Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Housing Estates

Aindrias Moynihan


26. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if projects that were approved for funding under the first national taking-in-charge initiative but that were not completed will be prioritised under the new national taking-in-charge initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45228/19]

Aindrias Moynihan


29. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the criteria that will be used to allocate funding under the new national taking-in-charge initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45227/19]

Martin Heydon


31. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of applications for funding by Kildare County Council under the National Development Plan 2018-2022 for developer-provided infrastructure to assist in the taking in charge of housing estates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44688/19]

Across the country, people are living in unfinished estates where the treatment plant is malfunctioning and sewers are backing up. This taking-in-charge initiative represents a possible opportunity for them to straighten up the place, make it safer and get on with their lives. We have already seen that it has taken a year to review the pilot scheme and the scheme is only accepting applications at this stage. How soon can people in these houses expect to see funding released and work started to improve the estates around them?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 26, 29 and 31 together.

In July this year my Department launched the multi-annual developer-provided water services infrastructure resolution programme. Bids were sought from local authorities around the country for funding under the programme. The development of such a multi-annual funding programme was a key recommendation of the report on the national taking-in-charge initiative that was published by my Department in December 2018. That is less than a year ago. The programme will enable the progressive resolution, on a priority basis, of substandard developer-provided water services infrastructure, commonly called DPI, much of which was installed in housing estates during the building boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. These privately owned and temporary facilities provide mostly wastewater treatment with a small number providing drinking water.

In a survey conducted by our Department in late 2015, it was estimated that just over 900 housing estates around the country depended on developer-provided infrastructure for their wastewater services. However, in a workshop recently organised by my Department to inform local authorities of the new resolution programme, it is now estimated that approximately 513 housing estates depend on such infrastructure. It is a lot less than what previously would have been talked about.

In April 2016, my Department launched the national taking-in-charge initiative. This was in recognition of the financial commitment that residents made in buying their homes and the importance of ensuring that roads, open spaces, car parks and service connections are completed and maintained to a satisfactory standard. The purpose of the initiative was to trial or demonstrate new approaches and working methods in supporting and accelerating overall national and local action on the process for taking in charge of housing estates, including those with developer-provided infrastructure. The collaborative experience gained by the key stakeholders in implementing the taking-in-charge initiative has now informed the new resolution progamme. The objective of the programme is to resolve this substandard component of our water services infrastructure in a sustainable manner, and ultimately to support residential estates being taken in charge. The national development plan published in February 2018 includes provision of €31 million for the period 2018 to 2021 to support the programme.

The closing date for bids under the programme was 18 September 2019. It was opened in July. A total of 19 local authorities with developer-provided infrastructure in estates in their areas made applications under the programme for support. Bids for ten estates were received from Kildare County Council. I think it was 11 in Cork County Council, but we can go into that shortly. My Department is currently completing a preliminary evaluation and clarification process on the bids received with the local authorities.

The intention is to set up an expert panel shortly to evaluate the bids independently and recommend suitable projects for funding. This evaluation will take place over the coming months. Membership of the panel will include departmental, stakeholder and independent representation in the Chair. The expert panel will make recommendations to me on the suitability of projects for funding under the programme based on the criteria set out in the framework document issued to local authorities when requesting proposals. The panel will report to my Department when its examination of the bids is concluded. We expect to be in a position to make announcements in early 2020 on approvals and allocations once that process is concluded and has been considered.

To clarify, we had the report in December 2018, we opened for proposals in July 2019, that closed in December, and we are now making those decisions to be announced in early 2020.

We are almost halfway through the plan that runs from 2018 to 2021 and the Minister of State has just taken in applications. Is it realistic that all the funding will be pushed out until next year and the year after that? Will he prioritise the release of funding this year given that he is almost halfway through the 2018 to 2021 scheme without having spent on it? Will he prioritise schemes on it? Crossbarry, which was part of the original pilot and was identified as having a great need, was the only one of the pilot schemes that did not advance to construction because it was found that the job was even bigger and the need greater. They had all the background works and so on done and now they have to wait for the review and for a new application despite having been delayed all along. Will such schemes be prioritised, because they have already gone through the mill, so to speak, and been assessed and identified as having a need?

The Minister of State has a number of different classes of schemes. There are smaller ones that would only deal with one housing estate and others that would supply an entire village and possibly open up and unlock other lands for housing.

Will the Minister of State look at every scheme before releasing all of them or will he prioritise some of those that would give rise to the release further housing? For example, there could be an impact in Crossbarry where a large amount of extra land could be opened for further housing and where there are already planning applications.

The pilot scheme informed the framework of how to judge and place various estates in order of priority. That was the reason we had the pilot scheme. The framework was developed and every local authority was involved in that framework. There were workshops on it as well to help to inform them when they placed estates and projects on the priority list.

The Deputy specifically referred to Cork. The Cork city area did not have any estates with DPI infrastructure requirements. Cork county submitted nine individual bids, including two for the four DPI estates at Crossbarry. The council bid addresses 11 estates overall. In it, the council estimated the cost of sustainably resolving the DPI of these estates at just over €1.56 million. The expert panel is to be formed in the next couple of weeks and it will use the framework and the criteria that are set out. The Deputy is correct that there are three categories. The panel will make the calls on that. Naturally, every local authority was asked to detail why it was putting forward various estates and the priorities behind that. I expect that is all included in the applications and the expert panel will judge. We will try to prioritise key areas. Public health is a major part of the framework as well.

To be clear, the framework funding that was set aside is ring-fenced over the three years and will be spent accordingly. It covers from mid-2018 to 2021. That money is still there and its purpose is to fund this infrastructure. The infrastructure is there since the 1990s and early 2000s.

I return to the question of prioritising. Will the Minister of State look at every scheme and release all of them in a big bang or will he recognise that some places can provide houses much faster on the ground? These are places such as Crossbarry where planning applications and so forth are already in place and where development is being held up because of the absence of these schemes. Will he look at every application or just at some of the classes first and release those so he can get houses built and give residents in those unfinished estates the benefit more quickly, especially given the fact that they have been held up for so long? They were part of the pilot and had to wait for the review, which took over a year, and it appears that they have to wait again. They have already been assessed as having a need. In fact, it is a much greater need than originally believed. That is why they did not advance in the pilot scheme.

The Minister of State has €31 million. How is he distributing that across the three classes? Has he made a decision on that and can he clarify how he plans to spend it? This scheme is for the period 2018 to 2021 so we are half way through it. Will the Minister of State release some of that funding before the end of the year to let people get on with it? Time is slipping by.

To be clear, we are not half way through. The funding is allocated in an envelope for a couple of years so it is not the case that we are any way through it. The money must be spent on these estates before 2021. This is about the resolution of previous mistakes and that is where the focus will be. This is developer infrastructure that was not monitored properly and probably was not planned properly. In hindsight, it possibly should not have been allowed under previous Administrations. We are dealing with that now. It is a resolution. That is the priority on which it will be allocated. The expert panel will judge the applications that have been made. As I said, Cork made 11 applications and Crossbarry is mentioned in them. The criteria are there for judging them and the expert panel will use them. Neither I nor the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will tell the expert panel how to judge. It will use the assessed criteria that have been set out. However, this is about resolution and rectifying the mistakes of the past.

I call Deputy Heydon.

What about the distribution of funding?

A number of these estates were developed in Kildare. It is questionable whether the single stand-alone developer infrastructure should have been permitted in the first place. Kildare County Council has submitted a list. When will a decision be made on funding for the estates? The Moone Village estate currently has raw sewage flowing out onto the street. A number of constituents contacted me about this in recent weeks. It has been a long-standing issue in Moone. There are also Allen Court in Allen, the Paddocks in Ballitore and Lios an Ri in Clogherinkoe. There is a long-standing legacy issue with Moorhill Wood in Brannockstown from the boom times. Redhills Park in Ellistown and Mountrice Mill in Monasterevin are part of a pilot scheme with Irish Water. Can the Minister of State provide an update on the current position with the Irish Water protocol regarding taking-in-charge? With regard to the list that has been submitted by the council, when will a decision be made on that in the context of the €31 million he has available? If and when these estates are upgraded, and it must happen as quickly as possible, who will have responsibility for maintaining them in the future? Will it be the local authority or Irish Water?

Deputy Heydon managed to name all ten estates that are the subject of applications from Kildare County Council. They will be judged on the criteria. Submissions closed in September and Kildare got in on time with ten. An expert panel is being put together to judge the applications based on the criteria set down in the framework. That was based on the pilot scheme we had in the past. The panel will make those judgments and we expert it will be able to announce its decisions in early 2020. Work can begin throughout 2020 as well. There is an envelope of €31 million for the next couple of years. The number of estates in this category is probably about half of what we initially thought it would be, which is positive. There has been much change to housing developments in the last number of years, but there are potentially approximately 500 estates to be addressed. This allocation of funding will go a long way towards dealing with some of them and, hopefully, will bring badly needed resolution for residents who were let down by previous decisions. It is not so much that developer provided infrastructure was completely wrong, but that there was no plan to join it up and no logic to it. There was no monitoring of it and no quality assessment. It is basically down to how it was managed without any long-term thinking. That is what is being corrected now. There is a methodology set out on how to judge that and correct it in the future.

I agree that there is a lack of management and monitoring. There are lessons for us to learn as we continue development around the country. With regard to the local authorities and the staff they have for different areas, are there enough staff in compliance sections to oversee? Is it also a key issue for Irish Water in terms of its resources to examine the compliance levels and ensure that where there is developer provided infrastructure it is being correctly implemented and installed? There are significant challenges in places such as Moone, Allen, Ballitore and Clogherinkoe and the people in these estates are encountering them daily. Hopefully, we can get funding through this scheme to address many of these problems. What is the longer-term plan for Irish Water in the context of a taking-in-charge protocol? Who will have responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of these estates when they are taken back in charge? Will they be in the charge of the council or Irish Water?

Irish Water is involved in the solution in a high percentage of cases because the infrastructure can quite easily be tapped into its network and so forth. It will be in charge of that. In other cases they are rural areas which are a little more difficult, but individual solutions will be found as well. The key part is that we use the pilot scheme and enable the knowledge on this. Irish Water and local authorities are fundamental to the solutions, and the funding is allocated to the local authorities to carry out this work. They will be in charge of and oversee the work.

Regarding the present and the future, planning has changed completely in the last seven or eight years since we have been in government in terms of how it is managed and regulated. This cannot and would not be allowed to happen again. I am confident of that because we made sure to change it with regulations and the changes we made in the context of how we approach planning and development. With regard to servicing lands in the future, there are proposals on the desk of the Minister - these will be announced shortly - regarding Irish Water and what will happen in the future. We are also looking at a more joined-up approach between local authority development plans and Irish Water's spending plans. There cannot be development without infrastructure now. That does not happen any more.

The Minister has €31 million for that and he is spreading it across three broad categories. They include smaller estates and estates where a solution would also provide a solution for the wider village and community. Has he made a decision on how he will distribute the €31 million across the three categories?

Would the Minister of State accept that, if he spends some of it on measures that will benefit the wider community, more people will benefit from it? Undeveloped zoned ground for which planning permission has already been granted can also be brought into play. He can kill two birds with one stone and deal with unfinished estates while bringing zoned ground into consideration. Has he decided how he is going to spend that €30 million across those categories? Could he prioritise one category over another? Has he thought about this? Would he consider it? Could schemes that have already undergone assessment not be allowed to get on with their business rather than being held back while everybody else is assessed?

There are four categories to be analysed by the expert panel. I will not prejudge the panel's decision. Criteria are set down and decisions will be made in conjunction with local authorities. Local authorities have done their homework and have worked out, as best as they possibly can, the cost of doing this work. They have considered whether some of the projects are shovel-ready and how easy it is to tap into the current system. Naturally, if other planning gains arise, they will be considered but my priority, which I assume is the same as the Deputy's, is to help those people who have been left stranded in a very difficult position. That is what this is about. It is about taking in charge existing estates where people were failed in the past. That is the number one criterion. Where these estates exist alongside existing Irish Water infrastructure and infrastructure that has capacity for the future, that will be of benefit, but this work is about taking in charge existing housing estates that were built in an unsatisfactory manner, which are serviced with unsatisfactory infrastructure and which are vulnerable to issues relating to wastewater and, in some cases, water.

Water Quality

Eoin Ó Broin


27. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if the cause of the recent boil water notice at the Leixlip water treatment plant was the same as that discovered by the Environmental Protection Agency in March 2019. [45234/19]

To move on a little bit from what we were discussing earlier, I was not questioning the decision regarding whether to shut down the water supply or to introduce the boil water notices. I understand the logic behind that. I refer more specifically to what happens after the current upgrade works to deal with the turbidity issue are carried out. The Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, was very clear in both its October audit and its contribution to the committee today that the ongoing work will not be enough to ensure that there will not be a repeat of the kind of incident we just saw yesterday in the future. That is why it has recommended that Irish Water look at a UV disinfection system. On foot of that request from the EPA, has Irish Water decided that is what is required? Will the Minister engage positively with Irish Water to ensure that this additional protection is introduced in parallel with the current capital works rather than waiting until after 2024 to address all of this?

I thank the Deputy for the question. I have a written answer but it is the same as the previous answer so, if it is okay, I am not going to read it out. I hope that will allow us to move through the questions more quickly. The important change with regard to accountability is that the EPA now reports directly to me. The agency is not under my Department's remit. In the course of an audit, the EPA, because it is independent, will audit a plant, make recommendations and will then take Irish Water or any other body to task over the implementation of those recommendations. It has strong powers to do so. Earlier this year in Donegal, the EPA pursued Irish Water in respect of a number of issues. It is very important that the EPA is strongly independent so that it can act without needing to drag in a Minister. In respect of this plant in particular, given what we have seen in the events in March, October and November, it is important that the EPA will now report directly to me. Following on from its report, which is more detailed than the audit, I will engage with Irish Water and with Fingal County Council to see what needs to be done. I will do that very soon. I have seen the revised timelines arising from the March recommendations. I am not necessarily happy with them, although I understand that it is very difficult to change parts of the filtration system without having to cut off people's water supply. I want to see whether there is something we can do to help in that regard.

With regard to UV treatment, given the critical nature of this plant and the increased demands on it arising from an increase in the supply of housing, we have to ensure that the necessary treatment equipment is in place. To repeat my earlier point, the boil water notice currently in place as a result of the November event would still be in place if UV treatment equipment was present. The lack of this equipment did not cause this issue. With regard to the more detailed report the EPA will supply to me and the recommendations that will flow from it, we will have to look again at both the operation of the plant and the investment planned for it.

I welcome that direct engagement. The EPA's audits are very valuable and very useful and are produced in a way that those of us who are not technical experts in the field can fully understand. The Minister is absolutely right. The ongoing upgrading of the filtration system in the old part of the plant which supplies 20% of the water to the greater Dublin area is, as far as we understand, the primary cause of yesterday's event. The EPA, however, said in the recommendations of its October audit and in committee today that even when the capital works currently funded in the programme and under way are completed, there will still be a risk of the kind of event that happened yesterday if we do not move towards a UV disinfection system. When we asked Irish Water about this, we asked how much such a system would cost to introduce and how long it would take. It told us that it would cost tens of millions of euro and take several years. I am not asking for the Minister to intervene in the ordinary day-to-day running of Irish Water or in the work of the EPA, but Irish Water, on foot of the recommendation in the October report, may take the view that it needs an additional disinfection system. This could be introduced in parallel but it would need additional funding from the Minister's Department not this year, or necessarily even next year, but over the next two or three years. It is on that matter that I am asking the Minister to engage positively with not only the EPA, but with Irish Water, so that we do not finish this piece of work only still to risk an event such as that affecting hundreds of thousands of households in Dublin and surrounding counties because we did not introduce the UV disinfection system.

I thank the Deputy for the follow-up question. We still have to get to the root cause of the November event but we can all agree that the level of risk currently inherent in the Leixlip plant is unacceptable. It is not acceptable and it is not fair to all of the houses served by this water treatment plan for this uncertainty to continue into the future. I do not want to get ahead of the process currently under way. I spoke to the head of the EPA yesterday and the process will conclude shortly, although we must recognise that the staff who were preparing this report for me were pulled back in for the November event. This will mean a little bit more of a delay, but there will be no unnecessary delay in providing me with this report. Without getting ahead of that process, I am committing to review the operational situation of this plant and the need for additional equipment to be put in place in the future.

Traveller Accommodation

Eoin Ó Broin


28. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans for the implementation of the recommendations of the expert group on Traveller accommodation published in July 2019. [45235/19]

As we know, it was in 2017 that the Housing Agency, on foot of a request from the Department, published a very extensive report showing the failings in the Traveller accommodation budgetary process. To the Minister's credit, he put together an expert group which produced a very good report, which was published in July. We are now four months on from that so I am interested to hear the Minister's intentions with regard to progressing the very important recommendations of this report.

I am currently considering the report and recommendations of the expert group on Traveller accommodation, which has been published on my Department’s website, with a view to implementing appropriate actions and policies that will improve the delivery of Traveller accommodation nationally. The priority is to ensure that full use is made of the increasing level of funding available for investment in Traveller accommodation. We must ensure this money is spent and that further investment for the years ahead is also secured.

In Ireland, accommodation for Travellers is provided through a wide range of options including standard local authority housing, private housing assisted by local authority or voluntary bodies, private rented accommodation and Traveller-specific accommodation. Travellers may express a preference across the range of accommodation types at any stage when applying for social housing support through the social housing needs assessment process. It is noted that this process provides additional accommodation options to Traveller families to meet their culturally appropriate needs.

As Deputy Ó Broin will be aware, the 32 recommendations made by the expert group to accelerate the delivery of Traveller accommodation are comprehensive and wide-ranging and include proposals aimed at addressing research deficiencies, including deficiencies in how information is gathered and used so that needs can be identified clearly through the social housing assessment process; removing any potential delays and obstacles in the planning system with regard to delivery – a number of recommendations have been made in this regard; increasing resources and delivery capacity; and strengthening governance arrangements.

In the context of the 32 recommendations, my Department is now liaising with key stakeholders on issues arising across all relevant Departments. It should be noted that the expert group’s report has also been shared with the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee and that members of the committee are considering the report and will provide submissions to my Department, as appropriate.

My Department and I will, in turn, further consider the issues arising and set out a roadmap for implementation of agreed recommendations. It could also be called a mini action plan or a project plan. I know the Deputy loves action plans. We find them quite useful in getting work done. This involves bringing all stakeholders into the conversation, which we have been doing over recent weeks and months. We have been gathering their opinions on, and analysis of, the matter.

We will try to combine all of that as well. The Deputy can be assured that the Government is committed to accelerating and increasing the delivery of much-needed Traveller accommodation, and the funding is in place to support this delivery.

We are due in to a committee next week with the Deputy, which may prove a better time to go through each recommendation to see how we can progress them. We are committed to doing this also and we will put in place a project team, which we are already implementing, with an action plan to implement the various actions. Some are short and medium-term, but we would like to be in a position to start implementing the recommendations. We have started some of them already, but starting from January on, let us have a group in place. We will put somebody from the Department in charge to implement this and follow through on all of the actions.

I thank the Minister of State. I acknowledge the work and commitment of the Minister of State to this project. Because of this commitment, he has built up a considerable volume of trust with members of the Opposition and with the stakeholders.

I have two concerns. The Housing Agency's report was published in January 2017. Extensive consultations took place during that. The expert group did its work and got engaged. I do not believe there is necessarily a need for a wide sectoral consultation. It is more about the Government deciding which of the recommendations it is going to implement and what the timeline is. The sooner the Minister of State can bring that forward the better. I and many of the Traveller advocacy organisations would hate to see another long round of discussions when really what we want to see is what is going to be implemented.

There was a 45% underspend in 2017 of the money allocated by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to local authorities for Traveller accommodation. That underspend rose in the following year to 48%. Halfway through this year it was less than 20%, although I am aware this will increase. A huge amount of money is not being spent. The urgency on this is enormous. I am happy with the action plans if the actions are good and if the target dates are met. The sooner the Minister of State can bring that forward so that everybody is clear as to how the 32 recommendations are going to be implemented, the better it will be for all of us.

I wish to clarify that it will not be a big round of consultation at all. To be fair to all of the various stakeholders who will be involved in implementing the actions, I need to get some quick comments from them. This will include the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee, NTACC, which is there to advise me and the rest of us on this. That group has not given me its formal thoughts as I have not had a chance to engage with it. I have had some initial brief submissions from the three main Traveller organisations represented on the NTACC. I understand they want to give some further thoughts on that and I am anxious to get them. We have had submissions from the City and County Management Association, CCMA, the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, the Irish Traveller Movement accommodation association committee, CENA, and Wexford County Council. I am also awaiting a submission, which is on its way to me, from the Department of Justice and Equality. That is important. When we have the submissions we can move on this. The plan is to put in place a project board, which I will sit on, to drive these actions. There will be a little bit of expertise required, if need be, for each action in certain areas. This is also being put together. We fully intend to move on with this as soon as possible and will not sit back.

While the spend is a lot higher than 20% now, it should be at 100% and they should be looking for more. The Minister, Deputy Murphy, and I are on record saying that we want more money spent in this regard. We recognise the need. If there are available resources, we use them to find other accommodation solutions for Travellers, even if not Traveller-specific. The money is put to good use. It is not handed back. It is spent on housing and housing solutions, and it is important to recognise that too. We want it spent in the right way, however. There are also some planning changes there, but it is to be hoped that if everybody buys into this, we will be able to make some great progress.

With regard to the delays in 2017, the Deputy will be aware of some of the history of that. We would not accept all the responsibility for that. I believe it was a little bit slow and it should have moved faster, but there were reasons for that. We are moving on in the right direction now and it is important that we do so.

Question No. 29 answered with Question No. 26.

Home Loan Scheme

Martin Heydon


30. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the allocation of additional funding for Rebuilding Ireland home loan applications from County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44687/19]

Thomas Byrne


1160. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when funding will be allocated to Meath County Council for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45190/19]

The Rebuilding Ireland home loan is a very good scheme for those on the lower end of the wage scale who get up early in the morning for work and who are looking to be able to purchase their own house and aspire to own their own home. Demand in Kildare is particularly high for this scheme. Will the Minister outline how much his Department has allocated to Kildare County Council for loans to be allocated under the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, the initial amount granted, and if any subsequent top-ups have been given to Kildare County Council for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 30 and 1160 together.

When the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme was initially being developed, it was estimated that the drawdown of loans would be approximately €200 million over three years. This loan product, however, has proved to be more successful than initially anticipated. In the context of the scheme’s success, my Department engaged with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance about the allocation for 2019.

I engaged early, as I said I would. While discussions commenced in October 2018 on additional funding, the first tranche of €200 million was only fully drawn down in August of this year. My Department wrote to all 31 local authorities on 15 August this year sanctioning an additional €363 million in funding for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan. This brings total funding for the loan scheme to more than €563 million for 2018 and 2019 combined.

Kildare County Council’s total allocation for the period 1 February 2018 to 31 December 2019 has been increased to €20.9 million. The allocation for Meath has been increased to €35.8 million for the same period. These overall allocations incorporate loans already issued since the inception of the scheme, loans that will be drawn down on foot of approvals already issued, and projected loan demand for the rest of 2019.

Kildare County Council gives six months for approved applicants to draw down their allocated loan under the scheme. If it has not been drawn down within the six-month period, the money is then recycled and given to the next applicant in the queue. There is a big issue also in the length of time people must wait after they have applied. It is very difficult to rent and to save for a deposit at the same time. If a person gets the allocation, he or she has just six months to find the right house to seal the deal.

I have also encountered the issue where there are multiple applicants, especially in Kildare and I am sure in the greater Dublin area, Meath and Wicklow also, who apply to several county council lists for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan. Has the Minister considered a national register where the Housing Finance Agency could act as an overarching body so that when a person has applied in more than one county and is allocated the funding in one county, he or she could then be knocked off the other lists? This could give the opportunity to other people in Kildare who are also waiting on the list. Currently, it can take six months for it to become apparent that the person who is in front of them on the list will not be drawing down that money. We need to get the money recycled quicker and get it back into the system quicker.

The six-month drawdown period for those who have received approval for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan is standard within the industry. I am aware there have been some delays at the processing stage and people wanting the credit committee of the local authority to meet again more quickly to get approvals turned around. The Housing Agency, which is the overseer in the first line for an approval or a decline, operates to very efficient timelines.

The Deputy makes a very good point, however, about the duplications in the system. A person can apply to different local authorities and as a result it can, for a period of time, give an uncertainty around the actual headroom that is left in the local authority in terms of the funding that has been approved or allocated from central government to the local authority. One of the things we have discussed with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is new reporting requirements for local authorities whereby they would have to report back each month to the Housing Agency so we can see where duplication might be happening where a loan has been drawn down. On an enhanced role for the Housing Agency or the Housing Finance Agency and the roles they already play in trying to manage duplications better, a national register is a good idea and is under active consideration at the moment by me in how we can further improve this very desirable low interest mortgage.

Kildare's figures are a good example of why such a measure is necessary. Of the €21 million the Minister has said is available to Kildare County Council to draw down, the council has asked the council members to approve only €15 million. This is because there has been a drawdown of only €10 million. It means there are an awful lot of people still waiting on a list who are now contacting my office. They want to get a Rebuilding Ireland home loan but are stuck in that system. Where there is duplication it would be very helpful to have some measures to deal with that.

The income limits for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan are €50,000 for a single person and €75,000 for a couple. I have dealt with a number of cases where a person in his or her 30s is a public servant or works in the public sector and might be high enough up the increment scale. It is not too hard to get just on or above the €50,000 threshold. One comes across very few banks, however, that are able to give mortgages to people in that space who are on less than €60,000. This means we still have a cohort - single people and couples - that are missing out between the Rebuilding Ireland home loan and what the banks are lending.

The Rebuilding Ireland home loan is a very good step in that direction, but if there was a review of those limits, a slight increase should be considered. While there is a maximum level allowed, perhaps consideration could also be given to a minimum level. That there is no minimum level for the local authority to bring in is a vulnerability in the scheme.

I will allow a short supplementary question from Deputy Ó Broin.

The Minister will be aware that one of the difficulties in Dublin is that the loans being offered are, on average, €200,000. My local authority of Dublin City Council offers €180,000. This is far short of the market rate.

One of the things we are being told by people who receive offers that are simply too low in the context of purchasing properties is that the information on the Rebuilding Ireland home loan website is confusing and does not outline clearly what the key criteria are. In fact, the calculator on the website can often give people an inflated sense of the loans they will be able to access. When they receive an offer, it is far below what the calculator indicated or they do not get an offer at all. The broad range of criteria applied to the home loan facility at the underwriting stage must be explained more clearly so that people do not go into it with unrealistic expectations of what they might be able to get. The issue is particularly acute in the larger urban areas.

I thank the Deputies for those follow-on questions. On the last point raised by Deputy Ó Broin, it would be an awful thing if couples were looking at homes on the basis of an expectation of a mortgage they were not going to get. That would kill their hopes and dreams right out of the gate. As a result, I will look at the issue as to whether the calculator and the credit committee are out of kilter.

Deputy Heydon asked me to examine the income limits. I will not be looking at them for the time being. The limits of €50,000 for an individual and €75,000 for a couple are in line with the other affordability requirements we are introducing. The Rebuilding Ireland home loan and affordable housing products are new and will be kept under review into the future but for the time being they are set. As to the example that was given with regard to people who might be just above those limits, it is very interesting to consider the banks. While the banks do not come under my remit, there is a question as to whether the latitude they have to make exceptions is being used with respect to higher earners. Surely, those exceptions should be made in respect of lower earners who actually need the help rather than given to the higher earners. I would like to have a bit more information about that, albeit the Central Bank and the banks themselves are independent of my Department. Where the banks have exceptions policies, they should ensure that exceptions are not only made in respect of high earners as that undermines the whole point of having a flexibility to make exceptions within the lending criteria.

Question No. 31 answered with Question No. 26.

Social and Affordable Housing

Richard Boyd Barrett


32. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of affordable homes which will be delivered in 2020; when the income eligibility criteria for such homes will be defined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45220/19]

John Curran


38. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if appropriate regulations regarding the sale of affordable homes will be reviewed and introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45008/19]

Darragh O'Brien


48. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the estimated final average cost of an affordable home under the new affordable purchase scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45198/19]

Bríd Smith


53. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the measures he is taking to ensure the availability of affordable housing units in view of Central Bank rules and the income limits that apply to qualify for inclusion on social housing waiting lists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45149/19]

The income thresholds for affordable housing must be established clearly. Certainly, what the Minister has said to date indicates that there are huge numbers of people we cannot identify or say how they will access affordable housing. The Minister promised a review of the income thresholds for social housing. When will that review take place?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 32, 38, 48 and 53 together.

Arrangements for homes to be made available for purchase at a discount on open market rates are now provided for under the affordable dwelling arrangements and Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, which I commenced in June 2018.  As Deputies will be aware, provisions in Housing Acts and the Planning and Development Act 2000 relating to affordable housing were repealed in 2011 in view of the fact that house prices had halved in the period between 2008 and 2011.

I signed regulations in respect of the making of a scheme of priority on 12 March 2019 and these were issued to local authorities on 22 March 2019.  The purpose of a scheme of priority is to set out the affordable purchase arrangements at local authority level.  This includes the methodology that will be applied by local authorities to determine the order of priority to be accorded to eligible households in instances where the demand for homes under the scheme exceeds the number of homes available.

Further regulations will be put in place over the coming months regarding income eligibility and other matters. When the operational procedures for the scheme have been finalised and before affordable homes are made available under the scheme, a programme of communication will be undertaken by my Department and local authorities.

In order to support the delivery of homes to buy or rent at rates which are discounted on open market prices, this Government has committed €310 million under the serviced sites fund, or SSF, from 2019 to 2021 to provide infrastructure to enable the delivery of some 6,200 homes.

To date, I have allocated funding of €127 million in support of 35 projects in 14 local authority areas for infrastructure works that will see the delivery of almost 3,200 homes. The overall cost and the timing of delivery for these projects is contingent upon the completion of design, planning and procurement in the first instance, and local authorities are working to achieve delivery as quickly as possible.  I confirm that the first SSF supported affordable homes will be delivered on a site in Boherboy, County Cork, in 2020. Delivery across the country will increase incrementally on an annual basis thereafter.

The selling price of homes made available for purchase by local authorities will be influenced by a number of factors including the cost of each particular development, which can vary significantly from one site to another, and the housing type involved.

While the Central Bank's macro-prudential rules must be applied to banks providing mortgages to the purchasers of what will be private homes available under the scheme, significant discounts of up to 40% of market prices will mean that these homes will be available to individuals on moderate incomes who would otherwise not be in a position to purchase their own home.

In addition to making more affordable homes available for purchase using the cost-rental model, the SSF will also play an important role in making homes available for rent at levels which are significantly below market rates.  I have convened a working group within the Department in conjunction with the Land Development Agency, the Housing Agency and other expert bodies. This group is developing the policy framework for the broader cost-rental model and examining how a sustainable financing structure can be established to commence delivery of units at the scale required to get this new category of housing off the ground. The work of the group is being assisted by a consultancy and research support that is being undertaken by the European Investment Bank on our behalf.

This work is being informed through two cost-rental pilot projects at the former St. Michael's Estate in Inchicore and at Enniskerry Road in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, respectively. The latter project has already commenced construction, supported by EIB funding, and the first homes are anticipated to come on stream from 2021.

To assist local authorities to progress projects that have been submitted under the SSF, my Department hosted an affordable housing workshop last Thursday. The workshop was attended by representatives from the 19 local authorities who were included in the first and second serviced sites fund calls.

These new schemes are set in the context of significant moderation in the growth in house prices and complement other key Government affordability initiatives. Included among these are the Rebuilding Ireland home loan, under which over 1,000 loans had been drawn down by end June this year, and the help-to-buy scheme, under which some 14,000 applications have been approved. In addition, the Land Development Agency's initial portfolio of sites has the potential to deliver 3,000 affordable homes while the local infrastructure housing activation fund, or LIHAF, will support more than 2,300 affordable homes on mainly publicly owned lands. A further 5,600 homes some of which have already come on stream, will benefit from a LIHAF related cost reduction.

In overall terms, programmes are in place under which some 18,000 affordable homes or homes with a LIHAF-related reduction will be delivered. To date, 15,000 households have also been supported into more affordable homes under the Rebuilding Ireland home loan or the help-to-buy scheme.

The following are some examples of the cost of homes under the affordable scheme. In the Boherboy housing estate in Cork, for example, two-bedroom houses will be delivered at €200,000 or less. A single person earning €36,000 could afford to buy such a house using the Rebuilding Ireland home loan. In Ballymun, two-bedroom homes will be sold for between €148,000 and €168,000. A single person earning €31,000 would be able to afford one of these homes using the Rebuilding Ireland home loan. In Ballyfermot, one-bedroom homes will be available for approximately €136,000 which will be affordable to a person on €25,000. In O'Devaney Gardens, two to three-bedroom homes will cost €300,000. A couple earning €55,000 could afford such a home. A sum of €55,000 would typically be the combined income of a new teacher and a nurse living together and buying that home together. That is the type of affordability we plan to deliver on sites in Dublin, Cork and at the cost-rental site in Deputy Boyd Barrett's constituency, which will see two-bedroom apartments for rent at €1,200, or €600 per person. That is how we are trying to drive affordability by using the serviced sites fund to deliver homes that are affordable to buy as well as cost-rental housing.

We were told the Enniskerry site would commence two years ago but it still has not commenced.

Due to the fact that the Minister is linking affordability to market and cost issues, people on low incomes will not be able to afford these houses, in particular in areas like mine where market prices are very high. Given the income thresholds for social housing, thousands of people are having their hopes and dreams, to use the Minister's phrase of earlier, dashed because they are being thrown off housing lists after years of waiting when their incomes marginally exceed the income threshold whether temporarily or simply on foot of the lapse of time. When they are thrown off the housing list, they may lose ten, 15 or even 20 years of waiting time while their incomes still mean they do not have a prayer of buying or renting anything in their area and cannot expect that the affordable housing, which has yet to appear but which the Minister promises will come, will ever be affordable to them. What does he say to those people?

I want to look at this from a Dublin perspective as house prices here are considerably higher than in many other parts of the country. There is a substantial cohort of people who are squeezed out of the housing market and consigned to life in private rental accommodation.

The irony is that often the rent they pay is greater than a mortgage repayment. The Minister has clearly identified schemes that will come on and has given examples. The problem is that is a drop in the ocean compared with demand. My specific concern is that the big housing solutions that we see, the big planning applications that are going directly to An Bord Pleanála, are all build to rent. That seems to be where the future lies. Our concern is that there are people who are working whose incomes are higher than the entitlement threshold for social housing who are missing out and are not able to purchase their own houses.

Out of curiosity, I looked online before I came to the House and found that in Dublin today, of new houses for sale under €300,000, 12 are listed publicly. That is the scale of the problem and that is the group that we are trying to address.

To respond to Deputy Boyd Barrett, the Enniskerry Road development has commenced. It is a pilot project that will operate on a cost rental model. It involves two housing bodies, the Housing Finance Agency, the Housing Agency, my Department, and the local authority. If we get it right, a two-bedroom apartment in a great location that is very well serviced will be available for €1,200. That is very important in terms of affordability. For €600 per person, rent in that type of location is very positive. If that works as a pilot, we can expand it throughout the country. That is what the working group is there to do.

On what might be affordable for someone looking to buy, I gave the example of O'Devaney Gardens, which has new two or three-bedroom homes that a starting teacher and nurse living together could afford to buy. These are the types of people we are trying to target with the affordability provisions.

The next question was how we help those who cannot qualify for social housing. We do so with these schemes. We also help them with supply. We know the increase in supply has driven down house prices in parts of Dublin or stabilised them in other parts, but we must throw off the old thinking that supply alone will bridge the affordability gap, particularly in our cities, because it will not and has not in other areas. That is why we have these affordability schemes, the Rebuilding Ireland home loan and the help-to-buy scheme to help people out of the rent trap into new homes.

That concludes questions to the Minister.

I thought we had a second round of supplementary questions.

We do not, actually.

I apologise but all the time is gone. That concludes questions to the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. It is not that I am being particularly obstreperous today but we must stick to the rules.

The rules do not seem to be working very well for some of us.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.