Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, answered orally.

Questions Nos. 5 to 81, inclusive, resubmitted.

Questions Nos. 82 to 92, inclusive, answered orally.

Local Authority Housing Provision

Questions (93)

Brian Stanley

Question:

93. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the details of an oral arrangement between his Department and Dublin City Council to avoid cuts to housing in 2014; the rationale for this last minute deal; and the way it will be implemented. [5029/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

There was no decision made to cut my Department’s allocation to Dublin City Council in respect of the housing programme for this year. Work is well advanced on preparing the capital allocations under the various housing measures which comprise the Social Housing Investment Programme for 2014. As part of this process, my Department liaised closely with the City Council to ascertain the level of commitments on on-going projects and in relation to demand-led schemes such as the private housing grants scheme.

The overall level of funding available to me for the housing programme this year is broadly on a par with last year. While the Abridged Estimates 2014 show some variation in the capital provisions under the various measures compared to last year this reflects changing priorities in my approach for 2014. I expect the capital allocations to individual authorities will reflect this re-focusing also. For example, the €50 million announced in Budget 2014 to fund investment in new social housing construction will allow me to announce a new local authority social housing construction programme this year. I will also announce details very shortly of a new measure, with funding of €15 million, for the retrofitting of vacant and boarded-up local authority houses. I confidently expect that we can return as many as 450 of these houses to productive use this year and make them available to households on the waiting list. Given the high level of housing need in the city, I expect the City Council will benefit greatly under both of these measures.

I am making additional funding available to local authorities this year under the suite of Grants for Older People and People with a Disability. All local authorities will benefit and the Dublin City Council allocation is up around 6% compared to last year.

In 2014, national funding for homeless services from my Department is being maintained at the 2013 level of €45 million. In 2013, Dublin City Council on behalf of the Dublin Region received €31.3 million, or 69.9%, of the national total. While the precise 2014 ‘Section 10’ Exchequer allocation to the Dublin Region is yet to be determined I expect it to be broadly in line with last year’s allocation. The 2014 allocations will also facilitate the continuation of Dublin City Council’s regeneration programme, including substantial progress in regenerating Dolphin House and St Teresa’s Gardens.

I intend to announce details of the local authority and voluntary housing construction programmes and the allocations under the new measure for boarded-up houses very shortly. Until then, I am not in a position to say what the overall allocation to Dublin City Council will be.

Planning Issues

Questions (94)

Denis Naughten

Question:

94. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the timeline for the implementation of revised planning regulations covering wind turbines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [4838/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

My Department is currently undertaking a targeted review of the Wind Energy Development Guidelines 2006 focusing on the issues of noise, proximity and shadow flicker. Draft revised guidelines were published by my Department on 11 December 2013 for the purposes of public consultation. All interested parties are welcome to make written submissions during the consultation period, the closing date of which is 21 February 2014. Once the consultation period is closed, the submissions received on the draft guidelines will be considered and taken into account in the final form of the revised guidelines which I would expect to issue by the end of June. The final revised guidelines will issue under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, which will require both planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála to have regard to them in the assessment of planning applications.

Water Charges Administration

Questions (95)

Barry Cowen

Question:

95. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if the water charging tariff structure enables additional fees to be levied on households who do not use a certain amount of water; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5016/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Programme for Government sets out a commitment for the introduction of water charges based on usage above a free allowance, on the basis that this is the fairest way to charge for water. Irish Water is implementing the national domestic water metering programme for households connected to public water supplies.  As the metering programme will still be under way when charges are introduced, an appropriate approach to charging customers who are not metered at that stage will be put in place.  This will be structured in such a way as to ensure that it represents a reasonable proxy for usage and is fair.

The approach to charging will be outlined by Irish Water in a water charges plan submitted to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) in line with the provisions of the Water Services (No.2 ) Act, 2013. The CER will be responsible for approving the water charges plans and will engage in public consultation on the approach to charges.  Their initial consultation will relate to the principles and criteria underlying the structure of domestic tariffs including matters such as the breakdown between fixed and variable elements and the treatment of metered and non-metered customers. A subsequent round of public consultation will relate to the level of proposed charges.

Irish Water Staff

Questions (96)

Barry Cowen

Question:

96. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of former local authority workers currently employed by Irish Water; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5015/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

A fundamental underpinning of the water reform programme is to ensure that the skills and experience built up over many years in local authorities are put to best use for the long-term benefit of the customer and that there is no negative impact on service to customers during the transition. Irish Water is currently recruiting to build up the internal capabilities required within the organisation and the number of staff employed is an operational matter for the organisation. Data supplied to my Department by Irish Water indicates that of the 346 staff appointments made to date, 125 were employed in Local Authorities immediately before recruitment.

Housing Adaptation Grant Funding

Questions (97, 113)

Billy Kelleher

Question:

97. Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the changes made to the housing adaptation grants criteria. [5022/14]

View answer

Mick Wallace

Question:

113. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the reason for the changes to the housing adaptation grant for persons with a disability, housing aid for older people and the mobility aids grant which came into force in January 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5028/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 97 and 113 together.

This time last year I signalled my intention to review the Suite of Grants for Older People and People with a Disability in order to target the grants at those in greatest need, spread the available resources as widely as possible and ensure greater fairness in their operation. The changes were made on foot of the recommendations of a review group, established last year by my Department, to examine the terms and conditions governing the schemes. Membership of the group included members of both the County and City Managers’ Association (CCMA), the Housing Practitioner Network, Local Authority housing personnel and officials from my Department. Consultations were held with organisations working with older people and people with a disability, including the Irish Wheelchair Association, ALONE, HSE, Ataxia Ireland, the Irish Society for Autism and the National Disability Authority.

There has been no change to the maximum grant available under the Housing Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability which remains at €30,000 or the Mobility Aids Grant which remains at €6,000. In the case of the Housing Aid for Older People, the maximum grant has been reduced from €10,500 to €8,000. It should be noted that the average grant paid under this scheme in 2011, 2012 and 2013 was €4,162, €4,106 and €3,995 respectively, well below the maximum available. The age limit for eligibility has been increased from 60 to 66 years. However, a lower age limit may apply at the discretion of the local authority in certain cases.

Changes have also been made with regard to the assessment of means of applicants. To bring it into line with the means assessment for applicants for social housing, all household members’ income, with certain exceptions, will be included in the assessment of means. The level of income beyond which no grant is payable has been reduced from €65,000 to €60,000. In the case of an applicant where a household member is aged under 65, there is no impact on grant eligibility. However, where appropriate their income will be taken into account in accessing household income.

I have increased the level of funding available for the grant schemes by 12% in 2014 to €38.4 million. Every local authority has increased funding compared to 2013. I expect an additional 800 households will benefit under the schemes in 2014.

Water Services Funding

Questions (98)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

98. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when he will make funding available to Donegal County Council to upgrade treatment plants and to replace the lead piping and asbestos piping in seven Donegal plants which serve more than 27,000 people so that they can avoid prosecution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5056/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

My Department has no responsibility for, or role to play in, the management, maintenance or operation of water infrastructure. Since 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has profiled public water supplies to determine whether the supply needs to be replaced or upgraded, or operational practices improved to ensure that there are no risks to the supply of drinking water. Supplies which require such improvement are included in a list known as the Remedial Action List (RAL). Many of these supplies are small and where infrastructure improvements are required, my Department has made funding available to local authorities through a special contingency fund under the Rural Water Programme (RWP). Over €30m has been provided by my Department since 2008 under the RWP for this purpose.

The 2008 RAL included over 30 schemes in Donegal requiring remedial action. This number has been reduced to 10 in the 2013 RAL. During this period my Department has funded over €2.4m worth of RAL works in County Donegal under the Rural Water Programme. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water is responsible for the delivery of water services capital infrastructure. It is currently preparing a Capital Investment Plan for 2014 – 2016 that will provide for the transition of projects that were included in my Department’s Water Services Investment Programme 2010 - 2013.

Local Authority Staff

Questions (99)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

99. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to introduce a voluntary redundancy scheme for staff in local authorities working in the water sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5035/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

A voluntary redundancy scheme was offered to local authority staff in 2013 and by the end of March 2014 approximately 620 staff will have departed under the scheme. The number of staff provided for Water Services under the Service Level Agreements with Irish Water for 2014 is 4319.6 full time equivalents subject to alignment with the budgets notified by Irish Water to each local authority. While this number will reduce over time, the actual head count requirement is intrinsically linked to the levels of investment within the sector in automation, rationalisation and infrastructure and operational upgrades.  The establishment of Irish Water will lead to improved efficiency and effectiveness of water services delivery, and progress in these regards, leading to staffing reductions, will be closely monitored in the context of annual service plans.

While I have no plans at present to introduce a further voluntary redundancy scheme for staff in local authorities working in the water sector, I will be keeping this matter under review in consultation with Irish Water and the local government sector, having regard to natural attrition, redeployment and on-going workforce planning. In addition, any future voluntary redundancy scheme would need the prior approval of my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Private Residential Tenancies Board

Questions (100)

Brian Stanley

Question:

100. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the work he is doing to ensure the good work currently done by the Private Residential Tenancies Board is continued in view of the fact that at present it receives no Exchequer funding and in recent years has had to cut back considerably, including outsourcing some services. [5032/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) was established in September 2004 under the Residential Tenancies Act. For the first six years the PRTB received Exchequer funding but has operated on a self-financing basis since 2010. The PRTB’s funding is derived primarily from a proportion of the fee income accruing from tenancy registrations, as set down by Ministerial Order. The Board is currently entitled to retain 80% of the registration fee income to fund its activities, with 20% going to fund Local Authority inspections of private rented residential accommodation. It also retains the fees it charges for its dispute resolution services. The Board’s published annual report and accounts are available on its website at www.prtb.ie.

Demand for the PRTB’s services has grown significantly in recent years, reflecting the very sizable growth in the private rented sector. At the same time, the moratorium on recruitment and promotion introduced in March 2009 has presented challenges for the delivery of services across the public sector, including at the PRTB. The Board has responded to these challenges by pursuing a programme of outsourcing, shared services and improved ICT systems. An online registration system was launched in November 2010 and by the end of 2012, 41% of registrations were transacted online. Online dispute management services were introduced in 2012 and a programme of shared services has involved electronic tracking of legal documentation and, most recently, the launch in 2013 of a quarterly rent index in association with the Central Statistics Office.

In addition to these efficiency measures, legislative changes are in train in support of the work of the PRTB. In November 2012 I introduced the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill, currently in the Seanad. It will, inter alia, streamline and simplify aspects of the Act to assist the Board in meeting its service obligations. The Government recently approved the drafting of amendments to the Bill which include measures to address long-standing issues such as deposit retention and the non-payment of rent in dispute cases, which are the most common dispute types brought before the Board. In 2012 they accounted for close to 37% of all dispute types. The Bill will also provide for the separation of the governance and quasi-judicial functions of the Board and will simplify the mediation process.

I am confident that the Board will continue to discharge its statutory obligations in an independent, fair and efficient manner. My Department continues to keep the resources available to the PRTB under close review and engages regularly with the Board on this and other matters.

Tenant Purchase Scheme Administration

Questions (101, 441, 442, 449, 471)

Brian Stanley

Question:

101. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when the long overdue new scheme for tenant purchase of local authority housing will be put in place; and if he will commit to a deadline of at least before the summer recess. [5031/14]

View answer

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

441. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the position regarding a new scheme to allow persons to purchase their homes. [4959/14]

View answer

Brendan Ryan

Question:

442. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when the next tenant purchase scheme will be launched. [4961/14]

View answer

Seán Fleming

Question:

449. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when a new scheme will be introduced to allow local authority tenants to purchase their houses; if he will provide details of the expected scheme and the way it will operate; the timescale for its introduction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5081/14]

View answer

Noel Grealish

Question:

471. Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the current status of proposed legislation to allow the sale of local authority houses to current tenants on an incremental purchase scheme, which is to replace the 1995 tenant purchase scheme which expired in 2012; when he expects this legislation to come before the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5419/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 101, 441, 442, 449 and 471 together.

The Government, on 17 December 2013, approved priority drafting of a Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill that will, among other things, underpin a new tenant purchase scheme for existing local authority houses along incremental purchase lines.  I expect that the Bill will be enacted this year, following which I will prescribe in regulations the commencement date and the detailed terms of the scheme.