Questions Nos. 1 to 13, inclusive, answered orally.

Pyrite Remediation Programme Implementation

Questions (14, 29)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

14. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans for long-term supports for home owners affected by pyrite; if any financial support is earmarked beyond next year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44851/13]

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Clare Daly

Question:

29. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in view of the fact that the €50 million initially promised for remedial works to houses damage by heave due to pyrite has not been delivered and these home owners have been abandoned by the structural guarantee company, HomeBond, if he will request that HomeBond now contribute its €25 million surplus to help remediate these damaged houses. [44770/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 29 together.

Following from Government consideration of the funding of a pyrite remediation scheme through the imposition of mandatory levies on the quarrying and insurance sectors, work commenced on the development of a Pyrite Remediation Bill. However, legal difficulties arose during the drafting process and it was not possible to proceed on the intended basis. My Department and I have worked over the past number of months to resolve these difficulties and put in place an alternative means of funding a pyrite remediation scheme. In this context, I am very pleased to have secured Exchequer funding to support the implementation of a pyrite remediation scheme under the auspices of the Pyrite Resolution Board. In addition, a revised general scheme of a Bill to provide for the establishment of the Pyrite Resolution Board has been approved for drafting as a matter of priority. My Department will be working with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to ensure that the Bill is published at the earliest possible date and I hope to bring the legislation to the Oireachtas in this term.

The Pyrite Resolution Board, which I set up on an administrative basis earlier this year, has already made significant progress on developing appropriate systems and procedures. They will now quickly advance work on the proposed online application and processing system and also finalise work on developing other complementary systems, with appropriate checks and balances, to ensure that effective and efficient programmes of remediation are delivered to affected homeowners.

The initial phase of the remediation programme will deal with approximately 1,000 dwellings which, it is estimated, are in need of repair. Initially, €10 million is being made available to my Department. Additional funding will be provided over the next two years, in the context of the further capital stimulus programme to be announced in early 2014, to deal with all dwellings deemed by the Pyrite Resolution Board to be in need of remediation. The post-2015 funding position will be dealt with having regard to the position at that time. While it is not possible, at this point in time, to estimate the number of dwellings that may require remediation post-2015, the considered view is that the numbers will not be as large as previously thought. There are a number of positive indicators that support this view. The number of persons who have registered an interest with the Pyrite Resolution Board to receive an application form for the proposed scheme is 700 approximately.

As I have indicated previously, HomeBond is a private limited company providing a structural guarantee scheme to purchasers of new homes which, since November 2008, has become an insurance scheme underwritten by Allianz Insurance. As a private company my Department has no role or function in its operations. However, the Pyrite Resolution Board is in discussions with HomeBond in relation to how best they can make a positive contribution to the implementation of a pyrite remediation process.

While it was not possible to proceed with the imposition of levies on the quarrying and insurance sectors as a means of funding a remediation scheme, it would be indefensible to leave affected homeowners without redress. Despite budgetary constraints, I am glad to have secured Exchequer funding for a pyrite remediation scheme. I would like to assure affected homeowners that there will be no undue delay on my part or on that of my Department and the Pyrite Resolution Board to ensure that the pyrite remediation scheme is delivered in the shortest possible timeframe.

Energy Schemes Issues

Questions (15, 39)

Barry Cowen

Question:

15. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide a timeframe for the retrofitting of 14,100 social housing units; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44855/13]

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Michael Colreavy

Question:

39. Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the way in which funding for the €25 million investment in housing energy efficiency in the recent budget announcements has been sourced; how it will be allocated; the criteria for persons seeking funding from this initiative; and if there are any short, medium and longer-term deadlines for implementation. [44839/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15 and 39 together.

The €25 million investment in energy efficiency forms part of a €50 million three-year energy efficiency investment programme for local authority homes, under my Department's Social Housing Investment Programme. It is a key part of the Government's €150 million capital investment in the economy over 2013-14. This three-year programme will target the 25,000 least energy efficient local authority homes. Some €25 million will be provided in 2014 and it is expected that 12,500 homes will be retrofitted in the course of the year. This will result in warmer homes and lower energy bills for the families concerned and will also create around 1,000 jobs in the sector. A further €5 million is being provided where a more substantial suite of energy efficiency works are needed, such as the replacement of windows and doors or the installation of high-efficiency central heating boilers. Taking both measures together, it is estimated that some 14,110 households will benefit from this €30 million investment in 2014.

It will be a matter for the local authorities to determine the individual houses and estates that will be retrofitted under this programme. My Department will be requesting local authorities to submit details of their energy retrofitting work programmes for 2014 in due course. Capital allocations in 2014 will reflect the level of contractual commitments of works under way at end 2013, the scope and extent of the programmes submitted and the capacity to deliver these programmes in terms of frameworks in place for the taking on of contractors.

I expect these works will be undertaken by small, locally-based contractors for the most part and will provide job opportunities for the long-term unemployed. I have asked local authorities to ensure that the potential to employ local labour is exploited to the fullest extent possible, having regard to public procurement rules.

National Spatial Strategy

Questions (16)

Barry Cowen

Question:

16. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when he intends to publish an updated national spatial strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44871/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The 2002 National Spatial Strategy (NSS) was Ireland's first national strategic spatial planning framework. It provides the spatial vision and principles to achieve a better balance of social, economic and physical development and population growth between regions through the co-ordinated development of nine gateway cities and towns, and nine hub towns, together with complementary policies to activate the potential for lasting economic development in their hinterlands and wider regions. The NSS serves as a strategic context for spatial planning in Ireland by regional authorities, in their regional planning guidelines role, and for planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála in their statutory planning functions. It also seeks to influence investment priorities particularly in transport, housing, water services, communications, energy, health and education infrastructure.

While the existing NSS remains in place, together with Minister Hogan, I have recently established a successor National Spatial Strategy Scoping Group comprising three experts with extensive experience of spatial planning and economic and social development, to prepare a short scoping report on a successor to the current NSS. I expect to receive their report in the coming months following which I will bring proposals to Government on the roadmap to develop a successor NSS that will take account, inter alia, of our significantly changed economic circumstances and to contribute to sustainable national recovery. The new strategy is expected to be in place in 2015.

Septic Tank Registration Scheme

Questions (17, 43)

Dara Calleary

Question:

17. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide a breakdown by county of the number of septic tank improvement grants distributed to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44860/13]

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Timmy Dooley

Question:

43. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide a breakdown by county of the number of septic tank inspections conducted to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44858/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 43 together.

On 25 June 2013, I signed the Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2013, a copy of which is available in the Oireachtas library. The Regulations brought into operation a grants scheme to assist with the cost of remediation of septic tanks and domestic waste water treatment systems which are deemed, following inspection under the EPA's National Inspection Plan and the subsequent issue of an Advisory Notice by the local authority, to require repair or upgrading.

The Regulations provide that, subject to the applicant meeting all qualification criteria, a local authority may pay a grant to a person who is required, following an inspection, to have repairs or upgrades to, or replacement of, a septic tank or other domestic waste water treatment system. Applications for grant aid are administered by the local authorities in whose functional area the particular domestic waste water treatment system requiring remediation is situated. Where a local authority pays a grant under the scheme, my Department will recoup 100% of the amount paid by the local authority. To date, no applications for recoupment have been submitted by the local authorities to my Department.

The Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012 assigns responsibility to the EPA to make a National Inspection Plan for domestic wastewater treatment systems. The National Inspection Plan 2013: Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems was adopted and published by the EPA in February 2013. The Plan provides for a minimum of 1,000 inspections to be carried out by the water services authorities (which are the 34 county and city councils) in the 12 month period up to July 201 4. Details of the minimum number of inspections to be carried out in each county are included in the Plan.

An IT system, developed by the EPA for use by the water services authorities, underpins implementation of the National Inspection Plan. The system facilitates the selection of treatment systems for inspection based on the risk to human health or the environment and captures all information relating to inspections. This will ensure a consistent approach to inspections nationally. Implementation of the Plan is a matter for the individual water services authorities, under the supervision of the EPA. The IT system in use enables individual water services authorities to track the progress in completing inspections against the Plan's requirements and enables the EPA to monitor the progress by all authorities. The EPA has committed to review the implementation of the National Inspection Plan in 2014. As neither I nor my Department have any direct role in monitoring the implementation of the Plan, I have no information on the number of inspections carried out to date.

Homelessness Strategy

Questions (18, 152)

Patrick Nulty

Question:

18. Deputy Patrick Nulty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he remains committed to ending long-term homelessness by 2015; and the steps he is taking to achieve this target. [44847/13]

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Michael P. Kitt

Question:

152. Deputy Michael P. Kitt asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide a progress report on the Government's commitment to ending long-term homelessness by 2016; the framework and funding in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44925/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 and 152 together.

Earlier in 2013 I published the Government's Homelessness Policy Statement in which I outlined the Government's aim to end long-term homelessness by the end of 2016. The statement emphasises a housing-led approach which is about accessing permanent housing as the primary response to all forms of homelessness. The availability and supply of secure, affordable and adequate housing is essential in ensuring sustainable tenancies and ending long-term homelessness. When I published the statement I announced a set of indicators which will be used to demonstrate the dynamics of homelessness as it is addressed. These indicators will give a clearer picture of homelessness in Ireland and, in quantifying its on-going extent, will support the bringing forward of realistic and practical solutions. I also established a high-level three-person oversight group for the purpose of reviewing the progress of the approach being advocated in the statement, identifying obstacles and proposing solutions. The group expects to provide me with their first report shortly.

Arrangements have been put in place to provide for the delegation of homelessness funding to the lead housing authority in each of the 9 regions. I consider the regional approach more appropriate as it helps to bring a more strategic perspective to bear on action to address homelessness, including avoidance of over-concentration of homelessness services in certain centres and promoting appropriate regional availability of services, consistent with need. These arrangements place an emphasis on increased decision making at local level, in lieu of the existing individual project based arrangements, to improve overall efficiency and value for money, and allow greater local decision making in homeless services. These arrangements seek to ensure that the measures being pursued by housing authorities reflect the housing-led approach advocated in the policy statement, that actions are in place towards achieving the target of ending long-term homelessness by the end of 2016 and that evidence to support progress will be presented through the reports on the indicators.

My Department is currently engaging with a number of lead housing authorities and is considering the appropriate allocation of the 2014 homelessness budget so as to ensure that Section 10 homelessness funding meets the needs in the various regions.

Traveller Accommodation

Questions (19, 23)

Brian Stanley

Question:

19. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government where he sees the €1 million cut in social inclusion funding taking place; and the criteria that will be applied. [44815/13]

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Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

23. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government how the contents of budget 2014 will affect the accommodation and housing of members of the Traveller community in view of the many cuts to that provision over many previous budgets. [44841/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 19 and 23 together.

The Abridged Estimate for my Department for 2014 includes a capital provision of €3 million for Traveller-specific accommodation in 2014. While this represents a decrease of €1 million compared to 2013, I do not expect that this will have a major impact on activity in 2014 as the current round of Traveller Accommodation Programmes come to an end this year. This capital funding stream is used to provide 100% funding to housing authorities for the provision and maintenance of Traveller-specific accommodation and, in doing so, is designed to meet the specific and distinct accommodation needs of the Traveller community, such as halting sites and group housing schemes.

In accordance with the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, new multi-annual Traveller Accommodation Programmes, which will run for the 5-year period to the end of 2018, will be introduced in 2014. As a result, 2014 will be a transition year with a strong emphasis on the planning of programmes for the period up to end 2018. Based on the current status of approved Traveller-specific projects and considering that the new programme must be adopted by April 2014, this is considered sufficient to meet current requirements. If it transpires that the 2014 Estimates provision is insufficient, I will review the position with a view to augmenting the capital provision.

It should be recognised that the vast majority of Traveller families have opted for, and are accommodated in, standard housing provided by local authorities and financed from my Department's capital allocations for social housing, or in private rented accommodation with Rent Supplement support. It is open to Travellers to opt for any form of accommodation and local authority Traveller Accommodation Programmes are intended to reflect these preferences.

There are high vacancy levels at present in Traveller-specific group housing schemes in some local authorities. With a view to ascertaining the reasons for this, an independent research study is currently being carried out by the Housing Agency to examine the reasons why Traveller families vacate Traveller-specific accommodation and to make recommendations to inform future policy and practice. The National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (NTACC), which is a statutory body to advise me in relation to general matters concerning Traveller accommodation, has expressed concerns in relation to the level of vacant Traveller-specific accommodation nationally. It is expected that this study will be completed early in 2014 and its findings will be presented to the NTACC, who will consider the policy implications. I look forward to working with the committee on this issue and other concerns in relation to Traveller accommodation.

The Government remains committed to meeting the accommodation needs of Travellers. Since the adoption of the third round of programmes in 2009, it is estimated that over 450 units of Traveller-specific accommodation had been provided to end 2012, supported by the provision of approximately €50 million in capital funding from my Department. This is in addition to expenditure on standard local authority housing and other housing supports. The results of this substantial financial commitment are reflected in the significant reduction in the numbers of Traveller families on unauthorised sites, notwithstanding the steady increase in the numbers of Traveller families nationally over recent years.

Housing Finance Agency Issues

Questions (20)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

20. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the specific criteria and rationale used to determine the advancement of loans by the Housing Finance Agency which can adequately account for the extremely wide variance in total amounts advanced across local authorities; if he will account for the large increase in total loans advanced to County Mayo in 2012 compared with other parts of the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44805/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The elected members of a local authority have direct responsibility in law for all reserved functions of the authority, including authorising borrowing, and are democratically accountable for all expenditure by the local authority.

Local authority borrowing is subject to the provisions of the Local Government Act 2001; borrowing is a reserved function under Section 106 and requires the sanction of the appropriate Minister. Borrowing proposals, including overdrafts, must be submitted to the relevant Minister together with a resolution of the local authority members approving the proposed borrowing. All borrowing by local authorities is subject to the overall limits which are set by the Government from time to time in the context of the General Government Balance.

The HFA has two basic criteria when assessing a loan application from a local authority - a valid resolution of the Council of the applicant authority and sanction from my Department or such other sanctioning Department as may be involved.

Mayo Co Co received €32.8m in 2012 compared to €10.8m in 2011. In the case of the Mayo loans, as with all loans, the above criteria were satisfied. The HFA had total lending of €4.4 billion at 31 December 2012 with Mayo having a total of €109m borrowed, representing 2.45% of the HFA's lending.

Local Government Reform

Questions (21)

Dara Calleary

Question:

21. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the steps his Department has taken to prepare for a referendum on the establishment of a directly elected mayor for Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44866/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Local Government Bill 2013, published on 17 October, provides, in Part 10, for a plebiscite to be held in the administrative areas of the four Dublin local authorities in respect of a directly elected mayor for the Dublin metropolitan area on the same day as the local elections 2014, should the four local authorities concerned pass a resolution in that regard by 31 March 2014.

In anticipation of the Bill's provisions, I wrote to the Lord Mayor of Dublin inviting the Forum or Colloquium being established to assess options for local governance in the Dublin metropolitan area under the leadership of a directly elected mayor and identifying a number of elements which would need to be addressed when developing proposals to be put before the electorate in the plebiscite. A copy of this letter is in the Oireachtas Library. I have asked for the response of the Forum by the end of the year.