Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Questions (37)

Robert Troy


37. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when the next round of funding for the local infrastructure housing activation fund will be announced; and his plans to fund an application by Westmeath County Council for a project on Ardmore Road, Mullingar, County Westmeath. [9709/18]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Housing)

The Minister is aware of the introduction of the local infrastructure housing activation fund as part of Rebuilding Ireland and that €50 million was originally allocated in that regard. When will the balance of the fund be announced? Will local authorities that made an application to the original fund have to reapply or will such applications be judged based on the previous submission?

The first call for proposals under the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, was issued to all local authorities in August 2016 and 34 projects received preliminary approval in March 2017. Westmeath County Council submitted two projects for consideration under LIHAF and funding in the amount of €1.83 million was approved for an access road on Brawny Road, Athlone. However, the proposal on Ardmore Road, Mullingar, was not approved for funding at the time.

As part of budget 2018, I announced that an additional €50 million of Exchequer funding would be available for a second LIHAF call. As was the case in the original LIHAF call, this will be subject to matching funding by local authorities such that the Department will provide 75% Exchequer funding and the local authorities will provide 25% matching funding. This will bring overall LIHAF funding under both calls to €266 million.

I anticipate that there will be a further call for proposals in phase 2 of LIHAF during March. It will be open to all local authorities to submit new projects or resubmit previous ones for consideration at that time.  Following the assessment and selection of successful projects, it is expected that the LIHAF 2 projects will commence towards the end of 2018.

When the original announcement was made, the total funding was €200 million. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but a sum of €50 million was announced as part of phase 1. He has stated a further €50 million is being announced as part of phase 2. By my calculation, €50 million plus €50 million equals €100 million, which falls short of the €200 million total. Has all of the €50 million announced in phase 1 been committed to and agreed on? Are contracts in place to draw down the full amount? If not, how much has not been allocated?

On the new call which the Minister is to make in March, why is a further administrative burden being put on local authorities to make a new submission when they may have submissions in place and ready to go? On the Ardmore Road project in County Westmeath, the key land is available, has been appropriately zoned and can be opened up for the construction of 970 houses that are much-needed in Mullingar. The Minister promised a reduction in the level of red tape and bureaucracy, as did his predecessor, but local authorities will be forced to reapply for funding under LIHAF 2, even if they have a valid application in place.

Some 74 proposals were submitted under LIHAF 1 by 21 local authorities in October 2016, with 34 projects across 15 local authorities receiving preliminary approval in March 2017. To date, grant agreements on 30 of these projects have been signed between the Department and local authorities. The total cost of the projects is €195.71 million, of which €146.69 million will be funded by the Department, with local authorities funding €49.02 million. The potential yield from LIHAF 1 is approximately 20,000 homes. Not all applications were successful. They were scored according to various criteria.

The proposed cost of the Ardmore Road project in Mullingar is €3.3 million, of which €2.48 million would be funded by the Exchequer and the remaining €820,000 by the local authority. The associated housing delivery potential is up to 1,000 units by 2021. It is within the remit or mandate of the local authority to resubmit the application. If it wishes to resubmit exactly the same application, it may do so. However, I note that the Ardmore Road scheme was unsuccessful because it did not receive enough points in the scoring attributed to each of the projects It might be wise for the local authority to look at projects that were successful under LIHAF 1 to see how it might reconsider the Ardmore Road project to give it a better chance of success under LIHAF 2.

The scheme will open for applications in March. What will be the turnaround time once applications are submitted? I understand the Ardmore Road scheme scored quite highly but that there was insufficient funding and a decision had to be made based on what was available. However, officials advised that the project might be successful in phase 2. What will be the turnaround time once applications are sought in March? There is an urgent need to support such applications. The project would open up lands for approximately 970 houses in a town that is crying out for investment in social and affordable housing.

Our housing lists are increasing by the day, as is the number of people who are coming into my clinic, and I am sure those of many of my constituency colleagues, on a daily basis. There is simply not enough housing there at present.

Funding was not necessarily the problem when it came to a number of projects under the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF 1. LIHAF can be a complicated way of achieving what is a very important goal because it requires the local authority to work with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and in some instances to also work with a number of different owners of land to make sure we can get the best number of units onto a site and the site open as quickly as possible, get all the supporting infrastructure in place and arrive at affordable prices for the housing as well. It can be a complex thing to put together and that is what we saw in the course of this first phase of LIHAF, that there were some delays that were not initially anticipated, but we have learnt a lot from LIHAF 1. It is a new model of funding for getting a significant number of houses built over a shorter period, which we now seek to progress, not just through LIHAF 2 but through other schemes that might come on stream in the future. There will not be any unnecessary delays with the Department for LIHAF 2 in the call for proposals that will issue in March because a huge amount has been learned in recent months since the original call went out. A number of projects that were submitted were not successful and some of them will be resubmitted because progress will have been made with work by local authorities on the sites so we expect to be able to turn them around quite quickly and to sign agreements over the course of the second half of the year.