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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 3 Mar 2022

Vol. 1019 No. 2

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Question No. 114 replied to with Written Answers.

Wastewater Treatment

James O'Connor


115. Deputy James O'Connor asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the details of the investment in wastewater treatment facilities to increase available service lands for housing development. [12137/22]

I would like to ask the Minister of State to give the House an update on work that has been undertaken by his Department on wastewater treatment facilities. Wastewater treatment is a key part of the development of any new housing infrastructure but it is a particular issue in my own constituency, where many housing developments are being held up in multiple settings. Particular areas of concern are Midleton, Youghal, Killeagh, Mitchelstown and Carrigtohill. I would appreciate if the Minister of State could furnish us with some details of his work in that area.

The programme for Government commits to funding Irish Water's capital investment plan for water and wastewater infrastructure on a multi-annual basis. The National Development Plan 2021-2030 commits to almost €6 billion in capital investment by Irish Water in the period 2021-2025, of which more than €4.5 billion will be Voted Exchequer funding for domestic water services. As part of budget 2022, funding of more than €1.57 billion was secured to support water services. This includes €1.459 billion for domestic water services provision by Irish Water.

Irish Water is supporting the delivery of Housing for All through investment in growth. Irish Water has developed an approach to identifying future water services demand and prioritising it for delivery where there is clear evidence that strategic investment is required to support housing delivery. On timely delivery of connections, Irish Water will ensure that its network delivery stream supports timely delivery of housing connections. On self-lay accreditation, an accreditation scheme will be advanced to facilitate developers in providing water services infrastructure, provided agreed standards are met. This is an accredited contractor scheme that will be led by Irish Water. I think it has fantastic potential. Irish Water and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities will review the water connection policy to address any issues with first mover disadvantage. Water and wastewater capacity registers were published on the Irish Water website on 24 November 2021.

The Deputy will understand that the progress of individual wastewater plants and infrastructure is a matter for Irish Water. As we modernise our infrastructure it is inevitable that capacity constraints will arise in certain locations. However, the funding provided by this Government is ensuring that water and wastewater infrastructure investment is supporting the Government's overall housing targets. I am assured by Irish Water that it is also committed to this agenda and I know that they work closely with local authorities to ensure that local development plan-led priorities are aligned as much as possible.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. Unfortunately in my own constituency there are many pertinent questions that still need to be answered. That has been the case for a very long time, preceding the Minister of State's entry into government and the entry into the Department of the Ministers present. I want to do a lot of work on this issue because we need it to build new homes in my constituency. Many younger families cannot find suitable, affordable rental accommodation but aspire to buying their own home. It is just not an option because there is such demand on the supply chain in the east Cork area, which has been exacerbated by poor wastewater infrastructure. I appeal directly to my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, who is doing excellent work in his Department, to come down to Cork East. It is something we have discussed. I want to bring him to Mitchelstown, Midleton, Cobh and Carrigtohill to see for himself the inadequacies in investment. They are unmistakably a serious issue when it comes to housing development in east Cork.

I wish to reassure the Deputy in respect of Mitchelstown and Carrigtohill. It is important. The investment the Government has put in has been significant. We are working with Irish Water to achieve those connections. The CRU has published the information note on self-lay, which is an important step forward in getting competent and certified third-party contractors to work with Irish Water to pursue these projects. At the end of quarter 4, Irish Water responded to 83% of connection inquiries and 76% of the connection applications within 16 weeks. My colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, will give a commitment to visit and try to progress these schemes as a matter of urgency.

I acknowledge that commitment from the Minister and thank him. I hope the visit can be arranged as soon as possible. The reason I wanted to bring this to the floor of the Dáil is that it has been enormously frustrating trying to get this issue moved on. I have many concerns with the management structure of Irish Water as an entity, how we as parliamentarians and public representatives can have any input into the work it does and how accountable it is to this House and the political system when it comes to inadequacies and failings on its part. I welcome that the Minister and Department will give a particular focus to this area. Above all else, it is about getting houses built, which we need to do. In the east Cork area, which is one of the State's key strategic growth areas when it comes to housing, we need this investment urgently because we can deliver the housing units that are so desperately needed for younger families.

I wholeheartedly agree. These towns are certainly under pressure from the growth of Cork itself.

It is critically important that our ambitions for housing delivery, as set out in Housing for All, are met and that these communities can grow and these important towns can develop and prosper. The investment we are making as a Government is a significant proportion of that effort and, critically, we are working with Irish Water to ensure there is the capacity to deliver. That is the really important part of it. It is a critical issue in Cork and elsewhere in the country that we get our wastewater infrastructure up to a modern, efficient standard in order that housing can be developed and communities can grow and prosper.

Planning Issues

Pádraig O'Sullivan


116. Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if his attention has been drawn to communications sent by the Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR, to various local authorities regarding the conduct of their development plans; if clarification will be provided of the role of the office in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12120/22]

I live only 15 minutes away from the areas Deputy O'Connor spoke about, so the Minister of State is more than welcome to call to me as well when he comes to east Cork.

My question relates to the role of the OPR. The Minister will be familiar with the communication sent by its chief executive to local authorities in the past few weeks on the conduct of their development plans. Will he clarify the office's role in the development of those plans?

Since the establishment of the OPR in April 2019 and pursuant to section 31AM(1) of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as inserted by the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018, the office has responsibility for the evaluation of the making or varying of development plans. This is an independent function of the office, which also has a statutory function to issue advice, where relevant, to the Minister or Minister of State in respect of matters relating to the making or varying of development plans.

In regard to the statutory process set out for the development plan review process in the legislation, and pursuant to sections 11(2), 12(1)(a), 12(5)(aa) and 12(7)(a) in particular, the planning authority is obliged to notify the OPR of the various stages of the development plan review process. Any observations and recommendations of the OPR that are made to the planning authority at each stage of the development plan review process are copied to the Minister in accordance with section 31AM(3)(b).

The reason I ask this question is that Cork County Council is one of the many local authorities that have received quite substantial communications from the OPR in recent weeks. I am looking for clarification in this regard. The Minister of State said the office's responsibility is to issue advice to the Minister and so on. The report that was issued by the OPR in the case of Cork County Council included a number of recommendations, with the chief executive alleging there are clear breaches of the relevant legislative provisions of the national and regional policy framework and-or the policy of Government as set out in ministerial guidelines under section 28 of the Act. He went on to say there is a requirement to implement the recommendations he is advising. In the context of the OPR's obligation to issue advice to and inform the Minister, the chief executive, in his communication, has identified clear breaches and highlighted the requirement to implement those recommendations. Will the Minister of State clarify whether those recommendations are advisory or if there is a requirement to implement them?

In the first instance, the role of the OPR is to ensure our shared vision, as set out in the national planning framework, NPF, our regional guidelines and the county development plans, runs right through in a consistent manner and is delivering on Government policy. Subject to a recommendation by the Mahon tribunal, the office was established to ensure Government policy is, in fact, running through to local authorities. It is not long - 2008, in fact - since we had enough zoned land in the country to accommodate an extra 10 million people. No one could predict where the infrastructure would land and the State does not have a bottomless pit of money. We have evolved now to a situation where we have a plan-led system to deliver for all our citizens. Further to the draft plan by Cork County Council, which I know from the correspondence that the regulator is impressed with, a number of recommendations were put and delivered on in terms of flood risk, development guidelines and mapping. We are happy with the substantive response to them.

I note what the Minister of State said in regard to compliance with some of the recommendations, particularly in the case of the flood maps. There is a continuation of the problem in Cork in regard to the joint retail strategy between city and county. Clearly, the two local authorities are at odds in this regard. Cork County Council was successful in its case for continuing with the proposals for its retail strategy for east Cork. That is subject to another appeal to a higher court but the fact is that a court has dealt with the retail strategy issue. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, met recently with the chief executives and advised them of the overall strategy. I ask the Minister of State to write to the local authorities and chief executives specifically outlining the situation in regard to serviceable lands and their inclusion or exclusion from the plans.

Will he indicate whether there will be a review of the NPF in line with the census in a couple of years' time? That would be a worthwhile exercise.

I cannot speak on matters that are sub judice or are before the courts. I must be very careful in that regard. The legislation underpinning our role as Ministers and the role of the 31 local authorities is very clear and we are following what is prescribed. It is up to the courts to interpret that subsequently.

In regard to our shared vision of the relevant plans that flow through Government, something that is very clear from all our engagement with local authorities is that if land is serviced and has infrastructure, the last thing we want to see is it being dezoned. Such lands have the potential to deliver housing and are located in the right places. Section 10 of the draft development plan guidelines clearly sets out for local authorities the trajectory in which we want to see them going. I expect them to follow suit in that regard.

There will be a planned review of the NPF to take into account the updated information from the census. There is huge capacity in the framework. One of the things that often amazes me is that all but nine local authorities need to increase their housing supply targets by more than 100%. Following the Covid crisis, there is plenty of opportunity and scope in the NPF to hive out that capacity.

Housing Provision

Richard Bruton


117. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the projected supply of homes for affordable purchase from Dublin local authorities and the Land Development Agency, LDA, in Dublin; and the status of the regulations now in preparation in his Department. [11834/22]

The Minister recently published targets for social housing in each of the local authorities, which was useful. I am interested to hear what the targets are for affordable purchase in each of the local authorities and by the LDA and when he will trigger the regulations that will allow such projects, some of which already are coming on stream, to have clear guidelines in respect of their allocation.

Housing for All sets out a projected supply of affordable and cost-rental homes between 2022 and 2030, with an average of approximately 6,000 affordable homes to be made available for purchase or rent. Affordable homes for purchase will be made available through a combination of the first home scheme, the local authority affordable purchase scheme and LDA delivery. A housing delivery action plan prepared by each local authority will underpin delivery to 2026. The four Dublin authorities submitted the first iteration of their plans in December and our officials have now met with each authority. I expect the final delivery action plans to be published in quarter 2, containing projected delivery to 2026.

The first home scheme will be available from the second half of this year. This demand-led scheme targets 1,750 supports for 2022. We expect that a significant proportion of these will be located in the Dublin area, proportionate to the newly constructed homes market.

I commend the Minister and Minister of State on the progress being made.

I note that the LDA has presented projections that would see just 25% of the homes it will build available for affordable purchase, the balance being for cost rental. That seems very low given the demand for affordable-purchase housing.

What is the projected number of houses for the 56 ha of land the LDA holds in Dublin? Some 29 ha of the 56 ha is on the north side. What sort of affordable-purchase housing can be expected from the LDA?

I thank Deputy Bruton for his question. On the LDA, a significant number of homes has been targeted. There is currently staging under way in Dundrum, Hacketstown, Skerries, Castlelands, Balbriggan and Cherry Orchard. Negotiations regarding other sites in Dublin are due to be completed shortly. I understand phase 1 has been completed. A majority of the houses will be affordable. It is key to deliver those for our citizens.

With regard to the scale in some areas, almost 600 homes have full planning permission in Shanganagh. That will represent a significant injection for the local community. The LDA currently has €3.5 billion available to it to deliver on its aspirations.

I commend the work going on but would have to raise a question mark over the 25% allocation for affordable purchase. I am not clear on why that is the case. The impression I get is that there is a far higher appetite for affordable purchase than suggested by the allocation.

How is it proposed to accelerate the throughput from local authorities on the affordable-purchase side? We have seen many obstacles placed in the way of local authorities. Some of these have been internal. How can we accelerate the mixed development we need to see?

By way of being helpful to the Deputy, I can inform him that the LDA has confirmed to the Oireachtas housing committee that none of its affordable purchase units will come on stream until 2024–2025, these being the first units at Shanganagh. I understand the Government envisages a pipeline for affordable purchase this year of just 400 units.

My specific question for the Minister of State is on the regulations because, as we know, the regulations on affordable purchase through the affordable housing fund are very delayed. Cork City Council is currently telling its elected members that the Boherboy homes that are ready to go cannot be sold because the regulations have not been concluded. They were meant to be concluded at the end of last year. Could we have a publication date for the regulations because the sale of the very small but much-needed number of affordable-purchase homes in the pipeline is being delayed?

I understand the regulations are back from the County and City Management Association and will be completed this month. It is not correct to state affordable homes will not be delivered this year, because they will be delivered under Project Tosaigh through the LDA.

Will they be for purchase?

They will be for purchase under Project Tosaigh.

I thank the Minister for the clarification.

If Deputy Ó Broin gave me a moment in which to respond, it would be great.

On Deputy Bruton's question on the 25% metric, we believe the proportion will be significantly higher. Project Tosaigh will inject more numbers.

With regard to the local authorities, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, met representatives of all 31 local authorities, through the housing forum, to fast-track the delivery of key sites right across the country. I am aware that the LDA is working on several sites. From my engagement with the chief executive officer, I can confirm that phase 1 of several of these has been completed. Delivery timelines will be set out when planning permission is dealt with, which will be shortly.

Question No. 118 replied to with Written Answers.

Housing Provision

Eoin Ó Broin


119. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his views on the ongoing delays in the development of social and affordable homes at a location (details supplied). [12046/22]

Bríd Smith


120. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the reason for the planning application submission delays for the Emmet Road development since the agreement to proceed with the project in July 2018; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that, apart from those engaged with the consultative forum, local persons have not been kept informed of developments since March 2021; when the first large-scale public affordable cost-rental project on the former St. Michael's estate site in Inchicore, Dublin 8, will be delivered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11979/22]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh


168. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the reason that a decision on the St. Michael's estate redevelopment in Inchicore, Dublin 8, has been delayed again recently; and the timeline for the delivery of the first large-scale public affordable cost-rental project on this site. [11836/22]

Joan Collins


173. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the reason for the delay in introducing the pilot scheme for a European cost-rental model of housing (details supplied); and the timeline for the delivery of the first large-scale public affordable cost-rental project at a location. [12055/22]

Questions Nos. 119 and 120 are grouped but I am satisfied that Questions Nos. 168 and 173, in the names of Deputies Ó Snodaigh and Joan Collins, may be grouped with them.

As the Minister knows, his predecessor announced the St. Michael's social and affordable public housing scheme in 2018. We understand from Dublin City Council that it is to go to planning at the latter end of this year and that construction may not commence until 2025, which means that the project, given its size, might not be tenanted until 2027 or 2028. That means it will be ten years from announcement to tenanting. What is the Department doing to speed up the process after planning, particularly regarding changes to the approval, tendering and procurement processes?

I wish to follow up on that. The planning application for St. Michael's estate was agreed by the council in 2016. The project was announced in 2018. At a housing committee presentation in 2020, we were told the planning application would be submitted in the first quarter of 2021. Now it has been postponed again. There is considerable frustration in the community over this. The community hoped contractors would be on site by 2023 but it now looks like it will be 2025.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 119, 120, 168 and 173 together.

I thank both Deputies for their questions. I have an interest in seeing progress on this project also. Emmet Road is a really important project for development, particularly in the cost-rental sector in Ireland. The plan for a local authority-led financing structure is a key element in the long-term delivery of cost rental and one that could be replicated elsewhere. A dedicated Dublin City Council project manager and project team are working on the development and have confirmed it is a key deliverable in the council's housing programme.

I understand the concerns of the local residents who have been constructively engaging regarding the development at the site. I had a very good virtual meeting with them last December. I am aware of how rigorous the design process for such a large and important site can be and appreciate the work done to date, but, just like Deputies Joan Collins and Ó Broin, the Government wants to see this move on.

I am pleased to confirm that the council has advised that the concept design was presented to councillors on Tuesday, the day before yesterday, and to the Inchicore Regeneration Consultative Forum yesterday. Although the designs are not finalised, current plans propose a mixed-tenure development of 548 homes, which represents an increase. I welcome that because we need to maximise the use of the site by providing really good homes. Of the 548 homes, 75% will be cost rental and 25% will be social.

This design will be presented to the public during phase 3 of the consultation process. The Deputies and all other representatives from the area will pay close attention to it. The process will run from 8 March to 31 March. The concept design includes the site layout, approximate unit numbers and mix, the number of stories and standard layout. Therefore, it is a very important process. I want this to be the last one and to move on from here.

The council has advised that, following this consultation, some further refinements, including improved design efficiencies and the consideration of consultation feedback, will be required before the full design stage can be reached. This will enable the design team to complete the environmental impact assessment report, update the cost plan and consequently submit a full planning application. I expect that by the end of 2022. That is what I want to happen, and I am strongly encouraging Dublin City Council to meet the target of proceeding to planning by the end of 2022.

Delivery after planning is outside our remit but there are other things we can do. In this regard, I must refer in particular to Deputy Ó Broin's question. As with the principle of cost rental, rents will depend on the overall cost of delivery. This development already benefits from utilising State land in a prime city-centre location, but funding support from my Department will also help to reduce the ultimate rents paid by tenants.

As Deputy Joan Collins will know, in December 2020 my Department and I approved €18.75 million, in principle, for the cost-rental homes under the scheme. That was under the serviced sites fund. Under Housing for All, we have brought in the affordable housing fund, which provides a lot more flexibility, particularly in areas where there are acute issues with affordability. While we allowed a subvention of up to €50,000 per unit under the serviced sites fund, the Department now allows one of up to €100,000. In one respect, the delay talked about may benefit the overall delivery at the site and have a benefit in respect of the cost.

I have revised the criteria and provided more flexibility and funding support to appropriate affordable housing projects, including high-density developments. The council has indicated it is going to resubmit the application to me. It is working on a new funding application based on the increased numbers for the site. I welcome that and hope all Deputies will welcome the increase in the number of homes. There are to be 548 homes for families in the area, 75% of which will be cost rental and 25% of which will be social.

I cannot imagine anyone will have a difficulty with that. We want to get the design right and I am going to provide increased funding for that. I will come back in if there are additional questions.

As the Minister will know, this is a project that has strong cross-party support. We worked together in opposition to convince the then Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, to progress this project. I am hoping that we can continue to do the same in the future. There are two specific problems. The question I have relates to the stage after planning is approved. The Minister's Department recently published the report into a review of the four-stage process, particularly for mixed tenure projects. The difficulty is that there is nothing in that document that suggests, for example, that there will be any acceleration of that approval process for this project. I urge the Minister, particularly in respect of recommendation 8 of that report on the single decision-maker, to use the St. Michael's estate site as a pilot to test run a single point of decision-making to speed it up. We cannot have a two- to four-year approval, tendering and procurement process, which is currently how long it is taking in large projects such as this elsewhere in the country. I also urge the Minister to look the finances again. I ask him not just to look at the higher level of the affordable housing fund, but to stretch out the term of the loans to bring the rents below €1,000 a month.

A private developer would have to produce its final design and prepare tender documents while a planning application is in process. I cannot see why the same process could not be followed in relation to St. Michael's. I am disappointed that we are still talking about the third quarter of 2022 for the planning application to go in. We do not know how long it will take for the planning application to be approved or not. I urge the Minister to push the council as much as possible to get its act together. Not only is a full-time Dublin City Council project manager working on it, but one of the top and longest-established design teams in the country is working on it. It should be delivered much more quickly. I am delighted to hear about the €100,000 but costs are going up all the time. If we are talking about 2024 or 2025 before this project is under construction, more money may be needed for it. It is also important that the term of the loan is extended from 25 years to 40 years.

I would like an explanation on the delay. Deputy Ó Broin made a point about making St. Michael's a pilot project for cost rental. That commitment was made when the former Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy, visited the estate back in 2018. The local consultation is an issue of concern. Yesterday, we received a WhatsApp message about events being held Richmond Barracks during the month of March. Three different webinars are to take place. That is good news. However, like the other Deputies, I think the project needs to be accelerated, with a proper timeline set out for delivery. After all, the community has been waiting for decades for this to happen. They have been fighting in a comprehensive, clear and united way for it, and have worked with the parties in the area on it.

I genuinely thank the Deputies for their contributions on this issue. We worked on it together in opposition and I assure them that we will continue to do so. I want us all to work together on it. St Michael's is a really important site. The Deputies and the rest of us all know that. We want the project to be delivered. I do not want there to be any delays. I wish to make two points on the planning side. In response to Deputy Joan Collins, obviously, the council cannot submit the project for planning permission until the design work is done. There is revised design work but I am encouraging the council to prioritise that and to get the application in this year. I am checking on this project regularly.

Deputy Ó Broin's question on what happens post planning is a very good one. We have already changed the four-stage process to effectively a three-stage process. I am also establishing a mixed tenure unit within my Department. This scheme will go to one unit. Given that it is going to be 75% social housing, 25% cost-rental housing, it will be given absolute priority in the stages. There will not be inordinate delays with this project in the process. We need to focus getting it into planning. The public consultation is important. It is happening from 8 March. I am quite happy to keep Deputies regularly updated from my side of things. I know they will keep the pressure on Dublin City Council through their own representatives in the area.

I thank the Minister. Can he give us an indication of how long he thinks the process will take when the planning application goes to the unit? Is he talking about January, February or March 2023, or will it take longer? The Minister said that a new unit has been set up.

I will respond in a moment.

I say this with all sincerity, but there is some scepticism as to whether the four-stage process will actually become a three-stage process. We will have to wait and see. The Department's report is very clear. It does not confirm the establishment of a single decision-maker. It states that it would be preferable, but there will be greater co-ordination. I invite the Minister to meet the Deputies involved with this issue and the relevant officials from the Department. Some of us may have helpful suggestions that could be piloted in this project to accelerate it.

On the issue of rents, Dublin City Council is currently saying that the rents could be €1,300 plus, even with the affordable housing fund. The term of the loan is too short. I know that the European Investment Bank, EIB, only provides that term, but with the Enniskerry Road project, the Minister was able to restructure the loan through the Housing Finance Agency, HFA. While it is possible to get the rents at this location down to €700, €800 and €900 for one-, two- and three-bedroom properties, that requires both €100,000 from the serviced sites fund or affordable housing fund and much longer maturities. I urge the Minister to work with us to ensure that the financing is restructured so that the project is delivered quickly and is genuinely affordable.

Deputy Ó Broin's last point is a very important one. We met and worked with many young people in the community who were trained, had been to college or worked in IT, and who were on reasonably decent wages, but could not afford to live in the area and have their own families there. The point about keeping the rents at a level where the community is sustainable, so those who were educated and reared around St. Michael's estate can continue to live there at an affordable rate, is an important one. The other issue that I am very concerned about is the timing. Can we put definite timelines on the project? I know that the Minister is sketching things roughly but we need very definite timelines on when all this is going to happen.

To clarify, for Deputy Joan Collins, the mixed tenure unit is the unit within my Department that will deal with the post-planning stage and the funding and approval of it. The planning stage is separate. That unit is being established. In response to the point made by Deputy Ó Broin, I can state that it will be a three-stage process. I believe that St. Michael's is such a significant site that I am absolutely open to looking at how we can ensure that the project is expedited. I will certainly arrange a meeting with interested Deputies, who are either from the constituency or are spokespersons, such as Deputy Ó Broin and others. Perhaps Deputy Cian O'Callaghan will be interested. I will arrange that meeting at the appropriate time. I think we need to let the public consultation happen. I suggest that we do that. The Deputy's question is very timely, because the consultation is happening between 8 and 31 March. I have no interest in delaying this project. I want to see it done. In response to Deputy Bríd Smith, I believe in cost rental. That is why one of the first things I did when I took office was to work on the affordable housing legislation with colleagues to get it enacted to ensure that we have a national cost-rental scheme that is underpinned by legislation. We have cost-rental tenants in place in homes in counties Dublin and Kildare. There will be hundreds more this year. We are not just talking about a concept.

To deal with cost, the term of the loan and so on, the HFA may have a role to play. While the EIB has its role, we will explore that with some of the bigger sites without complicating or delaying project further. There have been no delays to the project from our side. Deputy Bríd Smith mentioned that I am sketching out the timeframe. I do not know what will happen in planning. I do not know whether there will be objections to the project, whether there will be judicial reviews or whether people will go to court over it. I do not know any of that, because it is independent of me. I hope there will not be delays. The way the council is approaching this project on a plan-led basis is correct. People can see the detail of what we will be proposing to build there. It is important to take the feedback from residents now. I want the council to submit the planning application by the end of this year. I can assure Deputy Joan Collins that I am encouraging Dublin City Council in a very positive way to make sure that that timeline is hit. I cannot say who is going to object to or make observations on the application. I hope that it receives a fair wind through the planning process and is granted permission. We already know that in advance of that, the council will be submitting proposals to me and the Department in relation to funding. We can work that through in advance of planning permission being granted. I am expecting a new application from Dublin City Council under the affordable housing fund. I have not received it yet. The council is working through it on the basis of knowing how many units are going to be on the site. I expect and hope that the Deputies here will support the increased number of homes there. We will deliver 578 homes there, 75% of which will be cost rental and 25% of which will be social housing.

I hope they will encourage residents and work with them to make sure it gets through planning quickly.

Construction Industry

Eoin Ó Broin


121. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his Department’s response to a report by an organisation (details supplied). [12050/22]

As I am sure the Minister is aware, the Irish Green Building Council, IGBC, launched an important report last November on foot of research it commissioned from University College Dublin on how to deliver the increased number of homes and other construction projects that will be built in the future in a way that allows us to meet our legally binding emissions reduction targets. The report not only focuses on the operational emissions of those buildings and the energy standards, but also on the embodied carbon. Is the Minister aware of the report? Has he read it? Does the Government or the Department have a formal response to its recommendations?

Housing for All and the Climate Action Plan 2021 take account of our climate action targets to reduce carbon emissions in the built environment though the following policies: working with industry stakeholders to increase the use of low-carbon materials and technologies in the construction and renovation of buildings in Ireland, informed by evolving EU standards and by best practice in other jurisdictions; and the implementation of nearly zero energy buildings, NZEB, through our building regulations, which will ensure that while we achieve more energy-efficient buildings, we also build healthy, sustainable and durable buildings suitable for the Irish climate both today and into the future.

Our Department's retrofitting programme for local authority housing is an essential measure to tackle climate justice. My Department plans to retrofit approximately 40% of local authority dwellings not currently performing to a building energy rating, BER, of B2 to B2 cost-optimal level by 2030.

There is also the national planning framework objective to promote compact urban growth and town centres first.

In addition to these major actions that will make significant impacts on carbon emissions, our Department has a number of supporting actions that are critical to the reductions. Specific actions under all of these policy areas are outlined in the climate action plan and my Department is working hard to implement all of them.

I read the summary of the IGBC report. The ambition in respect of green procurement for public buildings and other buildings is critical. I remember having that battle at local authority level with regard to ground granulated blast-furnace slag, GGBS, cement, which is a low-carbon cement. It should be the default that we consider low-carbon products throughout the building cycle. The Deputy and I have spoken previously about older buildings, particularly early 20th century buildings that have a significant amount of embodied carbon. The national policy on architecture, which will be launched soon, will give us an indication on how we propose to support those buildings into the future.

Among the significant findings of the UCD research commissioned by the Irish Green Building Council is that, first, the urban environment or the built environment is responsible for more than 30% of our current emissions, equal to areas such as agriculture or energy and transport which get much more public attention. Second, the research shows that, even with the retrofitting programme the Government is planning, as the operational emissions of the built environment reduces, the embodied carbon required to build new buildings, homes, roads and infrastructure will actually significantly increase. What the Department needs to do, therefore, is to absorb the research in the report and work with members of the Opposition because we share the same objective here. There is no disagreement that as we work through the legally binding targets that will affect the Department of the Minister of State, for example, we should have a clear roadmap to ensure everything is done not only to make homes more energy efficient, but to dramatically reduce the embodied carbon in new buildings, particularly homes. I would like to hear more information from the Minister of State as to how exactly that bit of the carbon emissions reduction targets will be met.

It might be worth pursuing this report at the Oireachtas joint committee. It is really important. I wholeheartedly support what the Deputy is bringing forward. There is also the sustainable products initiative, which will widen the scope of the eco-design directive to all products. It will introduce requirements relating to durability, reusability, hazardous chemicals, energy and resource efficiency, carbon and environmental footprints, and recyclable content while also ensuring the performance and safety of products. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, is working on the circular economy and green procurement. It would be worthwhile to try to tease out in more detail all of those combined elements at the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I again refer to older buildings, such as 20th century buildings, many of which, unfortunately, are being demolished in Dublin. Some of them are only 40 or 50 years old and have significant amounts of embodied carbon that should be repurposed and reused.

I agree the Oireachtas committee would be a good place to advance this discussion. The Minister of State may wish to use his influence with the committee Chairman to assist in that regard. It would also be useful to hear at Oireachtas committee level what are the preparations of the Department for those legally binding targets that will have a profound impact on the work of the Department, as well as on the private sector. There will also be a role for legislation here. For example, a shift from high-carbon cement to low-carbon cement, which actually cost the same price to produce in the marketplace currently, will not happen unless it is required under law through a phase-out of higher-carbon cement. Likewise, the shift from cement, steel and glass to more sustainable materials will require significant State intervention. I understand Enterprise Ireland and the construction sector working group of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are working on these issues but, given the urgency and the fact the EPA believes we will not meet the targets for this year, the sooner we have that exchange at the Oireachtas committee and start to engage in the kind of solutions that we all agree are required, the better for everyone.

I agree wholeheartedly. I refer to some of the elements that are already under way in our Department, such as the targets we have set in respect of vacant and derelict properties in the coming years and targets for local authorities, as well as the work my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is doing around Town Centre First, which are bringing a significant amount of building stock back into use. All of those initiatives will help in this regard.

As regards low-carbon cement, it being the default is an open goal we could all achieve. It is an issue on which I campaigned or worked ten or 15 years ago. The use of GGBS cement is critical. Cement is a very high-carbon product. This is something we could do and achieve easily.

Similarly, in the area of forestry policy we have Project Woodland that is being led by the Minister of State, Senator Hackett. When timber is used in buildings, that locks up that carbon in them for good. The appropriate place will be the Oireachtas joint committee. I will speak to the Chairman, Deputy Matthews, to try to get a session specifically on this important issue. I thank the Deputy for raising it.

Questions Nos. 122 and 123 replied to with Written Answers.

Natural Heritage Areas

Holly Cairns


124. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if a dedicated conservation management plan has been put in place for the Lough Hyne marine nature reserve. [11737/22]

Lough Hyne is an incredible natural area in west Cork. It was designated as Ireland's first marine natural reserve in 1981. However, it is unclear what resources are in place to protect and enhance this invaluable marine sea lough. I ask the Minister of State to outline the status of the site's conservation management plan and the systems to implement that plan.

It is fantastic to get a question on nature today as it is World Wildlife Day. We do not usually get them on oral questions. I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. Lough Hyne is a designated special area of conservation which is selected for three habitats listed in the habitats directive, as the Deputy is aware. These are large shallow inlets and bays, reefs and submerged or partially submerged sea caves. Detailed conservation objectives have been published for these habitats on the website of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, NPWS. The targets outlined help to guide appropriate management of the site.

My Department has been funding research to determine the cause of the decline of sponge communities in Lough Hyne since 2018. The precise cause has not yet been determined, though there are already encouraging signs of recovery of these sponges. Further research has been funded until 2027 and management measures will be put in place as and when the research indicates the appropriate steps to be taken.

As part of our Department's continuing commitment to protecting our heritage amenities, I continue to explore ways to optimise the sustainable potential of heritage sites in my care in a way that is compatible with conservation objectives. In 2017, a strategic partnership was established between my Department and Fåilte Ireland. A major output from this partnership was a master plan providing a high-level blueprint for the NPWS to invest in and better manage our parks and reserves network for conservation, biodiversity and visitor experiences alike.

I thank the Minister of State. As he will be aware, Lough Hyne is a natural site of incredible beauty with distinct ecological significance. As a marine sea lough, it sustains rich biodiversity. It needs to be protected. Although the Department and the NPWS have a conservation plan in place for Lough Hyne nature reserve, there is no visible evidence of on-the-ground measures or personnel to achieve that.

We were wondering if that is something that might happen. We note the reference that it is to be developed by Fáilte Ireland. Lough Hyne is similar to many of our spectacular natural areas which has to balance conservation and tourism. It has become especially popular with the increase in domestic tourism over the past two years. This has, of course, lead to a substantial increase in traffic with many cars parked on small country roads leading to the site. Residents are concerned about access for emergency services into their properties. What resources or guidance has the Minister of State in place to support county councils in this case in managing these types of matters?

I thank the Deputy for her questions. I will address the last question first.

Specifically on this World Wildlife Day 2022, we will be announcing some measures in the partnerships that we have with Fáilte Ireland in the management of our nature reserves. Throughout the Covid-19 period we have seen a very significant demand from the public to be out in nature. That has created great pressures on our nature reserves and on our national parks. It is something that we are conscious of and in which we have invested significantly, particularly in managing trails and walkways but the car parking issue is something that is altogether different. In some of our national parks we are trying to use sustainable mobility, be it shuttle buses etc., but it is a persistent problem.

On the question of the on-site activities having a potentially negative impact on Lough Hyne, we are working through our National Parks and Wildlife Service to have more staff on the ground. The Minister, Deputy O’Brien, approved the appointment of additional conservation rangers, many of whom are now in place now and that will significantly help in the day-to-day management of very important sites like this.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer.

A related issue is the status of the proposed natural heritage areas. There are 632 proposed natural heritage areas, including Garrylucas Bog near Kinsale about which I have spoken to the Minister of State before. The status of the proposed natural heritage area does not provide the same level of protection as an actual natural heritage area. I have been continually asking about Garrylucas and other sites and in the Minister of State's parliamentary question replies he refers to a review which always seems to be forthcoming. Can the Minister of State provide an update on the status of the reviewing process of natural heritage areas? I will push the Minister of State on the particular case of Garrylucas Bog, which badly needs the enhanced status.

We can certainly provide the Deputy with a specific response to that which I believe we have done previously in parliamentary questions. This is something that we have been working consistently hard on in respect of specific conservation measures for those sites. We can provide a response to the Deputy on that particular site.

I thank the Minister of State.

Rental Sector

Cian O'Callaghan


125. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the action that he has taken to eliminate the exploitive practice of sex for rent; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11858/22]

I ask the Minister what is being done to address the apparent practice where a very small number of landlords are looking for sex in return for rent. It is an absolutely abhorrent practice which I am sure all of us condemn outright. Is the Minister bringing specific legislation forward to criminalise this or what approach is he taking?

I thank Deputy O’Callaghan for raising this very important issue. At the outset, I completely agree with the Deputy and I condemn in the strongest possible terms this abhorrent behaviour. While we may not be sure of the scale of it, it does occur from time to time and any time it occurs it needs to be condemned and we need to do everything we can to ensure it is stamped out.

In respect of an update on this issue, we are totally committed to preventing and addressing sexual abuse and gender-based violence in all of its forms. I have sought advice from the Attorney General on this specific matter and following receipt of that advice I wrote to my colleague, the Minister for Justice, on 12 January. We are currently considering the matter between the two Departments as to the best legislative vehicle to deal with it. It is a complex area and we need to look at all of the potential elements involved. The current approach to dealing with this issue needs to be carefully considered and my Department and the Department of Justice are working together to bring options forward to myself and to the Minister, Deputy McEntee, about how we will legislate for it. It includes assessing whether changes may be required to residential tenancies legislation or indeed through the introduction of criminal charges, but it may be both. It may be both a justice Bill and amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act.

People attempting to prey on the vulnerability of others seeking accommodation is completely and utterly unacceptable behaviour. All possible avenues towards addressing this will be considered. I will keep the Deputy and House informed specifically. Myself and the Minister, Deputy McEntee, have asked our officials to prioritise this work. I know that if we require legislation, which we will, I will be seeking the co-operation of the House to ensure that any additional changes or amendments to current legislation or new legislation will be brought forward and will be passed in an expeditious manner. That is the current position with this matter.

I thank the Minister for the update on the work that is taking place. The stories are completely heart-breaking. I would not be able to read them to the House and I do not think that I need to, as everyone understands the seriousness of the issue. I am glad that it is being worked on and there is no question but that there needs to be changes in the legislation in the residential tenancies sector. If a complaint is made against a landlord and they are found to be doing this they should be struck off as a landlord and should not be able to register with the Residential Tenancies Board, end of story. There should also be criminal charges brought in. Both measures are needed. I urge that a decisions is taken on that as quickly as possible. I am aware that this needs to be done in the correct way but it also needs to be done urgently. Perhaps the Minister might give the House an update on a timeline.

The Deputy is correct. In the first instance, we are not aware of the scale of this issue but wherever it happens it needs to be condemned. It is atrocious and reprehensible behaviour. I want to assure the Deputy in the plainest language that I can that anything that we need to do from a legislative perspective on this issue, we will do. Timeframe-wise, I hope to have something back from our officials by the end of this month with regard to what we are going to do. That is not necessarily the legislation itself but it will advise us whether it is better to do it through legislation from the Department of Justice, residential tenancies legislation, or indeed both. I have a fair idea myself of what type of sanctions we can bring to bear on this type of landlord. Criminal charges will be another element. It is important that we get it right, that it is robust and the Deputy is correct. I commit through our housing spokespeople that we will give an update by the end of March as to where we are at and I will keep the House and the Deputy himself directly informed on this matter.

I thank the Minister for that answer. I ask that the Minister confirm as soon as possible that he will bring in legislation by way of criminal charges and that landlords would be struck off. Both measures are needed. I do not think that there will be any discussion or debate around that. The quicker the Minister does that the better.

We do not know the scale of this. One of the reasons why this is the case is that there is no specific legislation that specifies this as a criminal offence. An Garda, for example, does not specifically record this on the Pulse system. That is why we need this to be tackled as quickly as possible. I thank the Minister for the answers and for the commitments he has given the keep us all updated on this issue.

I welcome the Minister’s response as he knows that I wrote both to himself and to the Minister, Deputy McEntee, at the end of last year and early this year on this issue. Like Deputy O’Callaghan, I firmly believe that legislation is going to be required to outlaw this abhorrent behaviour. I pay tribute to Ann Murphy of the Irish Examiner whose sterling investigative journalism has exposed this issue and brought it to light for all of us. I fully assure the Minister that if he and his colleague, the Minister for Justice, bring forward the required legislation, they will have complete co-operation for the speedy passage of it from our party as well as others in opposition. This is urgent and necessary and we will work with the Minister to ensure that this type of behaviour is outlawed and punished very heavily if and when it occurs.

I thank all of the Deputies for their contributions on this and I will keep the House informed. It is a priority matter for us. We looked at trying to assess how we would quantify the scale of it but, from dealing with advocacy groups, particularly in the area of sexual and gender-based violence, we were advised that including that in a survey would not be the appropriate thing to do. Suffice it to say that we know it happens and we want to ensure that where it occurs it is stamped out and that criminal charges are brought to bear. I will report back to the House and I will write specifically to the Deputies who have raised the question and through the parties’ housing spokespeople to give them an update before the end of March.

Is féidir teacht ar Cheisteanna Scríofa ar .
Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.