Local Authority Housing Provision

Questions (6)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to deal with the housing crisis which sees 110,000 families and individuals on the housing waiting list and ten new persons presenting to homeless services in Dublin each day; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44772/13]

View answer

Oral answers (62 contributions) (Question to Environment)

The Government's housing policy statement, published in June 2011, clearly identifies that the priority for Government will be to meet the most acute needs of households applying for social housing support.

I am determined to ensure that the social housing programme optimises the delivery of social housing and the return for the resources invested. To achieve this, it is essential that we tailor the use of available Exchequer supports to prevailing conditions and explore the full range of solutions to address housing needs.

The financial parameters within which we continue to operate rule out a return to large capital-funded construction programmes at least in the immediate future. The Government is committed to responding more quickly and on a larger scale to social housing support needs through a variety of mechanisms, including through increased provision of social housing.

In July 2012 I announced details of a three-year funding programme of €100 million to deliver 800 new units of voluntary and local authority-owned social housing. I am monitoring expenditure under my Department's housing programme for 2013, together with the level of contractual commitments extending into 2014, with a view to a decision later this year on approving some limited new construction and house purchases over the period to the end of 2014.

In addition to the €525.8 million in housing-programme expenditure provided for in my Department's Abridged Estimate for 2014, budget 2014 provides a further €50 million to fund infrastructural investment primarily in the housing area, including €30 million to recommence a State house-building programme, €10 million for an unfinished housing estate resolution project and €10 million for housing adaptation grants. When this is taken into account, funding for housing for next year is effectively maintained at 2013 levels.

Delivery of social housing continues to be significantly facilitated through more flexible funding models such as the rental accommodation scheme and leasing, but the Government is also committed to developing other funding mechanisms that will increase the supply of permanent new social housing. Such mechanisms include options to purchase, build to lease, and the sourcing of loan finance by approved housing bodies for construction and acquisition. In addition, my Department and the Housing Agency are engaged with NAMA to ensure continued delivery of housing units for social purposes. Approved housing bodies will also play a key role in 2014 in the delivery of social housing and in particular in its capacity to attract external financial investment.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

In spite of the current challenging circumstances, I expect the final output across all social housing programmes for 2013 to be in the region of 5,000 new housing units, and it is provisionally estimated that in the region of 5,000 units will be provided for social housing in 2014.

Statutory responsibility for the provision of accommodation and related services for homeless persons rests with the housing authorities. Work continues between central and local government and the voluntary sector to ensure the considerable moneys spent on services for the homeless are effectively and appropriately targeted.

I call Deputy Boyd Barrett. Let me explain that there is a minute for a supplementary question from the Deputy; a minute for a reply; a minute for a further supplementary question; and a minute for a final reply. So there are only six minutes per question.

On a point of order-----

There is no point of order, I am sorry.

It is a point of order. I know this is Deputy Boyd Barrett's question.

It is Deputy Boyd Barrett's question.

Why are the other housing questions not grouped together?

It is the same subject. It is a huge issue facing the Department.

I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Could the Minister of State agree to group them together now?

I am dealing with Deputy Boyd Barrett's question.

I put it to the Minister of State that her social housing policy is a total shambles and a disgrace. Earlier she mentioned 4,000 new social housing units, mostly through leasing arrangements where we are subsidising private landlords. That does not even cover half of the increase in the numbers on the housing list, which has now reached 110,000 families and individuals - it had been 100,000 and previously 96,000.

There is sleight of hand in the announcement of €30 million for 500 new houses. The figures in the expenditure report show that the other side of that coin is €15 million less for local authority housing, €15 million less for voluntary and co-operative housing and €2 million less for social housing improvement.

I ask the Deputy to put the question.

I could go on through the list. I want to ask one simple question.

Please. You have one minute. You are over time.

According to the Minister of State's figures, €30 million equates to 500 houses new houses.

I will come back to the Deputy.

Just one second-----

No. I will come back to him.

Why can we not multiply that-----

Can the Deputy not see the clock?

----- put €2 billion or €3 billion into building new social housing, save ourselves the rent allowance, house people on the housing list-----

I ask the Deputy to sit down and I will come back to him.

----- and put some building workers back to work?

I call the Minister of State. I remind the Deputy to watch the clock and he will see his time.

I point out a simple fact: it takes quite some time to build a house. We need to use methods such as leasing in the short term in order to provide houses next year for people who are on the waiting list. We are starting a construction programme. We have finally stabilised the spending and are starting to increase the spending, which is quite an achievement, considering that we are coming out of an economic emergency where capital budgets over the past five years have had to be cut because of a previous Government's actions and neglect of our country.

We are now nearing the end of it and are coming out of the bailout. We have stabilised the funding. We have got some stimulus money and with the assistance of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform we are again starting a general construction programme, as many Deputies have called for.

I thank the Minister of State.

Part of the delivery next year will be bringing voids back into use again - I know there are many of them particularly in the Dublin and Cork regions.

The situation is getting worse. I put a simple question to the Minister of State. According to her figures for the cost of building a new house - we were building 90,000 houses a year during the boom so she cannot say we cannot do it in a short time-----

We do not want to do anything like that.

To build 100,000 council houses according-----

And the waiting list was growing.

To build 100,000 council houses would cost €6 billion. We would save €1 billion a year, according to the Minister of State's figures.

I ask the Deputy to put the question.

She said €30 million for 500 houses.

I did not say that. Let me explain-----

Please. The Minister of State can reply later.

So 100,000 houses would cost €6 billion and we would save approximately €1 billion a year in rent allowance payments and in the extra rental revenue that would come back to the State. On that basis we could even get the money from the European Investment Bank because we would pay for those houses-----

----- over a minimum of a ten-year period and then we would be into surplus as well as solving the housing crisis and we would put building workers back to work. Why can she not do that?

First, the Deputy is using fairy-tale figures.

I am using the Minister of State's figures.

If the Deputy believes we could build that number of houses with that amount of money, I think he has another thing coming. Perhaps Deputy Wallace might enlighten him on the cost of building houses.

The Minister of State said 500 houses for €30 million.

I just explained that, but the Deputy was not listening. I explained the figure for next year is partly to do with bringing voids back into use, which can be done somewhat quicker than constructing. Generally speaking it will take at least a year to construct a housing development.

Fine. Then maybe it will go to 100,000.

That is why much of the money next year will be delivering through voids. As we move on - we hope we will get more stimulus money - we are developing and we will increase a house-construction programme. We are in a real world where capital budgets have had to be shrunk.

A 12-year housing list.

We are also carrying out an assessment of the waiting list. That list needs to be updated so we can get accurate figures. The Deputy should be happy that we are finally spending a little more money given that we have had to reduce it over the past five years.

I will be happy when I do not have people crying in my clinic over this.

If Deputy Boyd Barrett had new solutions instead of fairy tale solutions, we might get somewhere.

A Cheann Comhairle, can I ask-----

No, you cannot.

I am only asking why all the questions cannot be taken together. Questions Nos. 8, 10, 15, 28 and 70 should have been taken together.

I am not the Minister.

I know, but it amounts to excluding our questions. We have tabled questions on this matter.

I only chair the sessions.

The Minister of State has no interest in a debate on housing.

Local and Community Development Programme Planning

Questions (7)

John Browne

Question:

7. Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he has met officials representing local development companies; if he will provide an update on his plans for local development programmes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44865/13]

View answer

Oral answers (9 contributions) (Question to Environment)

The vision and focus underpinning the enhanced alignment of local government and local development is to achieve a more joined-up approach to service delivery at local level. This will be supported by new local governance arrangements that will seek to enhance involvement by citizens and communities in the implementation and targeting of services. The new measures will see the introduction of local community development committees in each local authority area which will be tasked with developing a six year city and county local and community plan for each area encompassing State-funded local and community development programmes and interventions. The Local Government Bill 2013 contains provisions for these new arrangements.

There is significant engagement between my Department and the Irish Local Development Network, which represents the 50 local development companies, in the implementation of the alignment recommendations. This process is being supported by an alignment working group which comprises my Department and representatives of the County and City Managers Association and Pobal, as well as the Irish Local Development Network.

I met representatives of the Irish Local Development Network on several occasions to discuss these matters. As well as addressing the reforms set out in the Putting People First document, I have discussed with them the challenges that will arise from reduced funding and the need to ensure we sustain a focus on front-line services while critically analysing the costs of administration involved with local development programmes and structures. I look forward to the continued co-operation of the ILDN as we are advancing the reforms necessary in this area.

I thank the Minister for his reply but his statement is not in keeping with what I am being told by the staff of the companies. I understand the Minister may have met the chairman of the groups approximately three months ago but nothing has happened to date. Staff tell me they are in limbo and that there have been no negotiations or dialogue to date. Are the jobs guaranteed in the new set-up in the local authority? When will the Minister have real negotiations with the people involved? Will there be forced redundancies? The county managers tell me they have a significant overload of staff in their local authorities. They want to know how they are supposed to manage the new staff when they come in. The Minister must accept that a good deal of expertise has been built up over the years in the local development groups. It is important the staff are maintained but it is as important the staff have an opportunity for real dialogue and discussion and for them to be told what will happen in 2014.

I regret that Deputy Browne has not been fully informed by the staff in Wexford. There is an ongoing alignment process in which three chief executives-----

Nothing is happening.

There is something. They met again yesterday. It was the seventh meeting they have had this year. Deputy Browne is not fully informed. The three chief executives of the development network that are representing the staff to whom Deputy Browne referred should be in a position to tell those staff what is going on. These are private companies. This is the structure the Fianna Fáil-led Government set up. I am not responsible or involved in staff negotiations or employment or company law matters. It is a matter for Wexford Local Development as well as other local development companies.

It is the Minister's Department.

The Department funds the companies to carry out and service programmes on behalf of the Department, but the companies employing the staff are private companies, like Wexford Local Development.

Those staff will be involved at local authority level and that is under the control of the Minister. At that stage, the Minister would have a duty to ensure the jobs of the staff are protected.

No one has said these staff will be employees of local authorities. I am unsure from where Deputy Browne got that information. These are private companies employing private staff. They must make their own provisions on the basis of the contracts they have signed over a five year period, and that is what they are doing. Negotiations are ongoing. A meeting took place yesterday. As soon as I have a final report, I will be pleased to tell the House, but I imagine Deputy Browne will be able to tell the staff they should contact the representatives of the ILDN, three of which are chief executives of companies involved in the negotiations, to find out what is going on.

Local Authority Housing Waiting Lists

Questions (8)

Seamus Kirk

Question:

8. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the total number of persons on the social housing waiting list broken down by county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44869/13]

View answer

Oral answers (29 contributions) (Question to Environment)

A Cheann Comhairle, can I ask one question?

No, you cannot. Please, you are wasting time.

I have no wish to waste time.

You have no question.

I have tabled 14 questions.

You are not down on the list.

I did not get a chance to raise one.

No, sit down, Deputy.

I am asking for the questions to be grouped.

Deputy, resume your seat, please.

Why can we not group the questions?

Will you resume your seat?

It does not make sense.

You did not come out in the lottery. I am sorry. It is not my fault.

A Cheann Comhairle, can I make a point?

No, Deputy, please.

I wish to support Deputy Ellis.

No, Deputy, that is not my business.

A Cheann Comhairle, could you use your great experience to ensure-----

Question No. 8, please. Deputy Nulty has a question which is two down and I want to reach it. You are wasting time.

A Cheann Comhairle, this is unacceptable.

No, sorry. I am dealing with the rules.

This is a specific question that I am answering. My Department does not hold information on the number of households on local authority waiting lists. These figures fluctuate as households are allocated housing and new households apply for support.

In accordance with section 21 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, I directed all housing authorities to prepare a summary of social housing assessments carried out in their areas on 7 May 2013. The data submitted by housing authorities are being analysed and, once verified, will be collated and a report published by the Housing Agency. The report findings will detail the number of households on waiting lists in each local authority, broken down by basis of need, employment status, age of applicant, length of time on waiting list and other categories. This information will provide an important insight into the level and type of need for social housing support throughout the country.

The current assessment is the first to be carried out since the commencement of the social housing assessment regulations, dated 1 April 2011, which introduced a standardised system for assessing applicants for social housing support, including revised basis of needs criteria. The results, when available, will not therefore be directly comparable with the results of the last assessment carried out on 31 March 2011, which are available on my Department's website www.environ.ie and the Housing Agency's website www.housing.ie.

Like other speakers, I am surprised the Minister of State has not seen fit to group many of these questions. They seem to overlap. It is normal practice for such questions to be grouped. The Minister of State might respond to that in her reply.

What discussions or negotiations has the Minister of State had with NAMA and the local authorities to seek to reap the social dividend that was to be received by the State in respect of the number of units within NAMA that were to be released to local authorities? NAMA has to date transferred only 400 homes despite more than 4,000 being earmarked for transfer. That is an abject failure in my book and, I imagine, in anyone else's book. Will the Minister of State set out the nature of her contact with NAMA and the local authorities to address this issue and get the dividend to which the State is entitled?

The Minister, Deputy Hogan, and I met representatives of NAMA approximately one month ago and discussed this issue again. We have met them several times. There have been improvements. NAMA has set up a special purpose vehicle which is assisting in moving the properties more quickly.

More than half the units, including houses and apartments, suggested by NAMA as being available for social housing were considered unsuitable by local authorities because they are in locations where there is no identified housing need. We are facilitating the quickest possible transfer of those which are suitable.

At issue are properties in the control of NAMA but which are owned by someone else, which means there is a complicated process of transfer. There is also the issue of whether they are suitable and whether work needs to be carried out as well as conveyancing and so on. A good deal of time is involved in transferring any given property. More than 1,000 properties are in the system and under consideration. The number Deputy Cowen referred to is the number that have been transferred.

In respect of the grouping of questions, we will have a look at that for Question Time in future.

The Minister of State said more than half the properties available are unsuitable because they are not in locations where there is a need and a list for local authority houses. There are 100,000 on housing waiting lists throughout the country. The Minister of State would do us all a favour if she were to tell us these areas where there is no need for houses to meet local authority housing waiting lists. A total of 4,000 houses are available. The Minister of State has said 2,000 are in areas where there is no demand. It is incumbent on her to inform the House where she believes there is no demand given that, as Deputy Boyd Barrett said, we are inundated with requests from people seeking to advance their situation and who find themselves without the ability to be allocated a home by local authorities.

I have to hand a list by county of those units that are considered suitable. It is part of an answer to another question tabled by Deputy Troy.

I would like to see a list of those that are not deemed suitable.

There is a variety of reasons. They may be in parts of the country in which there already is an oversupply of NAMA units, which are not in places where people are seeking social housing. Some may not be suitable for other reasons and may not be appropriate housing. While there is a variety of reasons, the Department must rely on local authorities to make these judgments and assessments. The Local Government Bill is going through the House at present and pertains to giving powers at local level. The local authorities deem whether they consider certain offers to be suitable for people on their waiting lists. If they judge them to be suitable, they are but if they judge otherwise, the Government must address that. In any event, 4,319 units have been identified by NAMA, of which 1,900 have been confirmed as suitable.

Housing Finance Agency Funding

Questions (9, 148)

Niall Collins

Question:

9. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the details of the planned rescheduling of the recoupment of local authority loans; the authorities involved; the amount per authority; the repayments due; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44856/13]

View answer

Barry Cowen

Question:

148. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide details of the planned rescheduling of the recoupment of local authority loans; the authorities involved; the amount per authority; the repayments due; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44946/13]

View answer

Oral answers (13 contributions) (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 148 together.

The capital loan and subsidy scheme, CLSS, was introduced in 1992 for the purposes of providing long-term mortgage finance from the Housing Finance Agency, HFA, to facilitate the provision, by approved housing bodies, of standard rented accommodation for low-income families. The scheme is administered by the local authorities and repayments of principal and interest charges to the HFA are made at six-monthly intervals by the local authorities, provided the relevant housing body complies with the terms and conditions of the funding scheme. Local authorities are recouped the full amount of the loan charges by my Department. The CLSS was terminated in 2009 and no new voluntary housing projects can be approved at this time. Given that most CLSS loans are for a period of 30 years, loan charges will continue to apply for many years to come.

Under the terms of the CLSS, loan charges are payable by local authorities in two tranches each year on foot of invoices issued by the HFA for the periods January to June and July to December. Charges for the January to June period are payable by 31 July each year and charges for the July to December period must be paid by 31 January. In accordance with custom and practice over many years, details of the loan charges due issue in December, starting with those local authorities with the greatest level of borrowings. These generally are the Dublin authorities and some large rural authorities. On receipt of claims from these authorities, my Department processes and recoups the loan charges, subject to the availability of funding and, in turn, those authorities pay the charges to the HFA.

CLSS loan charges for 2014 are estimated to be approximately €64 million and the loan charges for the July to December period must be paid by 31 January. By synchronising the recoupment of loan charges and putting each local authority on the same footing, with each local authority recouping loan charges in early January, there will be a once-off saving of approximately €15 million in 2014. This is a straightforward accounting exercise with no implications for local authority finances. All local authorities are put into funds in the same calendar year and repayment of loan charges can be made in accordance with the HFA requirements. There is the advantage of a once-off easing of recoupments in a given year. Given the pressing need to maintain public services and support employment generation at this time, I believe it is opportune to streamline loan repayments in 2014 to support these objectives.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. She stated there would be no effect on local authority finances and I take her at her word in that regard. However, as she stated, €15 million in savings are being made. Will the social housing agencies then come out of this in a worse position? If this is the case, can their tenants expect to see increases in their rents? If the Minister of State claims there are €15 million in savings to be made by virtue of this scheme, it will be at the expense of the social housing agencies that drew down the loans and whose duty it is to repay them. The Minister of State has indicated that €15 million in savings will be made and consequently, I expect it will be at their expense. If this is the case, can their tenants expect ramifications?

To clarify, this is simply an accounting exercise whereby something the Department would have paid in December now is being paid in January because the amount is not actually due until the end of January. It will be a once-off change for this year but in the future, the money that is owed for the last six months of each year will be paid in the January of the following year and-----

So it is not a saving at all.

-----consequently, it will not affect anyone.

Then it is not a saving at all. The Government simply is paying the amount it owes for the period between June and December at a different time of the year.

While it will be in the budget for next year-----

If it is a saving, how does the Minister of State expect the revenue to-----

Sorry, allow the Minister of State to reply and then you can respond.

It will be in the budget for next year because it will not be paid at the time it normally would be paid. However, it is simply a straightforward accounting exercise of moving a payment from one year to the next.

That is fine but if it is an accounting exercise, it should not necessarily be described as a saving because it will be paid, regardless of the time of year at which it is paid. It only builds up people's expectations that if a saving of €15 million is being made, that sum would be available for purchases for some other section of the Department. As I stated earlier, the accounting exercise Members heard regarding the budget announcement was contradicted previously, when the Minister of State indicated the €30 million coming from the lottery fund on foot of the announcement by the Minister, Deputy Howlin, would be subsumed in the loss and the cut in respect of capital expenditure anyhow.

That was €30 million more than Fianna Fáil allocated.

The Government has been quite upfront about this, what it is and precisely how it will affect the budgets.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Questions (10)

Patrick Nulty

Question:

10. Deputy Patrick Nulty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the way in which he intends to reduce social housing waiting lists; and the capital funding that will be provided to build social housing either by local authorities or approved housing bodies. [44848/13]

View answer

Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Environment)

The Government’s housing policy statement, published in June 2011, clearly identifies the priority for Government will be to meet the most acute needs of households applying for social housing support.

I am determined to ensure the social housing programme optimises the delivery of social housing and the return for the resources invested. To achieve this, it is essential to tailor the use of available Exchequer supports to prevailing conditions and explore the full range of solutions to address housing needs. The financial parameters within which the Government will continue to operate rule out a return to large-scale capital-funded construction programmes in the immediate future. Nonetheless, the Government is committed to responding more quickly and on a larger scale to social housing support needs through a variety of mechanisms, including through increased provision of social housing. In July 2012, I announced details of a three-year funding programme of €100 million to deliver approximately 800 new units of voluntary and local authority-owned social housing. In addition, budget 2014 provides for the allocation of a further €50 million to fund infrastructural investment primarily in the housing area. When this is taken into account, funding for housing for next year is effectively maintained at 2013 levels.

Delivery of social housing is also facilitated significantly through more flexible funding models such as the rental accommodation scheme and leasing but the Government continues to be committed to other funding mechanisms that will increase the supply of permanent new social housing. Such mechanisms include options to purchase, build to lease and the sourcing of loan finance by approved housing bodies for construction and acquisition. The Department and the Housing Agency also are engaged with NAMA to ensure continued delivery of housing units for social purposes. In spite of the current challenging circumstances, I expect the final output across all social housing programmes for 2013 to be approximately 5,000 new housing units and it is provisionally estimated that approximately 5,000 units will be provided for social housing in 2014.

Yesterday, I spoke to the Focus Ireland Coffee Shop, with which I am sure the Minister of State is familiar. It was trying to find emergency accommodation for 70 women in the city that was not available. If one speaks to people involved in social housing and homeless services, they will tell one that reconfiguration basically is cover for the complete obliteration of the provision of homeless services or the addressing of housing need in the city. Does the Minister of State recognise there is a crisis?

There is no recognition in this House of the disaster that has been visited upon people. More housing supply is needed and the available units must be used efficiently. Any time I ask the Department of Social Protection about the rent supplement scheme, the esteemed Minister tells me it is the job of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to provide social housing. While the Ministers are in the same Government, they do not appear to speak to each other or to discuss the issue. It is a crisis and I at least seek recognition from the Minister of State that this is the case.

First, the money for homelessness next year will not be cut and will be the same amount as for this year. The Department works closely with the Dublin Joint Homelessness Consultative Forum in particular regarding the issues that arise in Dublin. The Department was determined that it would maintain the budget for this year, for which there was rightly a strong campaign. In addition, there is a proposal on which the Dublin Joint Homelessness Consultative Forum and Focus Ireland are working in respect of providing accommodation for homeless families who are in private emergency accommodation at present and moving them on into long-term and supported accommodation. Consequently, there are a number of measures. I meet representatives of the Dublin region regularly in respect of homelessness and the Government wishes to ensure the money is well spent.

Our approach is housing-led. In other words, we would get people into homes as quickly as possible with the necessary supports and thereby ensure that they do not spend any longer than they have to in emergency accommodation. We are very much aware that we are facing into the winter and that people will be looking for housing and emergency accommodation. This is a major problem in Dublin in particular. We are working with the authorities throughout the country to ensure that we address the problem. It is not easy to do that. It is an issue that has been raised over many years. It is one on which we have a policy. An oversight committee is advising me on the policy and I am determined that we will work on that issue with great priority.

With respect to the Minister of State, it is all an elaborate fiction. There are 100,000 people on the housing list. I do not think any Deputy in this House is not inundated with requests from people who are unable to access appropriate housing for their needs. The Minister mentioned that she wanted to get solutions. More European funding would be available through the European Investment Bank, for example, if we had a proper regulatory framework for approved housing bodies. When will she bring forward legislation to bring that in and allow us to access the extra funding that would be available?

I ask the Minister of State not to listen to the spin that her officials seem to spinning and to talk to people at the front line. She should go out and talk to homeless people and ask them is the system working. I can tell her that it is not.

Will the Deputy put a question to the Minister of State?

It is not good enough for Ministers to come into the House and give the same spin, bluff and rubbish when citizens' lives are being destroyed by austerity and the Government's policies.

I want to absolutely reject what Deputy Nulty said about spin and bluff. First, we are working with approved housing bodies on a regulatory framework and we have agreed a voluntary framework with them which eventually will move to a statutory framework. Second, we have applied for funding from the European Union under the JESSICA fund and we hope to get an answer on that soon. Such funding would address the problems of flats in Dublin and in other cities that are currently in need of renovation and would provide homes for people. Third, as I said, we have maintained the homeless budget and stabilised the general housing budget and that has been done against a difficult financial situation where we are under the troika whether we like it or not-----

Increase the taxation of the wealthy.

-----and considering the difficulties in the economy, we have a done a very good job in maintaining budgets in the housing area. Admittedly there are huge problems, but it is simply unfair to suggest that we are not addressing them.

Water and Sewerage Schemes Funding

Questions (11)

Gerry Adams

Question:

11. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the reason the rural water programme fund was cut by €11.887 million; and how and where he envisages the cut being implemented. [44814/13]

View answer

Oral answers (19 contributions) (Question to Environment)

Funding is currently provided under my Department’s rural water programme towards group water schemes, group sewerage schemes, small public water and wastewater scheme works and some miscellaneous grants. The allocation for the programme in 2013 was €39.6 million.

The allocation for the programme for 2014 is €27.7 million. The reduced provision in 2014 reflects the fact that responsibility for the small public water and wastewater scheme works element of the programme will transfer to Irish Water in 2014 and so funding for such works will no longer be required under the programme.

The primary focus of Irish Water will be on the delivery of services to customers on the public water and wastewater networks. The Department will remain responsible for the overall policy, and funding where appropriate, of the non-public sector, including the group water sector. The funding being provided in 2014 under the rural water programme will continue to fund group water schemes, group sewerage schemes and some miscellaneous grants.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The cut in funding bringing the allocation down to €27 million will have a significant impact. The Minister said that one of the reasons for that is the transfer of responsibility for some of the network to Irish Water. There was rush in recent years for councils to take over responsibility for these networks. On 1 January next year will responsibility for all them have been directly transferred to Irish Water once they have a connection to the public network? Will responsibility for those schemes that were connected up to the public network directly transfer to Irish Water? What will happen in respect of the stand-alone group water schemes that are still not connected to the public network? Will a subvention be provided in respect of them? Will grants be provided towards improving those schemes? Many of those schemes have been built up and improved with grants and by the funding and efforts of the members. Will there be an entitlement to apply for grant funding in respect of those schemes?

As I stated in my reply, there is effectively no change in the funding arrangement for 2014. There will be an allocation of €27.7 million for local authorities under the developed scheme in terms of the rural water programme. That will continue with local authorities in terms of block grants for the purposes of group scheme, water and sewerage and some small public water and wastewater schemes. We spent €15 million on small public water and wastewater schemes this year, and responsibility for that will now move to Irish water. Therefore, the same amount of money is effectively in the system only it is coming in to it through different ways. Irish Water will have a service level agreement with local authorities, as the Deputy will be aware, and that will provide for some of the funding that we would have had for that this year under the small public water and wastewater schemes. The local authorities will continue to fund the group water schemes, the private ones, in the way that has been done previously.

What is the Government's policy on the stand-alone water schemes? There has been a move during the past ten or 15 years, based on EU regulations, to take in charge many of the small ones and connect them up to the main system. It is Government policy to complete that process and eventually take over responsibility for all the group water schemes, or is it adopting a hands-off approach and leaving that matter to be dealt with by the group water schemes and Uisce Éireann?

The Deputy knows that I am very concerned about the condition of ground water and in spite of his party's opposition I proceeded with the registration of septic tanks.

Do not start with that.

We never opposed the registration of septic tanks.

We supported it.

Ask Deputy Ferris who went to public meetings in Limerick and Kerry about it.

The Minister is misrepresenting what the man said.

No, I am not.

Stick to the facts.

I am sorry if I hit a sensitive point but I am very much in favour of protecting ground water in spite of the opposition to it from the Opposition parties in this House. We succeeded on that in that 92% of people are now registered. As part of our policy, we will continue to protect ground water and to assist group water schemes in that they be established with generous grants and also to assist them in being taken over by local authorities.

People cannot even get a grant.

There were some 6,300.

Does the Minister want a list of the applicants? I will send it to him.

The Deputy is thinking of the sewerage scheme in Ballydaly.

Fire Safety Regulations

Questions (12)

Clare Daly

Question:

12. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government further to Parliamentary Question No. 100 of 23 October 2012 in which he noted that the local building control authorities are empowered to bring summary prosecutions for building code offences in the District Court and have wide powers to make application to the High Court to secure orders where buildings do not comply with the requirements of the building regulations and that local authorities have further strong enforcement powers available under the Fire Services Act 1981 while acting in their capacity as fire authorities, the uses of the above powers to enforce fire safety compliance in the 12 months since he gave this information to Dáil Éireann following the Priory Hall saga and in view of the unknown widespread non-compliance with fire safety regulations leaving whole apartment blocks as fire hazards noted at Foxford Court, Lucan, Thornfield Square, Clondalkin and Belmayne among others. [44769/13]

View answer

Oral answers (13 contributions) (Question to Environment)

As indicated in the reply to Question No. 100 of 23 October 2012, local authorities have extensive powers under the Building Control Acts which they can use to enforce compliance with the building regulations. However, there is a time limit of five years after a building has been completed during which an enforcement notice may be served by a local building control authority.

The case at Priory Hall demonstrates Dublin City Council’s effective use of its powers to enforce compliance with fire regulations. Other local authorities have also used the courts to effect compliance with planning permissions, building regulations and fire regulations, all of which are critically relevant to the safety of building occupiers and the quality of the built environment. Results can also be achieved, and often are, through discussion and persuasion with the threat of legal action.

Comprehensive statistical returns on enforcement activity under the Building Control Act and the Fire Safety Act are not yet available for the period in question - I will submit them to the Deputy when I get them - and will be published in line with normal arrangements in due course. The Department continues to liaise with local authorities in regard to significant building control issues that have arisen in a number of multi-unit developments across the country, including those instances that have been raised by the Deputy. I expect local authorities to continue to use all of the powers currently available to them to address serious building defects.

This is an incredibly serious issue which obviously entered the public domain through the fire safety concerns in Priory Hall but it is most definitely not confined to Priory Hall. I am not sure from the Minister's response if he is saying that all the other developments cited in the question are outside the time limit period and therefore the best that the local authorities can hope for is to nicely ask the developers to comply. The reality, for example, particularly in case of Foxford Court in Lucan is that a similar developer has built in Balbriggan. I know from a resident who submitted a freedom of information request that the local authority has not rigorously pursued the developer to ensure fire safety compliance and has adopted a softly softly approach which is not good enough when lives are potentially at risk. Will the Minister confirm to the House what the particular breach of regulations of the fire safety legislation in terms of Priory Hall was and can he give us an assurance that the same breach of the regulations has not occurred in respect of other developments cited or any other developments?

As the Deputy will note, we have made substantial progress in respect of Priory Hall in resolving these issues.

I can give the Deputy more substantive information afterwards if I do not get time to give an exhaustive reply but in regard to Belmayne, I understand that remediation work on 225 units has now been completed while seven units remain to be remediated.

In regard to Foxford Court, the site was visited in April this year and evaluated by a fire safety officer from Dublin City Council who confirmed he did not require evacuation of any dwellings subject to early advancement of the remediation works. The developers prepared and issued a detailed remedial works tender based on fire safety strategies prepared by Pro-Fire consultants and agreed with the Dublin City fire safety officer. The tender issued to four companies that have worked successfully with South Dublin County Council in refurbishing work when the tenants remain in their homes during remedial works, and a contractor has now been selected.

In regard to Thornfield Square, Clondalkin, south Dublin, the position is that a fire in a communal corridor which may have been malicious has been dealt with and is understood to be under investigation by the appropriate authorities.

No loss of life has occurred but undoubtedly it has been a traumatic time for the people involved. A report in the matter is being sought and I will let the Deputy know in due course when I get it.

I will let you back in, Minister.

I can give the Deputy more information on it.

While I would very much appreciate that full report I will give the Minister a list twice as long the next time to get that information. I am grateful to receive that but to revert to the question I asked the Minister at the end of my contribution, what was the particular breach of the fire safety regulations in regard to Priory Hall, and can the Minister give us an assurance that that breach does not exist in any of the other developments?

I have changed the Building Control Regulations, as the Deputy is aware. It is the first time in many years that all of this has been revamped to make sure that the residents, the people in the apartment block or in the house, are on a risk-based approach being able to ensure that we have good, sound, heavy-handed regulation this time rather than light-touch regulation. The building control authorities will be inspecting on a regular basis, during the course of the mandatory process we are now putting in place under this new building control regime, to ensure that the customer is protected in terms of their investment and in regard to redress.

That is only for developments from now.

I cannot be responsible for the sins of the past, and I am sure the Deputy would not expect me to be.

Will the local authorities be culpable?

There are many legacy issues that we have to try to resolve, and we have a lot more to do.

NAMA Portfolio Issues

Written Answers follow Adjournment

Questions (13)

Robert Troy

Question:

13. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide a breakdown by county of the number of the National Asset Management Agency properties identified by NAMA for social housing; the number identified by local authorities as being suitable; the number transferred to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44850/13]

View answer

Oral answers (11 contributions) (Question to Environment)

My Department, the Housing Agency and NAMA continue to work together with housing authorities and approved housing bodies towards identifying suitable NAMA housing units and bringing them into social housing use. It continues to be my Department's objective to maximise the delivery of social housing using all of the resources available. To the end of September 2013, 4,319 units have been identified by NAMA as being potentially suitable for social housing and of these, some 1,900 have been confirmed as being suitable. Completed housing unit transfers to date stand at 300 together with a further 143 units that have been contracted and where completion work is ongoing. This brings the overall total to 443 for completed or contracted.

A full breakdown by county of the units identified, deemed suitable and completed or contracted will be included in the Official Report. Further information, including quarterly updates, in relation to the delivery of NAMA sourced units is available at the Housing Agency’s website www.housing.ie/NAMA

County

Identified

Suitable

Complete/Contracted

Carlow

137

82

55

Cavan

47

Clare

169

19

7

Cork

471

271

36

Cork City

419

202

53

Donegal

95

59

Dublin City

628

252

55

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown

328

122

58

Fingal

203

45

20

Galway

84

44

Galway City

117

117

45

Kerry

90

52

15

Kildare

243

97

57

Kilkenny

167

96

Laois

98

10

Leitrim

35

Limerick

112

9

9

Longford

31

11

Louth

27

27

27

Mayo

66

58

Meath

203

38

Monaghan

35

30

North Tipperary

13

Offaly

79

64

Roscommon

91

1

Sligo

46

15

South Dublin

60

42

South Tipperary

24

Waterford

65

27

Westmeath

42

29

4

Wexford

90

74

2

Wicklow

36

7

Total

4,351

1,900

443

Can I confirm that the list the Minister will give me will give a detailed breakdown of what NAMA and the local authorities deem to be suitable for local authorities to take on board? Also, will the list show what, in the local authorities' eyes, are unsuitable, and the reasons they believe them to be unsuitable considering, as has been reiterated many times in this House by the Minister of State and others, that there is a duty on the part of NAMA to ensure there is a social dividend to this State regarding those units it can make available to local authorities for onward passing to those who are in dire need of it?

I will allow a brief supplementary from Deputy Ellis.

That question should have been taken with No. 57, which is exactly the same question.

Will the Deputy just get on with it, please?

I am doing my best.

We have been through all of that.

We have had several deadlines in terms of housing from NAMA. In 2012 we were told there would be 2,000 and then at the end of 2012 we were told there would probably be 4,000 but as the Minister said, we have only delivered 443. Can the Minister tell me whether some of the houses leased from NAMA will have to be put back into pristine condition and what would be the cost involved in that? Do we have any idea of the exact number of houses, apartments etc. that are available now for local authorities? As regards the wear and tear of these properties that will come back to NAMA, what is the position on putting them back into pristine condition?

The table Deputy Cowen will be getting will give the number of identified houses or apartments for each county, the number suitable and the number completed or contracted. It will not give the reason some are deemed unsuitable. I do not know whether we can get that information for the Deputy-----

The Minister could try to get it.

-----but we can try. To give the Deputy an example, in Cavan, 47 were identified and 35 were identified in Leitrim. None of those were deemed suitable whereas in Galway city, 117 were identified and all 117 were considered suitable. In the Deputy's county of Offaly, 79 were identified and 64 were considered suitable. I do not know the exact reasons the particular ones were not suitable in Cavan and in Leitrim but we will get as much information as we can for the Deputy.

On the other question, NAMA does some work on the properties if they need it but one of the reasons some of them might not be suitable is that the amount of work to be done might be too great. Some of the estates have very little work done. They may just have the bare four walls and it may not be deemed appropriate to complete them. I do not know. That is conjecture but they have to be in an appropriate condition for use when they are handed over by NAMA.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.