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. Last year was the ninth successive year of record house completions nationally, with 68,819 units completed, an increase in output of 19.3% on the corresponding figure for 2002. There was also a 10.5% increase in output in the Dublin area in the same period. 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. More than 10,400 households have benefited under the shared ownership and affordable housing schemes since January 1997. I anticipate that the numbers of such 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, with a further 1,895 units proposed at the end of September 2003.
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 counties Dublin, Kildare, Meath, Cork and Waterford to the initiative. Both announcements are critical steps in ensuring early delivery of affordable housing on these sites and under the initiative and will result in approximately 6,100 housing units in total. 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.