Housing Grants.

Questions (7)

Kathleen Lynch


6 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of persons awaiting payment of the first-time buyer’s grant at the latest date for which figures are available; the reason for the long delay in making these payments; the steps being taken to ensure that all such grants are awarded without further delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7140/04]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

There are 1,679 applications for payment of the first-time purchaser's new house grant being processed in my Department. There has been no undue delay in the processing of applications, having regard to the unprecedented volume of applications received in the three week period following the announcement of the termination of the scheme. Every effort is made to ensure grants are paid as soon as possible following receipt of claim for payment, with the services of five inspectors, who had retired, being retained to undertake inspections and inspectors being deployed between areas in response to fluctuating workloads.

The first-time buyer's grant was abolished shortly before the budget in 2002. I believe the cut-off point was 14 December 2002. Why have more than 1,600 grant applicants still not been paid 15 months later?

Applications are still coming in because the original date was to have been in November or December 2002. However the Deputy will recall that we gave——

How can applications still be coming in?

The applications of those taking up occupancy of houses are still being processed. We allowed an extension for those who received approval in November or December 2002.

We gave that extension a few months ago to 2 April next. In 2001 there was in excess of 10,000 applications and in 2002 there was in excess of 25,000 applications, nearly 14,000 of which came in a three-week period. The applications are being processed. The deadline for occupancy was extended from before Christmas to 2 April next and reminders are being sent to everybody to the effect that this will be the final deadline. There are 36 inspectors working on this, including people who had retired and were retained. There is tremendous work still going on. People have until 2 April to notify the Department that they are in occupation and wish to draw down the grant.

The grant should never have been abolished in the first place.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Questions (8, 9, 10)

Bernard Allen


7 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of affordable houses which have gone to the planning stage and been built since the affordable social housing initiative was announced over one year ago. [7122/04]

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Brian O'Shea


8 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the progress made to date with regard to the details of the agreement reached with the trade unions and employer organisations regarding the building of 10,000 affordable houses; when the scheme will start; the time-span within which the 10,000 houses will be built; the companies by which they will be built; if sites have been handed over for this purpose; the number of such houses started to date; the number expected to be started by the end of 2004; and when he expects the first such houses to be available. [7145/04]

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Bernard J. Durkan


139 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of houses provided under the affordable housing initiative in the past year; his plans to increase this number; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7375/04]

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Oral answers (56 contributions) (Question to Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7, 8 and 139 together.

The affordable housing initiative under the Sustaining Progress partnership agreement is designed to meet the needs of persons currently priced out of the housing market. In response, the Government has committed to an ambitious scale of delivery of affordable housing through this initiative and the provisions of Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

Measurable progress has been made on delivering this initiative. First, the identification of sites for the initiative last July and December has been a critical step in ensuring early mobilisation of affordable housing for the initiative. Together with affordable housing coming through Part V arrangements, the sites so far identified have the potential to deliver 6,100 housing units. The fact that these sites are being released by both local authorities and a range of other State authorities indicates the broad commitment at Government level to facilitate the earliest delivery of housing at affordable prices.

Second, working with the parties to the pay agreement we have developed a delivery model which builds upon the existing expertise of local authorities, while at the same time ensuring that there is no impact on general Government finances, as this is one of the parameters set by the agreement. The housing will therefore be delivered through arrangements between local authorities and the private sector.

Third, we have agreed, in principle, eligibility criteria with the parties to the pay agreement subject to further discussions on the detail. The timescale for delivery and the precise number of units to be delivered on each site is being determined in planning the projects. There are more than 24 projects involved, and they vary in terms of key site characteristics such as zoning status and servicing. Allowance must also be factored in for the procurement of specific developers to deliver the projects through competitive tendering and for obtaining planning permission. These processes, while involving a time element, are necessary to ensure the effective delivery of housing and the creation of housing in good quality environments.

Work on implementing this initiative is progressing as a priority and consultations are continuing with Departments, State agencies and local authorities. This is firm evidence of the Government's determination to making measurable progress in the implementation of this initiative by the mid-term review of Sustaining Progress. We will work to ensure that the output from all affordable housing schemes is maximised while ensuring the continuation of measures to maintain the overall supply of new houses.

Does the Minister agree that not a single foundation stone has yet been laid, 13 or 14 months since the announcement that 10,000 affordable houses would be built under Sustaining Progress partnership agreement? Have any of the schemes gone to the planning and design stage and, if so, which ones? What has happened regarding the 2,300 houses promised by the Taoiseach in December for the greater Dublin area?

A total of 24 sites have been put forward. We are working with the parties to the agreement, namely, the Irish Congress of Trades Unions. That is a slow process. Building a house is not like frying an egg.

The egg would be well fried in 13 months.

No foundations have been laid. Some projects will take longer than others because each site has individual difficulties and characteristics. In some cases there are zoning problems. Some sites are serviced while others are not. Work is proceeding. Nobody could expect to get everything done in such a short time.

Fourteen months.

The process of building houses always takes a long time. The dividend from the local authority affordable housing scheme, originally announced in 1989, was slow to come forward. With any new housing measure, it takes a couple of years to get a sizeable——

I thought a foundation stone would have been laid in 13 months.

These are not one-off houses. They are schemes. There is much work going on with the local authorities.

How many have reached the design and planning stage?

Overall design is being dealt with at this stage. No planning applications have been lodged yet. There is much prior work to be done on planning, on examining and clearing sites.

There is no sense of urgency.

There is a sense of urgency. The sites in question are not greenfield serviced sites. Some of them were being used for other purposes. There is a question of zoning with some of them.

It is a sop to the unions.

It was part of the Sustaining Progress agreement. It will be discussed with the unions on an ongoing basis. We hope to have made progress by the mid-term review, which will be in the middle of this year, and 10,000 affordable houses will be provided.

A foundation stone might be laid by the mid-term review.

I am trying to understand where we are with the 10,000 houses. The Minister tells us that sites have been identified for 6,000 houses, but that 6,000 includes those coming through under Part V, which were not intended to be part of the 10,000 in the first place. My first question is for how many houses have sites been identified under this new affordable housing scheme, excluding those coming through under Part V? The Minister says none of the houses has been built, that none has been started and that no planning application has been lodged for a single one of these houses. Has an architect or architects been appointed to begin design work and the preparation of a planning application in respect of any of the sites?

It is difficult to say exactly how many units will be on any site until detailed planning is done and a planning application is lodged.

It was always intended that the 10,000 would include those coming through under Part V. That is about 1,400.

No, it is not. That is a breach of the agreement. The agreement was that the 10,000 houses would be in addition to what was coming through under Part V. If what the Minister says is correct the partnership agreement is broken.

That is a matter we are discussing all the time. It was always the intention to try to achieve 10,000 units, including the State land being offered, and including the dividend from Part V.

David Begg will have something to say to the Minister about that.

That is proceeding. A contact group and project officers are driving it forward. There is much activity and the partners to the agreement are being kept fully informed of what is happening.

Has an architect been appointed to do the design work in respect of any of the sites?

There is a team working to drive the project forward.

If one were building a couple of houses——

I think there is a team working on the overall project.

The Minister thinks.

No individual design of any particular site is being done at present.

This is not a complicated question. How many thousands have been floated around in the course of the answer? We know that 14 months later no planning application has been lodged for any of these houses. Has an architect been charged with preparing a planning application in respect of any of those sites? It is a simple question.

I do not think so.

That is ridiculous. The Minister of State told the Congress of Trade Unions there would be 10,000 additional houses.

I do not know if the Deputy has ever built a house. I have not done so.

I have built a house. The first thing one does is employ an architect and then one makes a planning application.

Fair play to the Deputy but there are many things which must be done before that. The site has to be purchased and one must ensure that it is properly zoned and serviced. One must also study how one intends to proceed and how the project will be financed. It must then be designed and planning permission obtained. There is a team working on these different aspects and we are committed to providing 10,000 affordable houses. That will be done.

Nothing has been done. It is disappearing like snow.

It is deeply ironic that on the day the Minister announced a free for all on one-off housing, the Minister of State has informed the House that not a stone has been laid in respect of the 10,000 affordable homes he announced 13 months ago. Not only did he make an announcement at that stage, last Christmas he announced the provision of additional sites. Will he confirm that not a single contract has been awarded in respect of this commitment that was given more than a year ago?

The Deputy is messing now. The provision of sites from State lands owned by different Departments and Government agencies was announced last July and before Christmas. Work on those sites is proceeding in terms of clearing them and ensuring that they are vacated. Some of them must then be serviced, while others must be zoned. There will then be the detailed planning, design and building phases to be undergone. Many different matters are under discussion but the process is being driven forward quickly.

I am outraged at the snail's pace of progress in respect of this matter. The Minister of State is putting out a smokescreen. As an architect and town planner, I am aware that it does not take 14 months to appoint an architect. It is not acceptable 14 months after the announcement in which the Minister of State promised the sun, moon and stars, to say that zoning is being considered. It is a sop to the unions and it should be seen as such.

With no disrespect to the Deputy's profession, the architect is not necessarily the first person or body involved. The land must first be obtained, cleared——

That has all been done. There are 23 sites.

——serviced and zoned. There are many other things which must be done. Some of these sites will come on stream quite quickly but others may not because the zoning and servicing——

How many sites are being zoned?

We will eventually be able to build 10,000 affordable houses on these sites and that is the key issue.

Does the Minister of State agree that he and the Government have totally reneged on the Sustaining Progress agreement and that the unions have been conned on this issue? Will he consider his position, particularly in terms of the fiasco relating to the promises made under Sustaining Progress? Does he agree that there has been a con job regarding the Part V dividend, which was never intended as part of the 10,000 affordable houses? This is a shambles. Will the Minister of State resign?

It is easy to use words such as those uttered by the Deputy. There has been no con job, there is no shambles.

There are no houses either.

Not a brick has been laid.

There is solid work going on and 10,000 affordable houses will be delivered, as promised. However, as everyone knows, such houses cannot be delivered in a day.

In respect of the 10,000 phantom houses that were promised in the partnership agreement, it was made explicitly clear that these were additional to every other scheme in place including those which would emerge from Part V. Will the Minister of State clarify the statement he made earlier to the effect that this scheme includes houses under the Part V arrangements? He should set the record straight, otherwise there will be a clear breach of the agreement.

No houses have been started or built, planning permission has not been applied for and an architect has not been employed. The Minister of State is clearing the sites. I do not know whether by that he means he is cutting briars or driving sheep off them. When it comes to appointing architects to prepare the planning applications for these houses, who is responsible for doing so?

There has not been a breach of the agreement. We are looking at the matter of who will appoint the architects.

What does the Minister of State mean by saying that it is being looked at? Fourteen months have passed.

The options are to establish a special committee, group or agency to oversee the building of the affordable houses or we can work within the current structure, namely, the local authority system. We are using that system but there is a committee of individual staff at central level which is driving the measure forward.

Is it not conclusively the case that nothing is being done?

Absolutely not.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.