I welcome the Minister, Deputy McHugh.
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Special Educational Needs Service Provision
I welcome the Minister, Deputy McHugh. Let us hope we have good news today. This matter is about children who have been diagnosed with autism but in particular about the parents and the community of Crumlin in Dublin 12.
The area which is on the south side of Dublin has a dense and growing population and a vibrant community. However, not one school place is available for any child in the Dublin 12-Crumlin area. I have brought up this issue on numerous occasions with the Minister who has been kind enough to listen. Today I would like a positive response from him to allow the children to be part of their community and not to have to travel miles, if they are lucky enough to find places.
I will bring the Minister through the responses I have received on the facilities available in surrounding areas to which one is told to apply. The nearest such facility is in Walkinstown; the rest are out of reach in other areas. Regardless, every single one of them is full. I meet parents who are tearing their hair out in trying to secure early intervention for their children and then there are the post-primary schools, every single one of which is full, while the waiting lists are phenomenal. As I said, Crumlin has a vibrant community. The children who need extra care want to be part of that community, to grow up and be leaders in it, to have their family and friends around them and to build very strong bonds. That is what we do when we go to school in our local area, which is the best solution for all of us.
On the home tuition that is available, I brought up this issue in a Commencement debate in April and May and at the beginning of July. There are just no places available. Parents in Dublin 12 set up a support group, with which I have been involved from the start. They are tenacious, have knocked on every single door and will not take "No" for an answer. They are still going to and have had conversations - some good, some not so good - with the NCSE which seems to be a little more positive and willing in its responses and aware of the need, as I know the Minister is. Places were provided in the Dublin 15 area, but Dublin 12 is such a vibrant and densely populated area with absolutely nothing to show when it comes to the children of the area. I have tried to obtain the relevant figures from the HSE, but it does not compile figures for the numbers diagnosed with autism in a given area. Such figures are difficult to get. Perhaps the data might come through soon when services are up and running in order that they can be merged.
I hope the Minister has a positive response. The parents in the area are fantastic. They are just ordinary mammies and daddies who are looking out for their children and others who fall through the cracks. They have great community spirit and staged numerous protests. They have located a site and talked to the Department on several occasions. It is an absolutely perfect site, a shut-down school that is mostly lying empty. It would be a centre of excellence for children with extra needs.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as ucht na nithe tábhachtacha agus iontach suntasacha seo fá choinne seirbhísí daoine óga a ardú. I thank the Senator for raising this important matter.
The provision of education for children with special needs is an ongoing priority for the Government. Currently, almost 20%, or €1 out of every €5, of the total Vote, or €1.9 billion, is invested in supporting children with special needs. The numbers of special classes, special education teachers and special needs assistants are at unprecedented levels. Nationally, 167 new special classes opened for the 2019-20 school year, which means that there are 1,618 special classes in place, compared to 548 in 2011. Of these, 1,353 special classes cater for students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, ASD. The majority of children with autism attend mainstream classes, in which they may access additional supports, if required. However, as some students may find it difficult to manage a full-time placement in mainstream classes, placement in a special class or special school setting may be deemed to be appropriate where placement in a mainstream class is not in the child's best interests.
The National Council for Special Education has a statutory function to plan and co-ordinate the provision of education and support services for children with special educational needs in consultation with the relevant education partners and the Health Service Executive. The council has well established structures in place to plan and co-ordinate special education provision throughout the country. It includes identifying the need for and establishing special class placements in various geographical areas where they are required. The council ensures schools in an area can, between them, cater for all children who have been identified as needing special class placements. Normally, special classes are established with the full co-operation of the schools in areas where they are required. There are, however, some parts of the country where the council has faced challenges in getting schools and their patrons to agree voluntarily to provide special class or school places. I know that this can cause much anguish for the parents and families involved.
As Minister, I have a power under section 37A of the Education Act 1998 to direct a school to make additional provision where all reasonable efforts have failed. The legislation was used for the first time in April this year in the Dublin 15 area. We have made significant progress in a relatively short period, with the opening of seven new special classes and a new special school which will provide 88 places for children with special needs. The new places will help the families and children concerned to have access to education. I wish everyone well on that journey. The legislation contains a procedure under which the capacity of schools in an area can be tested and under which, ultimately, a ministerial direction may be made requiring a school to make additional special education provision. The initial steps in this procedure are being progressed. As Minister, I am prepared to use the legislation when necessary to ensure children can access a suitable education. My preference, however, is for schools to engage with this challenge voluntarily because it is the right thing for the children in their communities. The experience in Dublin 15 shows that real and practical challenges can be addressed in opening new special classes and how we can resolve these challenges by working together and in partnership. To that end, the NCSE is continuing its engagement with schools, patron bodies, parents and others across south Dublin to bring the required additional special class and special school placements on stream.
To respond to the issue the Senator raised in Dublin 12, I have asked my officials this morning to consider, in collaboration with the NCSE, what is the best solution, the best fit. A combination of solutions is on offer, be it a mainstream class or an additional class.
The Senator also raised the issue of the use of a specific building as a potential centre of excellence. We will look at all options to see what is the best fit, obviously in conjunction and consultation with the parents. The difficulty in finding the best fit is that it must be met by resources, which is a challenge. Next September, there will be 17,000 SNAs on stream. We have opened additional classes across the country, including in Dublin and Cork city, where there are major pressures. Ultimately, although we continue to highlight what we are doing, it may not pacify the anguish or meet the needs of parents who cannot get their son or daughter into a school. I want to continue to work in a collaborative way. I know that the various teacher representative bodies are also very engaged in this process. Some schools will not enter into a partnership or open new classes on the basis that there is a fear that there will not be adequate training or resources or the proper capacity to do so. I am also very conscious of this. However, I reassure the Senator that, regarding the area to which she referred, we will give proper attention to the detail of what is required to see what is the best fit, the best solution.
I am trying desperately to read between the lines of the Minister's response, but I absolutely acknowledge his Trojan efforts in finding more places for children with ASD. On the experience in Dublin 12, fair play to everybody who has worked in collaboration to remove the anguish of parents and children. Perhaps it is a template for use in the next phase in opening a school in Dublin 12. Is the Minister prepared to meet the parents?
They have a specific site, which could be taken into account, along with the other available options. The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, has spoken with them and is in regular contact. It has taken on some of their proposal. I hope something will come out of whatever report is going to be done. Will the Minister make a pledge to meet them, so that they can present him with the proposal? There is an also invite to attend a protest in Dublin 12 on 16 November, if the Minister is available.
One thing for sure is that anywhere there is a need, we have the professionalism and expertise to deal with it through the NCSE and my officials. If a delegation of parents wish to meet with officials, I will be happy to arrange that. I receive requests on a daily, if not an hourly, basis to meet different representations from more than 4,000 schools. I am conscious of not creating expectations that will not be met but I can certainly arrange for my officials to meet with a delegation of parents.
To return to the three-pronged solution that is available, it is down parental choice, whether the fit is for mainstream classes or for an additional class or whether a special school is a solution. We have to be very pragmatic when it comes to long-term planning because it will not happen today or tomorrow but we have a new school pilot involving up to 75 schools in west Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare, where we need the all-inclusive model. The new school inclusion, and the ideal model, is where we have speech and language therapists, behavioural therapists, occupational therapists, and teachers in that same environment, rather than putting the pressure on parents to get a diagnosis at a cost and putting that additional strain on parents to look for referrals to the HSE, where the HSE may not be working in conjunction with the schools. We need that all-inclusive model. That is the long-term plan. By long term, I mean that the pilot will be finished in June of this year and we will be getting learnings from that. We have to ensure that we have an opportunity, a platform and an environment for every single student, regardless of ability or label, and ultimately focused on the learning potential. Where they need support and if we can give it, we will.
I am sorry, a Leas-Chathaoirligh, I may be annoying your official who is shaking her head. I do not want to upset anybody this morning.
This is really important.
Just a moment, I have three other Commencement matters to take. My apologies, Minister.
I apologise to the Leas-Chathaoirleach's team. Gabhaim buíochas leo.
I thank the Minister and appreciate his help.
Schools Building Projects Status
Gabhaim buíochas a Leas-Chathaoirligh. I thank the Minister, Deputy McHugh, for coming in to deal with this important Commencement matter. I am from Ennistymon in County Clare, a town that has three schools which are doing their best in primitive buildings to provide quality education facilities and supports to more than 600 students. The Department has made a commitment and the money is in place to build a new purpose-built state-of-the-art community school. Much work has been done by the boards of management, the parents and the Government to get this project to the stage it is at.
My purpose in raising this issue today is to find out exactly where this project is at. The design team has advised that it sent a list of suitable contractors to the Department and did a pre-submission a number of months ago. It has also submitted a report outlining the necessary steps to ensure the school will have a near zero carbon position, which is all very welcome. As a result of this type of development, an economic analysis study has to be carried out. Has this short-list been approved? Has whatever necessary economic assessment been carried out and what is the timeline for the school at the moment? When will this project go out to tender? How long will the tender process take and when can we expect construction to begin on the site?
This project is ongoing for a long time now. There was talk of a community school in Ennistymon when I was in school, and I left in 1993. Discussions were taking place the entire time I was in school. I, along with others, have worked hard on this project. The fact the money was committed in 2015 and we are now in 2019 and construction has not started is a little frustrating for parents and students. Parents are very patient and understanding. They know that it will happen and would prefer it be done right than rushed. However, the fact it has gone on and on, people have started to wonder if it will ever happen. I know that it will but we need clear timelines as to when the project will go out to full tender, if that has not already happened, and when can we expect construction to begin?
I will try to comply with the rules and regulations and will try to be as brief as possible.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter as it provides me with the opportunity to outline to the Seanad the current position in relation to the major building project for Ennistymon in County Clare. This major project will deliver a new post-primary school to cater for 650 pupils and a new primary school on a shared site. The project is currently in stage 2b - detailed design of architectural planning - which includes statutory approvals and the preparation of tender documents. Planning permission, fire certificate and disability access certificate have all been secured for this project.
All Government Departments, local authorities, the Health Service Executive, public bodies and all bodies in receipt of public funding must comply, as appropriate, with the relevant requirements of the public spending code. The public spending code is the set of rules and procedures that apply to ensure that these standards are upheld across the Irish public service. The code brings together in one place all the elements of the value-for-money framework that has been in force up to now.
The Department of Education and Skills, similar to all Irish public bodies, is obliged to treat public funds with care, and to ensure that the best possible value-for-money is obtained whenever public money is being spent or invested. An economic appraisal must be conducted for all capital projects costing in excess of €20 million and should be submitted to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform prior to the sanctioning authority granting the approval in principle.
In the case of the school project for Ennistymon, a procurement process was carried out in early April 2019 to commission a specialist company to carry out a cost-benefit analysis. A number of responses were received and a successful tender was awarded and instructed to proceed on 30 April. A draft document was received in July but some data was still outstanding. My Department requested the project manager to collaborate and assist the company in obtaining the relevant data from the schools. The completed draft document was reviewed by Department officials in September and feedback has issued back to the authors. It is expected that the final report will be made available to the Department within four weeks.
The design team has carried out a pre-qualification process to produce a short-list of building contractors and a separate list of mechanical and electrical contractors. The Department is continuing to liaise with the project manager in this regard.
When all items have been satisfactorily completed, the Department expects to be in a position to authorise the project to progress to tender stage which normally takes between seven and eight months to complete. This does not necessarily mean that it cannot be done in less time. I can confirm to Senator Conway that this project is included in the Department of Education and Skills construction programme which is being delivered under the national development plan.
One of the things we are all very conscious of is ensuring that people's expectations are met and that there is no weakness as to the advancement of this project. It is committed to and is in the capital plan. There is money available for this project. I will ensure, through the Senator's contacts, that we keep this on a live footing to ensure we get movement on it. To reiterate, we are waiting on the first stage within the next four weeks, when we will be looking at feedback on the submissions that have been made. Once we have all that documentation together, we will move to the tender process, which is the most important process of all.
I thank the Minister for renewing the Government's commitment to delivering this school as it is very important that it happen. I have no doubt about the Minister's personal commitment because I have spoken to him on numerous occasions in the last 12 months since his appointment about the importance of this project for the entire area of north Clare. It is reasonable to say that, after the four-week process has been completed, in quarter one of 2020 we will be moving to the tendering process which will take a maximum of seven months to complete.
I reiterate that the key point in any project is getting into the pre-qualification process and getting the list of potential companies. As the Senator said, that process has been completed and the design team has completed its work. We are awaiting feedback, which process will be completed in the next four weeks. It is not unreasonable to suggest we will move to the tendering process in quarter 1 of 2020. We will keep up the momentum and, even though the target is seven to eight months, if we can bring it back even further, it will be only right to do so. The school has been waiting a long time and the project was included in the conversation during the Senator's time in the school in 1993. It is time to bite the bullet and get it done. I reassure the Senator that I will give the matter my personal attention. Ennistymon is a place I know quite well. My next-door neighbour in Donegal is from Ennistymon where I have spent a bit of time in the last couple of decades. I know of the importance of the project which I will keep on the radar.
Local Improvement Scheme Funding
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, and thank him for taking this important matter. I know that he had to reschedule other business to be here, which I appreciate.
As the Minister of State is aware, the local improvement scheme is particularly important for rural communities. It supports improvement works on laneways and non-public roads which are vital in the functioning of everyday life in rural Ireland. The scheme is very popular and essential and greatly appreciated by those who use the roads in question. Improvement works on laneways and non-public roads are very important for local communities. Such roads often lead to houses and farms, but also, importantly, they lead to lakes, rivers, beaches, castles and other important cultural sites.
In County Cavan there is a ten-year backlog of applications owing to a lack of funding. There is a similar issue in many other counties, with an eight-year backlog in County Monaghan. A total number of 800 applications have been made in County Wexford, of which only 30 have been funded to date. I would like to see a substantial increase in the funding provided for this important scheme in 2020. The scheme is highly valuable and represents a great investment in rural communities. It is important that this rural infrastructure be protected and receive investment in order that families can live along laneways that are drivable and up to a decent standard.
The scheme is administered by the local authorities which identify roads to be included in the scheme each year. As people who represent rural constituencies, the Minister of State and I are conscious of how important the scheme has been during the years. I am keen to see more money invested to try to reduce the substantial backlog of applications in many counties. Unfortunately, funding for the scheme through the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport was stopped in 2012, prior to which it was a mainstream scheme within the overall roadworks programme funded directly by the Department. Alongside that funding, there was a top-up payment for projects in rural areas under the CLÁR programme of the then Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. It is time this form of funding mechanism and the status of the local improvement scheme were restored and a serious effort was made to reduce substantially the big backlog of applications in most counties.
The funding allocated to counties Cavan and Monaghan in recent years has been fully drawn down and the work carried out to a very high standard. It is important that the scheme not be put beyond people's reach because of income pressures. In many instances, family members, often sons or daughters, might want to set up home on a site given to them by their parents. One of the factors taken into consideration in deciding whether to build in a location is the quality of the roadway to the proposed home and the quality of the road network more generally. In many communities there is good quality community infrastructure such as football and hurling clubs, soccer clubs and community centres, with a great network of primary schools, by and large. During the years the local improvement scheme has been of huge importance to families living in rural communities and needs to be funded adequately to bring laneways and non-public roads up to a proper standard. We want to ensure those who wish to remain living in rural communities will not be denied that opportunity. I, therefore, ask the Minister of State to, please, use his good offices to ensure a substantial increase in the funding for the programme in 2020. I again thank him for attending.
I thank the Senator. The local improvement scheme, or the LIS as it is affectionately known, is a programme for improvement works on small private or non-public roads in rural areas. The scheme is funded by my Department and administered through the local authorities. There was no dedicated funding for the scheme for a number of years owing to constraints on public expenditure. However, I was very conscious of the underlying demand for the scheme in rural areas throughout the country and it was reinstated in 2017. The Department has since allocated over €48 million to local authorities for LIS roads across the country, including €10 million earlier this year. Since 2017 over 1,600 projects have been completed with this funding. The LIS is clearly very popular and I know that it is greatly appreciated by the people who use the roads in question on a daily basis. The works carried out not only improve access for the people who live on these roads but they also improve access for service providers, including the emergency services. Projects prioritised by the local authority can also lead to important community amenities such as graveyards, beaches, piers and heritage sites.
It is clear that there is a continuing demand for LIS funding in rural communities across Ireland. I am pleased that we have again secured €10 million for the scheme in 2020. However, I also want to review the scheme to ensure it is operating as effectively as possible for those who use the roads in question on a daily basis. There are wide variations in the cost of completing works across local authorities. I am also concerned by the pace at which the local authorities are completing works. Of the €10 million allocated to local authorities under the LIS this year, only €3.4 million has been paid out to date in the completion of works.
We are committed to continuing to support rural communities in 2020 under the LIS and the Minister intends to announce a new round of funding next year. However, I also want to ensure we are getting the best value for money in funding the scheme and for the people who live and work along these roads who have to make a contribution towards the cost. The exact level of funding to be provided for each local authority will be confirmed when the 2020 scheme is announced.
I thank the Minister of State for his reply. It is welcome that he has secured €10 million for the scheme next year. However, a multiple of that figure is required, unfortunately. I am concerned that the Minister of State has said only €3.4 million has been paid out to date this year in the completion of works. Is that correct?
I am most familiar with the position in Cavan and Monaghan and surrounding counties. My understanding is the local authorities in these counties have used their full allocations. Is there a delay in the Department in paying out the money and, if so, is it deliberate?
I would like the Minister of State to examine the matter because in both counties all the money has been spent and they could do with at least ten times more, which they would use.
To clarify, in 2019, Cavan received €269,254, which it has drawn down in full, while Monaghan received €250,000, of which it has drawn down nil. The Senator mentioned Wexford, for which €329,878 was allocated but it has drawn down nothing. While it will probably be drawn down before the end of the year, there is a wide variation in the cost of laying a road per metre within local authorities and we have to streamline it. I agree that it is a fantastic scheme and I believe in it wholeheartedly, as does the Minister, Deputy Ring.
The Senator noted that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport funded the scheme at one stage. At the Department of Rural and Community Development, we fund the scheme to the best of our ability. In 2019, we gave €10 million; in 2018, €20.8 million; and in 2017, €17.53 million. In total, €48 million has been given from our Department and not a stitch has come from the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport for the scheme. Other Departments will have to come up to the mark in respect of roads. I would welcome if people made contact with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport to ensure we will secure more funding. The reason there is so large a backlog is that for seven or eight years, there was no scheme and the queue of roads built up in every county, as I am acutely aware in Galway East and wider County Galway. When a road is completed, it can make a major, positive impact in the community.
I thank the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, for taking time out of his exceptionally busy schedule to take this Commencement matter. I represent Limerick city, where the number of apartments being granted planning permission is causing concern among my constituents. What plans does the Minister have to reduce the density guidelines for homes developed outside of Dublin and city centres? Under the 2009 urban guidelines, density levels are between 35 and 50 units per hectare, which results in a large number of apartments in any development. The most recent CSO figures, for quarter 2, show that the number of apartments is now at approximately the same level as that of houses. In quarter 2, some 4,900 applications for houses were approved and 4,700 for apartments, which is an increase of 156% in the number of apartment applications in the past year while the number of housing applications remains more or less static. Will a review be carried out? We want sustainable living.
I speak in particular about where I live, in Castletroy, where it has become an important issue, given the large number of planning applications being submitted. Many apartments, even if they are built, will not be sold and, consequently, many developers do not build them. The cost of developing apartments is approximately 30% higher per unit than that of building a house, whether semi-detached or terraced. Furthermore, many developers cannot secure funding to build apartment blocks and, in many cases, they forward sell them. Such apartments are not starter homes.
While I do not wish to discuss the specifics of planning permission, given that it is a confidential matter, I will outline an example. In Castletroy, there is a development of 332 units, comprising 53 detached houses, 157 semi-detached houses, 91 terraced townhouses, and 32 apartments in a three-storey block. It constitutes a density level of approximately 30 units per hectare. The development is beside a public park and works exceptionally well. The type of living is sustainable and of mixed use. We need to build homes but they need to be starter homes. A number of developments have been initiated nearby, some of which are awaiting a decision while planning permission has been granted for others. The local authority seeks 41 units per hectare. In some cases, where there would have been terraced houses, the local authority has sought increased density by adding apartments but that is not sustainable.
The area of Castletroy is highly populated and, while there is public transport, it needs to be enhanced. There are capacity issues with the level of development as it is. The development in question is highly sustainable, with more than 30 units per hectare, and combines an apartment block, terraced houses, semi-detached houses and some detached houses. By increasing the density requirements from 35 units to 50 per hectare, however, the only development that will be able to get planning permission is an apartment block. That is borne out in the CSO figures, which show that the number of apartments is now similar to that of housing. The number of housing applications granted permission has been static for the past year but it needs to be revisited. High-density buildings are needed in the centre of Limerick, Dublin and other cities. Outside of the city centres, in the suburban areas, account must be taken of what is sustainable.
I ask the Minister to carry out a review of Dublin city and all the other cities. He might take the examples I have given and perhaps the matter can be examined by him and his officials.
It is my first opportunity to speak in the Chamber since it has been refurbished and it is fantastic to be back. I accidentally went to the wrong room because one creates new habits and they stick in one's mind. I have a written reply but, if it is okay with the Senator, I will provide him with a copy and not read it out. I would like to speak more specifically to the matters he addressed, whereas my written reply gives an overview of the general Government view on density.
In light of the more rapid increase in housing delivery than has been the case for a number of years, the Senator wants to ensure that we will build homes in a sustainable way.
That is correct.
He wants to ensure that we build the right types of homes, for the right people, in the right places. It is not just about increasing the supply of any type of home being built but rather about building the right types of homes, for the right people, in the right places. With Project Ireland 2040 and the national planning framework, we have tried to make decisions at a national level as to what that means. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past and to condemn future generations to urban sprawl. It is bad for the climate to build further and further away from jobs, schools and hospitals. It will also condemn people to long commutes to the city centre, work and school if we are not able to build more homes closer to the viable infrastructure.
The big question is what the ideal density is. We produce national guidelines and each of the local authorities' development plan should be in line with them. An Bord Pleanála retains the powers to challenge a local plan if it is not in line with national policy. Since the beginning of this year, for the first time ever, there is a national planning regulator. If someone believes that what the local authority is doing in a given area is incorrect, he or she can now appeal to the planning regulator. If someone believes that An Bord Pleanála has done something incorrectly, he or she can tell the planning regulator that he needs to examine the matter. All such additional checks are in place to ensure that people are not allowed to go against good, sustainable planning, and that politicians do not interfere in the process either.
It is incumbent on elected officials, including Senators, Deputies and Ministers, to ensure they constantly review and gain understanding of what policy made in a Department means when it is implemented on the ground.
On good dwelling densities per hectare, a hectare is roughly the size of a rugby pitch, to use a comparison with which the people of Limerick would be familiar. In urban areas, there should be a minimum of 50 dwellings per hectare. On how the Government can help drive greater density, some Land Development Agency sites in Dublin will reach 100 dwellings per hectare, which is quite an achievement. That will involve many apartments, which are badly needed in the centre of Dublin. The Senator referred to the increase in apartment building. It is welcome, but we need to see far more. It is not meant to replace the traditional building of houses. We are meant to be doing both. Outside inner city areas, there is a dwelling density of 35 to 50 per hectare or rugby pitch. That is recognised as a good standard for urban areas, not the inner city core. We are aiming for approximately 35 dwellings per hectare in larger towns and fewer than 35 dwellings per hectare in villages and other areas. Those are our aims in terms of good density.
In trying to reach those density requirements, we need to break our thinking that every single home or dwelling on that ruby pitch must be a house. On one site, we can have houses, apartments, duplexes and shared accommodation for the elderly with all the appropriate services such as live-in help and so on. Some housing bodies have done that very effectively, with a particularly good example in County Kilkenny. We are trying to give guidance to local authorities and private developers on a new way of thinking around achieving a density of, for example, 35 to 50 dwellings per hectare in an urban area. Doing so does not mean building only apartments or houses and apartments; it can encompass three-bedroom, semi-detached houses, detached houses, terraced houses, apartments and step-down homes for the elderly on one site.
I have been to Castletroy several times, including once very recently. The density of dwellings per hectare there seems appropriate, but I am happy to go to the site and take a look. I will not interfere with planning permission or anything of the sort and I am not asking to meet the developer or the builder, but I will go the location referred to by the Senator. I have done so in previous instances where people have told me that the densities set out under the guidelines do not work for a particular site. It is incumbent on me to take a look and see whether their claims stack up. I would like to do so in this instance, particularly because I know the area well, and see whether national policies make sense for that site. I commit to doing so.
Home Building Finance Ireland has been operational since the beginning of the year and is helping smaller builders outside cities to secure finance to build homes.
On the viability of our housing stock, it is now more expensive to build homes because we are building them to an A standard. Our social housing homes are the best homes being built in the country and that costs more money. Apartments cost more because of the various things that must be done. In order to increase viability we have made changes to some specifications such as the number of units per core and the need for car parking spaces. Obviously, the latter is unnecessary in a place such as Dublin city centre but would be necessary in other parts of the country. I recognise that it is a challenge. When apartments were built many years ago in parts of Dublin such as Stepaside and other areas beyond the M50, people said that building apartments in such places was crazy because nobody would live in them. Now there are not enough apartments in those areas because infrastructure such as public transport and so on was put in place.
It is important to remember that even in a crisis when people want homes built immediately, the homes we build should stand for 100 years. We must ensure that we are building the right homes in the right places for the right types of people or else we will have more problems in the future. I will visit the site in Castletroy such that I can get a proper understanding of the difficulties to which the Senator refers.
I am sorry to have interrupted the Minister but I wanted to ensure the Senator has a chance to respond. The Minister got good value for his money.
I thank the Minister. I look forward to welcoming him to Castletroy. My perspective on this matter is straightforward: we need to increase density in city centres and we need to have a mix. The problem is that it must be sustainable. Many planning applications that are submitted involve a combination of apartments and terraced townhouses but the local authorities are pushing on density guidelines at national level and the planners are telling developers to increase density which, by definition, means more apartments. That is reflected in the figures published by the Central Statistics Office, which has indicated that the number of apartments being granted permission is equivalent to the number of houses. The number of houses granted permission has not increased in the past year. We need mixed developments with apartments, townhouses, semi-detached houses, detached houses and accommodation for older people. The young families and parents whom I know want their children to be able to afford to buy and to have a choice. The problem is that as density guidelines are so high, in many cases, many planning applications are comprised to a significant extent of apartment blocks that will never be built by the developers. They will build some of the houses. There is not enough housing stock coming on board and that is something at which we need to look. We need to build more homes, but that must be done in a sustainable way. I applaud the work being done by the Minister in terms of driving the number of houses being built, but it must be done in a sustainable way.
I will welcome the Minister to Castletroy and show him the situation on the ground. We can achieve a model that would reduce densities outside Dublin and inner cities while attaining an appropriate density level in a way that is sustainable in the long term in the areas concerned. Local authorities should be given flexibility to make judgment calls regarding applications in specific areas in terms of the sustainability of housing. I thank the Minister for his offer to come to Castletroy specifically to see the planning situation there.
I ask the Minister to keep his reply brief as we are almost out of time.
I share the Senator's vision of sustainable house building. Let us continue the debate on the ground in Castletroy.