Again today, the media has been briefed by the Government that it will strip the housing powers of county and city councils to speed up the building of homes. Such sentiments have been expressed before and I remember in September 2018 when the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, breathlessly threatened that he would have recourse to emergency powers in the Department to step in and take control of some local authority functions. It was clearly nothing more than bluff and bluster at that time. The briefing and media spin are incredibly cynical and deliberately timed because the Government is feeling the heat on the doorsteps during the by-elections over the housing crisis. To blame the councils is the Government's response to camouflage its ineptitude and failings. The truth is that elected councillors have very little say in the housing planning process.
The Dáil and the Opposition facilitated the Government in the strategic development schemes whereby any project with more than 100 homes could bypass councils without seeking planning permission. What happened with that? The 10,000 units that got planning permission through the scheme never got off the ground. They have not got off the ground yet. That is two thirds of all planning permissions obtained under the scheme. Do we blame the councillors and councils for this? The truth is the Government has placed councils in incredibly bureaucratic straitjackets that have prevented them from getting very modest projects off the ground. Take, for example, the value threshold of €2 million. Any council that wants to build above the €2 million threshold must get permission to do so from central government and it can take 59 weeks for that process to conclude. In the previous budget we agreed with the Taoiseach, the Minister for Finance and the Minister with responsibility for housing that the threshold would increase to €6 million. There is nothing big about that, given that €2 million would get ten houses and €6 million might get 30 houses. A year on, when back in budget negotiations, we asked what happened to the €2 million threshold and why it did not increase to €6 million. The Minister, Deputy Murphy, could not get his officials to sign off on it.
Then we have the other bureaucracy around cost-effective analysis for projects of more than €20 million. Deputy Darragh O'Brien did some work through freedom of information requests and discovered the basic guidance on cost-effective analysis has not even issued to councils. This has resulted in a lot of projects being delayed and not going ahead.
We estimate that approximately 2,000 housing units have not progressed because of that bureaucratic delay by the Government. The Land Development Agency was announced in 2016 and re-announced in 2018. Incredibly, the legislation to establish it has not yet passed through the House. All of the projects under the agency are at pre-planning design. Not a single house has been built as a result of that particular initiative.
All of this reveals an inertia and lack of urgency at Government level about the crisis in housing - rising homelessness, rising rents, young people unable to afford housing-----