussion with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, is more accurate and up-to-date data to be provided more regularly than on a quarterly basis to see whether we can get a much clearer picture as the loan develops over the coming months. That is happening.

Further significant funding is coming. All approvals that have been given will be honoured. I made that commitment several months ago to a colleague of the Deputy's at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. The Housing Finance Agency has a significant loan facility available to borrow more funding as needed. Every comfort has been given to local authorities, either in the circular I issued or through direct contact, that they can continue to issue and approve loans and that those loans will be honoured by my Department, working with the Housing Finance Agency. There has been no delay on this. The scheme is not oversubscribed. The rate of approval is different from the rate of drawdown because some people apply in multiple local authority areas and not all approvals are drawn down within a six-month period

The Minister stated that approvals will be honoured. However, a person living in a particular local authority may receive approval quite quickly, whereas it may take longer, for whatever reason, including those outlined by Deputy Curran, for a person living in another local authority to receive approval. There is an equity issue, which is why I am asking whether conditions are likely to change when the next tranche of the scheme is announced. If they are, will persons who have applied to local authorities that are slower to grant approval be disadvantaged in spite of being in the same circumstances as a person who received approval from a local authority that is quicker to grant approval? That is an important question in respect of fairness to people in various parts of the country.

This is a good and necessary scheme, which has surpassed the Minister's wildest expectations. We all want to see it succeed. We also want a level playing pitch. It is important that the Department plays a key role in the oversight and monitoring of implementation across various local authorities and that there be a reasonable expectation that loans are processed and funding drawn down in similar timeframes in each local authority. The Minister stated that €60 million is available and he has repeatedly stated that he informed local authorities that loans will be honoured. Local authorities know that. However, they do not know when additional funds will come on line when the €60 million is spent. There has been an air of uncertainty in recent months, which has contributed to the delay in some drawdowns.

No one who sought approval under the new loan scheme, received approval from the Housing Agency as the first clearing house and their local authority credit committee has been prevented from drawing down that money to buy their home. We have very good timelines in place. However, each local authority has its own credit committee and different demands on it depending on the number of applications it has received. Part of the review we carried out sought greater consistency in timelines across local authority areas.

On the question asked by Deputy O'Sullivan, all loans approved are approved at a rate that is subject to change at the time of drawdown, as is the case with any loan from a financial institution. If four or five months pass following initial approval before one draws down the loan - the mortgage for a house in this case - the conditions may have changed somewhat. The initial €200 million was borrowed at a particular rate and that will not change. As the Housing Finance Agency goes to borrow a further tranche of funding, it may do so at a rate that is higher by in the region of 25 basis points or 0.25%.

This still has to be clarified with the Housing Finance Agency in the context of the amount it will seek to borrow and the rate at which it thinks it can borrow it. Loans will then be approved at the approval rate the Housing Finance Agency sets with each local authority.

Question No. 41 replied to with Written Answers

Local Authority Housing Provision

Brian Stanley

Question:

42. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the steps he is taking to simplify and speed up the process of approval by his Department for local authority housing schemes. [24032/19]

The question concerns the steps the Department's officials are taking to simplify and speed up the process for approval by the Department for local authority housing schemes. I approach this in a constructive way. I know the Department cannot magic up houses with the flick of a switch. I am trying to come at this from the point of view of solutions. I have spoken to both the Minister and the Minister of State, Deputy English, about this in the past, both inside and outside the Chamber. There are huge delays of two to three years for approval.

I acknowledge that Deputy Stanley understands we cannot just wave a magic wand and deliver housing. He might inform his party's housing spokesperson of the same logic because he does not seem to understand this. Other members of his party also do not understand it, but I am glad Deputy Stanley does. That is certainly progress.

There are no projects awaiting approval for two or three years. Projects go through many different stages, which I will explain to the Deputy in a moment, and we have made a lot of changes to that process. We have all come across projects in the past that were, for whatever reason, in the system for two, three, four and even five years in some cases, but no one can say to me there is an application sitting in our Department that has been awaiting approval for two or three years. That is certainly not the case. On many occasions colleagues have brought forward examples to the Minister and to me, and when we have checked them out, we have found there are different stories behind them, so I am conscious that very often local information might not match national information. We have brought about a whole new scheme to make this very clear to everyone. We can all track this so we know exactly the progress made on a project.

Social housing projects funded by our Department, like all publicly funded construction projects, must comply with the Government's capital works management framework, the objectives of which are to ensure cost certainty, value for money and financial accountability. There are nine stages in the framework, which our Department has streamlined to just four for social housing construction projects.

Important steps have already been put in place to improve the timelines involved in the advancement of new social housing capital construction projects. A timeline of 59 weeks is now in place from the bringing forward of an initial proposal to the placing of the construction contract and starting on site, encompassing the full design, planning and procurement processes. This compares favourably with private sector construction projects. I am not aware of any project, private or public, that from inception has been on site and under construction in 59 weeks. In some cases we come slightly under the timeline but, on average, in the private sector and the public sector, 59 or 60 weeks is regarded as best practice. Sometimes we get there in 50 weeks, which is worth doing.

The 59-week period includes the time required for our Department to assess and approve projects. However, this is just a small element of the timeline.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. He referred to a timeline of 59 weeks, but this is not happening before 59 weeks in many cases. Schemes such as those in Portarlington and Conniberry Way in Portlaoise are all very welcome and all necessary, and I know the Department has taken some steps in this regard, but the process is still very slow and very costly. Since about 2002 or 2003 there has been a requirement, introduced by the Department, that all houses must be architecturally designed. I can tell the Minister of State that the design has not improved. The requirement has led to high maintenance costs because of very bad decisions that look good on paper but are not practical. There are homes that were built in the years following the introduction of this requirement - I can take the Minister of State to them some day he is in County Laois - that finished up being very expensive to heat because of poor decision-making on the part of architects, so there are practical problems there. The four separate stages, as well as the number of steps within each of those four stages, drag out the process. The Part 8 process, whereby planning is passed at local level and the councillors are involved, is not the issue, in my experience. The councillors in general will move quickly with this. I have raised this with the Minister and the Minister of State in the past. What we need is a generic design. There is no reason we cannot have one. We often talk here about the number of houses that were built in the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s. I am not arguing with either the Minister or the Minister of State for a return to those designs because, obviously, we want modern designs, but there are good templates there. We should not be starting with a blank canvas with each scheme.

I wish to be very clear that our Department has no interest in unnecessarily prolonging the time involved in these proposals other than to comply with the Government-wide rules for capital project oversight. Deputy Stanley and many other Deputies want us to do this, so we do it. We have put in place a project that streamlines the process. I can confirm to Deputy Stanley that the parts of the process involving approval from our Department represent a very small amount of the time allocated and do not delay projects unnecessarily. I wish to be very clear on that. He mentioned two projects in Laois. They were not referred to in his initial question. If he had mentioned them in the original question, I would have brought the relevant information with me and analysed it. I am happy to look at the two projects with him. As I said, there is generally a story behind a case when we look at it. Looking back over all the projects that are there, we are now able to reach our timelines. There are some historical projects that for various reasons might take a little longer. The Minister and I also have our housing delivery team and office to help drive on these projects and to work with local authorities.

The Deputy is probably wrong on the quality of the houses. Any houses we have been involved in funding and opening in recent years under Rebuilding Ireland are of a high-quality design and build and are very efficient to run. The majority of them have building energy ratings of A3 or higher. It is wrong, therefore, to put on the floor of the House that we are building low-quality houses. We are not, and I would have to argue with the Deputy on that.

I am not saying the houses are low-quality. What I am saying is that they are-----

That is what the Deputy said.

No, that is not the point I made. I said we need a generic template. The Conniberry Way units are finished. The Minister sitting beside the Minister of State opened them. They are of a very high quality. The point I am trying to get across to the Minister of State is that the template for those houses could be used in other counties and other locations in County Laois. They could be used in Donegal, Cavan or anywhere else. The houses are being built to a high standard, but I am telling the Minister of State, on behalf of council officials throughout the State to whom I have spoken, that the Department is scrutinising all the minutiae, every little detail, and drawings are being sent back and forward between local authorities and the Department in the Custom House. That is what is slowing up the process. I am appealing for good-quality housing to be built. I recognise the fact that the housing has been better in recent years. I made that point and said I do not want to go back to 1930s or 1970s designs. We have good models. I estimate that we need six or seven different house types, including one, two, three and four-bedroom houses. We need single-storey housing for disabled and elderly people. We need rural and urban housing. We need about half a dozen or eight different designs, but they are there. Why are we starting every new housing scheme with a blank canvas?

I call the Minister of State to respond. We must have some order.

That is the key point.

The Deputy has exceeded his time. I call the Minister of State, Deputy English, to respond.

That is what is putting a cost on the Exchequer. Templates would reduce the cost.

Each local authority brings forward a house design that suits its area. I do not think Deputy Stanley's theory that we should have just standard or generic designs is supported by any of the NGOs. No one is demanding we have one standard design. Yes, there are standard specifications we can have for much housing. This is something we in the Department have worked on, and we also work with local authorities to do that. Certain parts of a house can certainly be of a standard template or standard specification, but no one is calling for the same house to be built in every part of the country. I do not think anyone supports that. We want to allow housing to fit into and blend into an area. That is what we try to achieve. However, there are savings to be made, and we have managed them.

The people on the waiting lists will support the proposal I made.

Again, I wish to be very clear that there are stages of approval. I am happy to talk through them. We have no time left to do so today, but I will bring the Deputy through the various stages of approval if he so wishes. There is no reason at all the design of a project should delay something unnecessarily. There are quite quick processes out there. Some local authorities have got through the process in 42 weeks, some in 59 weeks, and some take a little longer, but it is possible for a local authority to bring a project through the system in the 40-week bracket if it so wishes and chooses to do so. However, we do not force a design on anyone. That is not what is being asked for.

Question No. 43 replied to with Written Answers

Land Development Agency

Mick Wallace

Question:

44. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the Land Development Agency; and when legislation is expected in this regard. [24027/19]

Déanaim comhghairdeas leis an Teachta Wallace, agus ádh mór air i bParlaimint na hEorpa.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. This question relates to the Land Development Agency. Specifically, I ask for an update on the status of the agency and when the legislation is expected. The agency was heralded as groundbreaking and its mandate is to use State land to contribute towards the stability and sustainability of Ireland's housing market. However, I would argue it has no mandate yet as no primary legislation has been enacted. Will the Minister tell me when the legislation is due before the House? I note that the LDA now has a Twitter page and is hiring a head of urban planning.

It is good to see the Deputy. I congratulate him on his recent campaign.

I thank the Minister.

The Land Development Agency was established on an interim basis in September 2018 by way of an establishment order made under the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971, pending the enactment of primary legislation, when it will be established as a commercial State agency. An interim board has been appointed to the agency, an interim CEO and establishment team are in place, and recruitment to build the team is well under way. Funding of €20 million is being provided this year to support the agency's initial activities.

I expect these issues to be finalised shortly, which will clear the way for the publication of the general scheme and its submission to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government to be considered for pre-legislative scrutiny. The LDA will play a key role in the implementation of the national planning framework, particularly in terms of the utilisation of public lands and the delivery of housing. The agency is already active in delivering on its remit, especially with the initial basket of public sites that it was requested to progress. These sites have near-term potential for the delivery of 3,000 homes, with the potential for a further 7,000 homes in due course.

It would be more transparent for the LDA to be established through primary legislation before it begins its work. The idea of a Minister setting up bodies with such vast power via statutory instrument is not necessarily the sign of a healthy democracy. A former employee of the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, is to be appointed as chief executive officer. Will the Minister explain how Mr. Tim Bouchier-Hayes got a job, given he is involved with McCann FitzGerald, which gave advice on the children's hospital? He was also on the board and involved in a serious fiasco there.

The statutory instrument setting up the LDA states that the services to be provided by the agency include the development and regeneration of land and property, including structures, for the purposes of delivering housing and the achievement of wider physical, social and economic development and regeneration, as well as supporting the consolidation and replenishment of the publicly owned development landbank, expediting the most effective use of such land. Identifying land for social and economic development is a start but the main goal of the LDA should be to facilitate the development of social and affordable housing. If the LDA is to function properly, it requires complementary legislation to be enacted that deals with landbanking. The Government is currently refusing to address it but I have it going through the system.

The Deputy is correct that this requires primary legislation, and once we put it on a statutory footing, we can then capitalise it to the tune of €1.25 billion. That will make the Land Development Agency one of the biggest, if not the biggest, players in the land market in the country. It is the State bringing forward State and private land, developing it in a strategic interest for the State and as a public good in the form of social, subsidised and private housing, as well as other things that may be required in the area. We do not want unnecessary delays, so if we can do some preparatory work before the primary legislation, it is what we should do and what we have done. We have an interim chief executive officer and an interim board, and these are in place until the agency goes on a statutory footing. As we have them in place, it is able to progress the eight sites it has. I briefed the Taoiseach only last month on the progress that is happening on each of these sites. It is proceeding in a very transparent way. It is tweeting about the vacancies in the organisation as it gets up and running.

It is important to progress legislation as quickly as possible and that is why I spoke to the Attorney General again on the matter this morning. It is about getting something published as quickly as possible because I do not want any unnecessary delays. At the same time, the agency has its temporary offices and interim board and chief executive officer. It is working on sites.

Mr. John Moran has said that delivering sustainable and affordable homes for people near their workplaces and social networks is a core part of the agency's work. This will not be achieved if the Government does not address the elephant in the room, which relates to land and the problems around that. The Government is not taking landbanking legislation seriously and it just wants the issue to go away. It is nuts as it would favour 99% of the Government's supporters. Will the Government's need to seek approval from the European Commission on the matter of state aid? As the Minister is aware, Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union prohibits state aid that distorts or threatens to distort competition. For the LDA to function properly, it would have to distort competition somewhat, as the State needs to lower the price of land if the Government is serious about tackling the challenges around the supply of housing in the country. Will the Minister provide insight into whether discussions with the European Commission are taking place? The Minister did not answer my question as to how someone like Mr. Tim Bouchier-Hayes, who made such a dog's dinner of the children's hospital when on the board and working with the advisers, McCann FitzGerald, gets another job from the State?

The Deputy's time may be short here but he should not mention names.

If the Land Development Agency had been established 20 years ago, we would not have the crisis that we now have in housing or land. It is a very important piece in rebuilding our housing sector in a way that will not break it again like it did in the past. We must proceed very carefully, and that is why we are putting it on a statutory footing. That is why we have had a number of engagements with the Attorney General on the legislation, which is coming shortly. As a result of the existing Acts, I was able to set it up on an interim basis to get work going on the key sites we have identified. The Deputy has said we are not addressing the land issues, but the purpose of the Land Development Agency is to take State land, as well as private land in the public interest for strategic reasons, into strategic use. We also have a vacant site levy, with €300 million of land under that levy.

It is useless. The Minister knows it is useless.

More than 40 sites that had not been developed are under development since the levy came into effect.

If this land issue is not dealt with correctly, it will be more of a problem than a solution.

Defective Building Materials

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

45. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the details of the mica redress scheme; the date in 2019 from which homes will begin to be repaired under the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23824/19]

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

81. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the mica redress scheme; if his officials have met Donegal County Council to discuss the details of same; if there is a confirmed commencement date of same; when he expects houseowners can begin to apply to the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23823/19]

This relates to the progress in the mica redress scheme for homeowners in counties Donegal and Mayo, which has been shockingly slow. We still have not seen the detail of any scheme, despite the fact that we have been expecting for months an outline of the terms and conditions and the applications. I am asking for a clear update on the current position and the timeline for the scheme's opening for houses to be remedied.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 and 81 together.

An expert panel on concrete blocks was established by my Department in 2016 and its terms of reference were focused on the investigation of the problems that have emerged in the concrete blockwork of certain dwellings in counties Donegal and Mayo. The report of the expert panel was published in 2017 and included eight recommendations, which my Department has been actively progressing with the relevant stakeholders.

In October 2018, the Government approved in principle the development of a grant scheme of financial assistance to support affected homeowners in the counties of Donegal and Mayo to carry out the necessary remediation works to dwellings that have been damaged due to defective concrete blocks. Last month, agreement was reached with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to allocate €20 million to it for 2019. Funding for future years will be agreed annually as part of the normal Estimates process, as we discussed earlier today. The full terms and conditions of the scheme will be finalised over the coming weeks, again in consultation with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

This process will take account of the engagement that my Department is having with both Donegal and Mayo county councils. In this regard, officials from my Department met both local authority teams last week to discuss implementation arrangements for the scheme in both Donegal and Mayo. The meetings were very productive and further engagement will take place over the coming weeks. On completion of this work, it is intended to revert to the Government on the matter.

Ahead of that work being completed, I cannot be definitive on the date on which the scheme will open for applications. However, the aim will be to complete the outstanding work without delay in order to ensure that the scheme can get underway as early as possible in the autumn.

I have a couple of more seconds-----

The Deputies never remind me when they are over their time.

I will make a note and remind you in future. I am conscious the Deputy was not here earlier when I spoke to Deputy Pringle on the matter. We recognise that this is taking longer than any of us would like to get up and running, but it is important that we get it right. The Deputy is familiar with this. At every meeting we had with local residents, we explained the importance of getting-----

It is the same as everything else, including home loans and land development.

Deputy McConalogue is well able to ask his own questions.

This is silly stuff. The Deputy should grow up.

It is serious stuff.

In fairness, Deputy McConalogue has kept abreast of these discussions for the past two years, unlike his colleague on the front benches. He understands how serious this is for homeowners and they know how important it is that we get this right. We have had to get the engineering and standard assessment parts right, and that is all in place. We are trying to get this up and running as quickly as possible. It looks like it will be the autumn. I told the residents last year that we had hoped to have been fixing houses by now but we are a few months behind. We should be in a position to fix houses by the autumn.

The response is very disappointing, and the pace of progress and development in the redress scheme has been frustrating for the homeowners across Donegal whose houses are affected. Before the local elections, I asked the Minister and Minister of State on many occasions when this was going before the Cabinet. Both I and the homeowner representatives in Donegal expected the terms and conditions of the full scheme to go before the Cabinet. We expected the workings of the scheme to be approved so it could be opened for applications. What we got a few weeks ago was no more than what we got before, except homeowners on this occasion were told the contribution ratio would be 90:10 between the Government and the homeowners. There was no more detail than that. The Minister of State said the officials would meet officials in Donegal. What has been going on for the past number of months?

I was of the view that that was happening and that this was being thrashed out in full detail, yet here we are now with nothing more than what one get on the back of an envelope. We do not have any detail. We are getting general expectations and hopes in regard to something starting in the autumn. We were told homes would begin to be fixed at the start of this year. Will the Minister of State please tell us if there is any detail because we do not see any?

When we met all the residents on the Mica Action Group on a number of occasions, we all agreed that the entire process they are going through is most frustrating. Nobody wants to be in a home that has been affected by these products, and this has been going on for a number of years, but they also clearly understood the importance of it. We got this right through all the different stages. The Government does not intervene in every situation when someone's home is in a state of disrepair. In this case, a decision was made last October to confirm to everybody in Donegal and Mayo that the Government would intervene and bring forward a scheme. Much work has been done on that scheme since that time. The Deputy is familiar with that. A number of attempts were made to get this dealt with at Cabinet and different issues took over. Brexit and so on might delayed matters somewhat. We are a few months behind where we would like to be but the residents concerned know a scheme is coming forward. They sat with us on many occasions.

Regarding the full details, there has been ongoing engagement with Donegal and Mayo county councils. We made it clear to the Deputy on a number of occasions that this scheme would be administered at a local level in Donegal and Mayo to reach out to people in a clearer way but also to keep costs down and to learn from the pyrite scheme. That element is being ironed out. The scheme will be finalised in the coming weeks and we will be in a position to start the work on the houses in the autumn. The Deputy might not like that but, thankfully, we will be able to help people from the autumn.

The key aspect that has moved progress along at different times in respect of the redress scheme has been the imminence of elections. The initial expert panel was announced in December 2015, a couple of months before the February 2016 general election. What we saw after that was dilly-dallying. The chairman of the expert panel was not appointed until March or April. The panel itself was not appointed until summer 2016, which is after the date the expert panel said initially it would have reported. Once the Government received the report, it sat on Ministers' desks for months before it was published. Last October, when it looked as though there might be a general election, a scheme was committed to in advance of the budget. A couple of weeks before the local elections we received further confirmation that there would be a scheme but instead of the terms and conditions being published, we were told that officials from the Department would travel to meet Donegal County Council staff to discuss the detail of the scheme. Today, we still do not know the detail of the scheme. We are being asked now to accept that houses will be fixed in the autumn. I sincerely hope they will be but the foot-dragging on this has to stop.

I call the Minister to respond.

We have to see the detail of the scheme and get to the stage where the homeowners, who are in an awful way because of the condition of their houses-----

Other Members are waiting to contribute.

-----can apply to a scheme and get their homes fixed.

I want to be very clear on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Murphy, and myself. When a Government intervenes to fix people's homes with taxpayers' money the process takes a little time because we have to go through many procedures to do that. We also have to make sure that we fix the houses properly and in a safe manner to ensure people feel safe in their homes again. We met those in the Mica Action Group who are affected in 2016, 2017 and 2018. It was just after an election when I met them first so, please, do not tell me this is election-related. That is silly talk that the Deputy's Front Bench colleague also continues with.

We brought it in. We negotiated this in the budget. We are the ones who brought it to the table, not the Government.

Deputy O'Brien, please.

It was not election time when the Minister, Deputy Murphy, was up-----

We are the ones who brought it to the table, not the Government.

Am I allowed to speak? The Deputy should tell the truth.

I will move on to the next question if there are more interruptions.

These are people's family homes.

The Deputy might not like the answers. I have no control over the answers.

He should tell the truth.

It is a serious conversation. These are people's-----

(Interruptions).

Is the Deputy going to keep going?

We are moving on to the next question.

Does the Deputy have any respect for the House?

Deputy O'Brien is interrupting. Deputy McConalogue is anxious to get the information-----

Yes. It is a shame.

-----and he should be given that right.

It is very unfair, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle.

I am sorry for-----

Deputy O'Brien is almost casting aspersions on Deputy McConalogue. He has to get his answers.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I have a nine year old at home who has more manners than Deputy O'Brien. To be very clear-----

Am I supposed to accept that?

-----the reason it was announced in the budget was Deputy McConalogue and many others stressed that it would need to be in the budget or they would not believe it would happen. The Deputy should not tell me it was because of elections when it was something he was demanding. It was important that we signalled at budget time that this scheme would happen. The homeowners wanted to know that. We gave a commitment that we would do that. It is fair to say we are a few months behind. I would be the first to admit that but this scheme will happen.

Housing Issues

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

46. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the expected rental price of the co-living accommodation units; the discussions that took place in relation to co-living accommodation proposals; if he arranged consultations on the proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23191/19]

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

90. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the protections he will put in place to prevent co-living accommodation developments from becoming high cost, low quality accommodation for low income families or the most socially disadvantaged. [23890/19]

The Minister and I are former Dublin City Council members. He might recall that when I led the Rainbow Civic Alliance on the council, we abolished bedsits for our senior citizens and prescribed a basic one-bedroom apartment. The Minister now seems to be rushing back to an even tinier concept of living with this co-living plan, which I think appeared in Rebuilding Ireland. What consultations took place on that? Where did this demand come from? Is it not simply Fine Gael kowtowing to developers?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 90 together.

I thank the Deputy for the question. In 2018, I published updated Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments Guidelines for Planning Authorities under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, to respond to the changing housing needs in light of demographics and the dynamics we are seeing in the urban employment market. An extensive public consultation process took place prior to finalisation of the guidelines during which 63 submissions were made to my Department, all of which are available on my Department’s website. My Department also hosted a consultative workshop prior to finalising the guidelines. I do not believe the Deputy made any submissions as part of that public consultation, which was very well flagged at the time because it was well publicised when it was first announced.

The updated guidelines set out the policy on the range of apartment types needed to meet the accommodation needs of a variety of household types and sizes. This includes the introduction of the shared accommodation or co-living format. This format comprises professionally managed rental accommodation where individual rooms are rented within an overall development that includes access to shared or communal facilities and amenities. Such developments are only appropriate where responding to an identified urban housing need at particular locations; they are not suitable for families and are not envisaged as an alternative or replacement to the more conventional apartment developments which are provided for elsewhere in those same guidelines.

In assessing proposals for Shared Accommodation, a planning authority must have regard to the need for such a type of accommodation in an area. Planning authorities must also strike a balance between the need for a particular form of accommodation and the need to avoid a proliferation of shared accommodation development to the detriment of the overall objective of providing quality urban apartment development as a viable long-term housing option. Furthermore, there is an obligation on the proposer of a shared accommodation scheme to demonstrate to the planning authority that their proposal is based on an actual accommodation need and to provide a satisfactory evidential base in that regard.

I cannot comment on the expected rental price of such developments as this is dependent on both the market generally as well as the location and accommodation specifics of individual projects. Do they have a gym or a movie room? I refer to those types of developments. Developments of this kind are not intended to provide State subsidised housing for individuals or families; they are designed to meet a particular demand which, although limited in scale, exists in the rental market.

While I am satisfied that the guidelines as issued are robust, given that they are relatively new and it is a new form of accommodation for this country, although not in other countries, my Department will monitor the emerging shared accommodation sector and may issue further additional technical updates to this document as appropriate.

This is again confusing and difficult to understand. I believe Niall Cussen drafted the specific planning policy requirements - Nos. 8 and 9. The Minister is talking about single shared accommodation of 12 sq. m, which would be smaller than his office, a double or twin accommodation of 18 sq. m - a parking space for a person with a disability is 17 sq. m - and bedrooms of 8 sq. m per person. He seems to be on a road to the capsule living one would find in Tokyo, Japan, at the rate he is going. Distinguished economists and students of the housing market such as Mel Reynolds have said that the fundamental reason for this is to enrich developers. Five co-living bedrooms can fit in a site the same size as a typical two-bedroom apartment. Is that not the fundamental reason for such development? There was demand in Dún Laoghaire, and there is massive demand in my constituency, for houses and apartments, which the Minister is not meeting. Perhaps only 22,000 units will come on-stream this year, with only 4,000 or 5,000 social housing units. He is not meeting the demand that exists. Why on earth are we going down this road?

I call the Minister to respond.

The British housing market has been characterised as shoebox living. He is becoming an advocate for such shoeboxes.

The Minister has one minute to respond.

I thank the Deputy for the supplementary question. When these guidelines were first proposed, he did not make any observations. Was he not paying attention?

I made observations.

I will check the website and look for the Deputy’s submission.

I made observations and sought houses and apartments.

No. That is not the same, I am afraid. The Deputy is a little loose in-----

I made submissions to Rebuilding Ireland. We all did.

The Deputy will have a second opportunity to come in.

What we are trying to do with co-living is to bring another choice into our housing market for young professionals who have seen this type of accommodation solution in other cities.

We want to ensure there is enough choice in order that people can have a choice of where they live. They do not have that at the moment. That is the real difficulty that many people face in the housing sector today. There is no choice for how they want to live, where they want to live. I admit there is not huge demand for it but there is some demand. If we can accommodate 250 people in new co-living homes over the next 12 months, that will free up other accommodation, houses or apartments that people can rent. Between 21,000 and 23,000 new homes will be built this year and perhaps 1% or not even that might be for co-living. It is meeting a small demand, which will take pressure off other parts of the market. We must look at this in totality. We are not trying to replace social housing with this or to bring back bedsits, it is just bringing an option that we know has worked abroad into the Irish housing market.

The Minister appears to be offering this to millennial tech workers and he suggests this is an extra provision. There is an enormous need for one-bedroom apartments of a decent size, two-bedroom apartments and so on which the Minister is not addressing. If there is such a demand from the tech sector, why does the Minister not encourage the information technology corporations to buy land and build their own employee accommodation? Why should we take accommodation out of the general mix to meet that demand? Across my constituency and others, more and more applications are coming forward for studio-type bedsit developments. In the past the Minister and I, on Dublin City Council, would have opposed this and would have requested that everyone would have at least a decent one-bedroom apartment for a single citizen living alone. Now we seem to be going in the direction of shoe boxes. That will be another legacy of this Government.

A primary element in all our plans to build more homes is ensuring that we improve quality, standards and design. The Deputy can visit any social housing home or apartment and he will see the best type of home that can be built in this country today, as it should be. That was not always the way in the past. It might cost a bit extra and it might take more time in the planning but it is important when the State provides housing for those who need the help the most, that it be done to the best quality possible. We are not talking about social housing here or housing for families but about providing an option. The State is not offering or building co-living homes.

Do the young people not deserve better?

This is providing an option. If people want to avail of that option, they may do so.

These are 12 sq. m.

These were introduced a year ago and we have not seen a huge explosion in co-living, because there will not be so significant a demand for it that it will take over the market, but there will be some. This will provide for that demand and will take pressure off other parts of the housing sector. We must recognise that there are so many more individuals who are looking for their own accommodation. If they want to live in their own apartment we need to build that single-bedroom apartment or studio for them. If they want to live in a shared arrangement, to build a two- or three-bed co-living option or something beyond that based on six to eight people sharing, as per the guidelines published recently, it is their choice.

Question No. 47 answered with Question No. 40.

Local Authority Housing Provision

Bernard Durkan

Question:

48. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the extent to which the restoration of a public house building programme can be reintroduced with a view to the provision of an adequate supply of local authority housing (details supplied); the degree to which comparisons have been made between a once-off capital cost and an ongoing and possibly never ending current cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23996/19]

This question seeks to make a comparison between enhanced capital expenditure on local authority housing compared with annual subvention through the housing assistance payment, HAP, or other similar support services to local authorities with a view to achieving the best value for money.

Over the course of Rebuilding Ireland, the Government is committed to meeting the housing needs of more than 138,000 households. This will be achieved through blended delivery, with over 50,000 homes being delivered through build, acquisition and leasing programmes, and some 88,000 further households being supported through the housing assistance payment, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and other schemes. A social house building programme is already well under way, with local authorities and approved housing bodies significantly expanding new build output year on year. We have seen increases of seven or eight times in activity over the past 12 to 18 months. It is important that we are back building houses and we are committed to that as a Government and under Project 2040, which allocated the funds to increase the social housing stock to 12,000 units annually until 2028.

At the end of 2018, the housing needs of some 90,500 households were being supported under current-funded programmes. If all the funding provided for these 90,500 households had been transferred to capital expenditure, to support building or buying homes, it would only have delivered approximately 5,500 homes, leaving no resources available to support the other 85,000 households. Looking at it another way, it would take almost €20 billion to provide a new-build local authority home for the 90,500 households supported under current-funded programmes at the end of 2018.

Rebuilding Ireland is working well, with annual delivery targets consistently exceeded. This has been achieved through a blended approach to delivery, the mix of which is evolving year on year, such that in 2021, the final year of Rebuilding Ireland, more households will be supported through build, acquisition and leasing programmes than through HAP and RAS.

I am confident that the actions, targets and resources available under Rebuilding Ireland provide a strong platform for the continued delivery of high quality, value-for-money social housing supports for those on social housing waiting lists.

As all Members know, if it was possible to build houses immediately and deliver them straight away that would be best, but one cannot. People need homes today. When we started Rebuilding Ireland some years ago and focused resources to build new housing, we also had to find homes there and then. There is a combination of current and capital spending and that blend will change in coming years and rightly so. This Fine Gael-led Government is committed to building social housing.

To what extent have comparisons been made and benefits examined, given that capital is a once-off cost and the current support services are an annual cost, which I think is in the region of €400 million to €500 million annually?

Naturally, we would rather invest all taxpayers' money into capital projects but we need housing today. The numbers availing of HAP housing in the last three years is around 48,000 families. These could not have been built any quicker in a capital programme. Over time, we are committed to replenishing the social housing stock and bringing it to a level similar to other European countries. We are committed to a level of social housing stock. Other parties are not going there. They talk about numbers but no one reaches our ambition. We have set aside money to put behind that and the pipeline projects, and the new processes to deliver on that because we do believe in building social houses that the State owns. While we are building them, however, we must find people homes for today and the months ahead and for next year. That means we must work with the private sector to subsidise that and support that. We would much rather that money went into social housing, however other Governments did not continue to build social housing. Previous Governments ceased building social housing but we restarted that over the last two and a half or three years. We are making good progress, on which we will continue to build.

Normally I would agree with the Minister of State but there is an issue in respect of subventing through HAP or rent support, to the extent of €2,000 per house or family, per month, compared with the benefits of greater capital expenditure. To what extent has such a comparison been undertaken, because €2,000 per month is almost double the cost of a mortgage payment for the same family?

It is about trying to stretch taxpayers' money to deliver as many houses as we possibly can and using current funding schemes, which gives us the extra houses we need today. It is a supply issue overall. The cost of rent and HAP will come down when we increase supply. We recognise that we have a duty to find people homes today, which is what we are doing. That is why last year, more than 5,000 individuals and thousands of children left a homeless situation and are now in housing through a combination of schemes, which are capital and current funded. It is a good use of money in the short term but the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, and I, as well as the Department and Government, are absolutely committed to construction of social houses through a capital build programme. However, that takes time to get to where we want. Under our plans, this year, there will be 10,000 new houses, and that will increase to 12,000 in coming years. I encourage other Departments to match that and deliver the same.

Local Authority Members' Remuneration

Shane Cassells

Question:

49. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when a report (details supplied) into the pay and conditions for councillors will be published. [23896/19]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

958. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the date on which the final report of the independent review of the role and remuneration of elected members to local authorities will be published. [23318/19]

I wish to ask my good friend, the Minister of State, when the report by Sara Moorhead SC, on pay and conditions for councillors will be published. Obviously, the 949 councillors who were elected last week and others will be interested in this. Many young people will be entering politics for the first time. I know that feeling as it was 20 years ago today when I entered politics for the first time in Meath, alongside the young man, Deputy English, who is sitting beside the Minister of State. While an interim report was published before Christmas, when will we see publication of the report itself?

I did not think it was 20 years ago - that was the same day I entered myself.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 49 and 958 together.

Following the recent local elections, our 31 new councils are beginning their five-year term serving their communities. I want to join with the Deputy in wishing each of the 949 councillors elected the best of luck in the work that lies ahead for them in the next five years.

To support this critical work, the Government is committed to modernising the role of local authority members and ensuring that the associated remuneration package is fair and equitable. Taking on board feedback from local authority elected members and their representative bodies regarding the current remuneration regime, my colleague, the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, and I agreed to the commissioning of a review of the role and remuneration of councillors. Ms Sara Moorhead SC was commissioned to carry out the review in June 2018. She submitted an interim report to me at the end of November 2018 and this has been made publicly available on the Department website.

It was at this point where some delay occurred. To progress towards the completion of a final report, it was necessary to survey all local authority members and to seek financial information from all local authorities. In both cases, deadline extensions were granted to allow sufficient time for comprehensive responses to be made. The information requested has now been received and collated and the drafting of the final report is progressing well. I expect to receive it shortly. Following the necessary consultation with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, the review will be submitted to Government and published thereafter.

In the 20 years since we were first elected to local authorities the workload has increased substantially for those who find themselves as members of local authorities. The requirements for legislative knowledge and how councillors must deal with development plans and other areas are far more demanding. Crucially, the pressures, especially on young people entering public life, are considerable. We discussed this matter in the joint committee before Christmas. Representatives of all parties experience this when it comes to encouraging people and managing the abuse to which they are subjected. These people are effectively community leaders. The people in this House are professional politicians but the people at local level are community leaders. The online abuse for those who are trying to do good for their community is abhorrent. There should be a proper package in place in order that they can combine their work life and commitment to local government in light of the pressures that are being put on them now.

I appreciate that the Minister of State gave a deadline extension. Will the Minister of State indicate whether the report that is to be published has been cleared by the Department on the financial side? Will the report to be published be stood over from the financial side?

I agree with the Deputy. This is something I found during the course of the election. The pressures referred to by the Deputy, especially those relating to social media abuse, for the want of a better term, were an issue in attracting people to stand for election. We need to have a broader discussion in that regard.

The Deputy is also correct in pointing out that the workload, attendance at meetings, the number of meetings and the number of different groups in which councillors are involved have increased significantly in the past 20 years. This is why, as well as reviewing remuneration and what councillors receive for their work, we also asked Ms Moorhead to review the role of councillors and what we see the role being in future. We sought a view to point towards additional roles that should be devolved to local government as well.

The report is being finalised at the moment with drafting. Once that is done there will be consultation between my officials, myself and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Then there will be discussion at Government. I am committing to the House that the report will be published as soon as that discussion has happened.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.