Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Questions (66)

Tom Neville


66. Deputy Tom Neville asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to monitor the effectiveness of local authorities' building programmes in 2018. [4523/18]

View answer

Oral answers (4 contributions) (Question to Housing)

I welcome that the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murph,y visited Limerick city last week. Limerick City is a sister constituency of mine as I am from Limerick County. Some 79 council housing units were opened on Lord Edward Street. I have people on the fringes of the city who are in the county constituency and are looking to obtain housing in that scheme.

Can the Minister outline his plans to monitor the effectiveness of local authorities' building programmes in 2018?

Since the publication of the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan, the Government’s attention has been firmly focused on delivery. The implementation of the plan is overseen by the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, housing and climate change, chaired by An Taoiseach. Within my Department, implementation is driven at ministerial level and led at official level by the Secretary General and other senior officials on an ongoing basis.

The housing summit model was introduced last September for the purpose of monitoring and driving delivery under Rebuilding Ireland. I held a second housing summit with local authority chief executives on 22 January, when each chief executive was requested to furnish a report by the middle of February setting out how his or her local authority will deliver on its social housing targets over the coming years. It is intended that the targets will be published. Progress made by each local authority in terms of delivery against these targets will also be published on an ongoing basis, providing greater accountability and driving delivery. Transparency in construction delivery is also facilitated by my Department's quarterly publication of social housing construction status reports, available on the Rebuilding Ireland website.

In order to provide further delivery impetus, I have established a new delivery team in my Department, working with local authorities and approved housing bodies. This is additional to the continuous contact that I, the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, and my Department have with local authorities to drive housing delivery, including quarterly meetings, where progress on construction projects is reviewed and technical issues are resolved.

The Minister mentioned 2006 and 2007. I cast my mind back to when I was first going into the council in the noughties. There were council estates being built in small rural towns throughout County Limerick. We want to get back to that space again, with small pocket, turnkey type estates being built. I ask the Minister to continue to liaise with the local authorities and to hold them accountable in delivering what they need to deliver on the ground, particularly in the county and rural areas.

I ask the Minister to be mindful of the other Departments as well in respect of broadband, transport and economic development. All that will be the engine driver of this. Something arising from speaking to the ordinary one-man or two-man band type builders is that there is an increasing construction economy starting to happen. There is also now a shortage of labour and skills. The Department of Education and Skills is working on developing apprenticeships. This needs to be pushed big time. I ask that the Minister's Department would work in conjunction with the Department of Education and Skills. There needs to be a refocus on apprenticeships and getting people back into the sector. We need to attract people back because the labour shortage is starting to kick in.

I thank the Deputy and his colleagues for the very kind welcome to Limerick. I very much appreciated the band; that was a nice touch.

Delivery is key in everything that we do. Rebuilding Ireland is our plan but it has to be delivered. We do not just release a policy and step back from it. That is why we started this housing summit model to bring the local authority chief executives in. I also meet with the housing body CEOs and the voluntary sector and NGOs to talk about how we are going to resolve this housing and homelessness crisis.

Turnkey type estates are exactly the way we should be going with local authorities where it makes sense. We are rolling out a national turnkey campaign to take advantage of existing sites and builders who are willing to build a cluster of 30, 40 or 50 homes that we can then bring in for social, affordable and private use.

Other infrastructure is, of course, key. Thankfully, one of the key responsibilities I have under my Department is Irish Water and making sure it is working in tune with our housing policies so there is no delay in opening up a new land bank because it has not been serviced by the appropriate water infrastructure. The point about broadband is very well made. It is something that myself and the Minister, Deputy Naughten, have discussed, not only in the context of what we are doing today in housing but also in the context of the future housing needs of our population. At least 550,000 new homes are needed between now and 2040. We need to make sure we are progressing our plans for things like broadband and other key infrastructure at the same time.

In respect of a potential skills shortage, I have discussed it with the Construction Industry Federation.

I am keen on particular programmes which get people from long-term unemployment back into developing construction skills and having jobs. I was at one recently which had taken a group of ten people from long-term unemployment, one from homelessness, and over the course of a three to four week programme had given them a course on construction skills. All were employed and starting on sites the following week. It is also worth noting new technologies relating to prefabrication, which we call rapid build but which has a host of other names, including modular homes. These will help since not as many people will be needed on site as were traditionally needed in the past so that we can meet the housing need without needing as many people, but we still need people to have the requisite skills.