The Government affords a high priority to housing issues as evidenced by the range of policies and measures employed by my Department and other public agencies involved to ensure that the broad spectrum of housing needs is appropriately met.
We have placed a strong emphasis on increasing housing supply to meet demand, particularly for first-time buyers, against a background of unprecedented demand for housing, fuelled mainly by rapid economic growth and demographic changes. The measures introduced by the Government to boost supply and thereby improve affordability, including significant investment in infrastructure, improving planning capacity and promoting increased residential densities, are having effect. The year 2002 was the eighth successive year of record house completions, with 57,695 units completed, which represents an increase in output of 9.7% nationally and more than a 30% increase in the Dublin area on the corresponding figures for 2001. I expect that in excess of 60,000 units were completed nationally in 2003. Indicative data available to my Department show that first-time buyers continue to have a significant presence in the housing market. The Government will continue to focus on measures to maintain a high level of housing supply.
Government interventions have boosted the supply of affordable housing under targeted schemes for low and middle-income purchasers. I anticipate that the numbers of middle-income purchasers benefiting from affordable housing will further increase this year as more affordable housing comes on stream as a result of agreements under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. In the first nine months of 2003 a total of 82 units were acquired and a further 449 units were in progress under Part V agreements. At end September 2003, a further 1,895 units were proposed.
The new affordable housing initiative introduced under the national partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress, is also being progressed as a priority. This new initiative is aimed at those who in the past would have expected to purchase a house from their own resources but find they are unable to do so in the current market. The Government made two announcements in July and December 2003 on the release of State and local authority lands in Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Cork and Waterford in regard to the initiative. This initiative, combined with Part V arrangements, will build on the progress made in delivering existing affordable housing schemes to boost the supply of affordable housing over the coming years.
At the same time, my Department keeps the terms of the income and loan limits which apply to local authority house purchase loans under review, taking into account the movement in house prices, the effectiveness of various schemes in meeting the needs of the relevant target group and the availability of mortgage finance in the private sector.