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Tuesday, 12 Jun 2018

Written Answers Nos. 1301-1322

Expert Panel on Concrete Blocks

Question No. 1302 answered with Question No. 1299.

Questions (1301, 1319)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

1301. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when the first two recommendations from the report of the expert panel on concrete blocks in counties Donegal and Mayo will be implemented; and when a redress scheme for the affected families will be introduced. [24772/18]

View answer

Thomas Pringle

Question:

1319. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the reason a redress scheme for homeowners affected by mica will not be committed to despite its prevalence in County Donegal; the reason a redress scheme cannot be committed to until the consultation process is completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25134/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1301 and 1319 together.

The Expert Panel on concrete blocks was established by my Department in 2016, to investigate problems that have emerged in the concrete blockwork of certain dwellings in Counties Donegal and Mayo.

The panel had the following terms of reference:

(i) To identify, insofar as it is possible, the numbers of private dwellings which appear to be affected by defects in the blockwork in the Counties of Donegal and Mayo;

(ii) To carry out a desktop study, which would include a consultation process with affected homeowners, public representatives, local authorities, product manufacturers, building professionals, testing laboratories, industry stakeholders and other relevant parties, to establish the nature of the problem in the affected dwellings;

(iii) To outline a range of technical options for remediation and the means by which those technical options could be applied; and

(iv)To submit a report within six months.

On 13 June 2017, the report of the Expert Panel was published and included eight recommendations which my Department are actively progressing with the relevant stakeholders.

The Department is prioritising the implementation of Recommendations 1 and 2.

With regard to Recommendation 1, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) Technical Committee, established to scope and fast track the development of a standardised protocol, held its inaugural meeting on 11 September 2017 and has held several further meetings since. The standardised protocol will inform the course of action in relation to remedial works for all affected householders. The draft standard, which was published on 6 June 2018 for public consultation is available at: http://www.nsainep.ie/Home/Details/11454, and will run for a period of six weeks.

The draft standard, I.S. 465 - Assessment, testing and categorisation of damaged buildings incorporating concrete blocks containing certain deleterious materials, outlines a protocol which will be used to assess and categorise the damage in properties where the concrete blocks are suspected to contain the minerals mica or pyrite. Previously, there was no common way for engineers or homeowners to assess the damage caused by defective concrete blocks to help decide what, if any, remedial work could be carried out.

This Standard:

a. establishes a protocol for assessing and determining whether a building has been damaged by concrete blocks containing certain excessive amounts of deleterious materials (free or unbound muscovite mica, or aggregate with potentially deleterious quantities of pyrite),

b. describes methods for establishing the extent of the problem;

c. describes the scope of any testing required; and

d. categorises buildings, in accordance with this Standard, providing competent persons with guidance on the appropriate measures to be taken.

With regard to Recommendation 2, my Department has been in contact with Engineers Ireland in relation to the establishment of a register of competent engineers for homeowners/affected parties’ reference. Engineers Ireland have provided assurance that they will collaborate with the Department, the NSAI and others on measures to establish such a register once the standardised protocol is in place.

Last year I visited Donegal and Mayo and met with key stakeholders, including affected homeowners, elected members and officials of the local authorities and other interested parties. On 18 December 2017, I again visited Donegal and met with key stakeholders to provide an update on the progress to date. I made a similar visit to Mayo on 26 January 2018.

Once the public consultation process has been finalised and the standardised protocol is in place, I will be in a position to provide a further update on progress at that time.

In addition, I am currently considering what further actions may be required to assist the parties directly involved in reaching a satisfactory resolution to the problems that have emerged in the two counties.

Question No. 1302 answered with Question No. 1299.

Rental Sector

Questions (1303)

Fiona O'Loughlin

Question:

1303. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his strategy to address the problem of excessive rent increases in areas outside rent pressure zones. [24839/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Section 24A of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, as amended, provides that the Housing Agency, in consultation with housing authorities, may make a proposal to the Minister that an area should be considered as a Rent Pressure Zone. Following receipt of such a proposal, the Minister requests the Director of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) to conduct an assessment of the area to establish whether or not it meets the criteria for designation and to report to the Minister on whether the area should be designated as a Rent Pressure Zone. For the purpose of the Act, ‘area’ is defined as either the administrative area of a housing authority or a local electoral area within the meaning of section 2 of the Local Government Act 2001. There is no provision for any other type of area to be designated as a Rent Pressure Zone.

For an area to be designated a Rent Pressure Zone, it must satisfy the following criteria set out in section 24A(4) of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 (as inserted by section 36 of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016):

(i) The annual rate of rent inflation in the area must have been 7% or more in four of the last six quarters; and

(ii) The average rent for tenancies registered in the area with the RTB in the last quarter must be above the average national rent (the National Standardised Rent in the RTB’s Rent Index Report) in the last quarter (i.e. €1,054 per month in Q4 2017).

On 21 March 2018, the RTB published its Rent Index Report in relation to Quarter 4 2017, which includes a summary of the data used as the criteria for designating Rent Pressure Zones in relation to all Local Electoral Areas in the country. This allows everyone to see exactly where their area stands in relation to average rent levels and increases and possible designation.

Rent reviews outside of Rent Pressure Zones are restricted so that a landlord can only review the rent once in any two-year period. However, similar to within Rent Pressure Zones, where there is a substantial change in the nature of the accommodation provided, for example through a major refurbishment of the property, a landlord may review the rent before the two-year period has ended and therefore many of the principles in determining what is classified as substantial change are the same. The existing requirement that the rent set is not above the market rents for similar properties still applies in designated Rent Pressure Zones and in non-designated areas.

The Housing Agency continues to monitor the rental market and may recommend further areas for designation. Where, following the procedures set out in the Act, it is found at a future date that additional areas meet the criteria, they will be designated as Rent Pressure Zones.

Local Authority Services

Questions (1304)

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

1304. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of an application by Sligo County Council with regard to an extension to an address (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24869/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

A submission in relation to the extension referred to has been recently received by my Department from Sligo County Council and I understand that the works are likely to be tendered soon.

Rental Sector

Questions (1305)

Paul Murphy

Question:

1305. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on whether a review of tenants' rights is required, in view of the details of the case of persons (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24871/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

A number of measures have been introduced in recent years with the objective of improving security of tenure for tenants. Security of tenure provisions under the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004-2016 apply once a tenant has been in occupation of a dwelling for a continuous period of 6 months, with no valid notice of termination having been served during that time. Section 34 provides that a landlord must state a reason for the termination in any notice served, in accordance with the grounds for termination set out the Table to section 34 of the Act.

The Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) was established as an independent statutory body under the Acts to operate a national tenancy registration system and to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants. While it is not clear what type of tenancy is involved in the situation outlined, the RTB replaces the Courts for the vast majority of landlord and tenant disputes which come under the remit of Residential Tenancies Acts. Section 56 of the 2004 Act provides that, where there is an abuse of the termination procedure in section 34, a tenant may bring a complaint to the RTB on the basis that they have been unjustly deprived of possession of a dwelling by their landlord. Further information from the RTB is available at www.rtb.ie/tenants and through the RTB helpline - Lo-call on 0818 30 30 37.

In April this year, the Government approved the General Scheme of the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill 2018 as a basis for priority drafting of an urgent Bill to give legislative underpinning to a number of specific actions outlined in the Government’s Strategy for the Rental Sector and the review of Rebuilding Ireland. The main purpose of the Bill is to reinforce the operation of the rental sector, through addressing a number of key tenant protection issues, provide greater transparency around rents, as well as enhancing and strengthening the powers and functions of the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), particularly in enforcing tenancy law.

Local Authority Housing

Questions (1306)

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

1306. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the 2018 funding allocations for voids and adaptations made to Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon county councils; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24872/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Allocations for 2018 in respect of local authority void properties are currently being finalised and will be issued shortly.

In respect of adaptations and extensions to existing social homes to meet the needs of local authority tenants, the proposals for such works on the part of each of the local authorities have recently been evaluated and funding allocations for the full year will be confirmed shortly to the local authorities. Ahead of that, local authorities have been advancing work under the scheme based on a funding provision of up to 65% of their 2017 allocation. This allowed them to plan and progress works under the scheme and allows for the full utilisation of the 2018 allocation throughout the year.

My Department also provides funding under the Housing Adaptation Grants scheme for Older People and People with a Disability in private houses. Information on the 2018 allocations recently announced under this scheme to each local authority, including Sligo, Leitrim and Roscommon, is available on my Department’s website at the following link:

http://www.housing.gov.ie/housing/special-housing-needs/minister-english-announces-eu6625-million-funding-improve-homes-older .

Vacant Sites Data

Questions (1307)

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

1307. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of sites of each local authority listed on the vacant sites register in advance of the application of the levy in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24878/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 introduced a new measure, the vacant site levy, which is aimed at incentivising the development of vacant, under-utilised sites in urban areas. Under the Act, planning authorities are required to establish a register of vacant sites in their areas, beginning on 1 January 2017. Planning authorities have issued notices to owners of vacant sites by 1 June this year in respect of vacant sites included on their respective registers on 1 January 2018, indicating that the levy will apply to those sites on 1 January 2019.

My Department does not maintain a central register of vacant sites as each local authority administers the vacant site register in respect of their functional area. However, on foot of a recent review of the on-line vacant site registers across all local authority areas, I understand that there are collectively approximately 230 individual sites currently on the local registers. Of these, just under 190 sites were entered on the local vacant site registers on 1 January 2018 and will therefore be subject to the levy in 2019, unless development works are activated in the interim.

My Department will continue to monitor implementation of the levy to ensure that it is being fully used, in line with its intended purpose of incentivising the development of vacant or under-utilised sites in urban areas and so that the full potential of the measure can be realised.

Tenant Purchase Scheme Review

Questions (1308)

Brendan Smith

Question:

1308. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when he will publish the review of the tenant purchase scheme; if persons in receipt of a social welfare payment and who are in a position to purchase their homes will not be deprived of the opportunity to avail of the tenant purchase scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24963/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Tenant (Incremental) Purchase Scheme came into operation on 1 January 2016. The Scheme is open to eligible tenants, including joint tenants, of local authority houses that are available for sale under the Scheme. To be eligible, tenants must meet certain criteria, including having a minimum reckonable income of €15,000 per annum and having been in receipt of social housing support for at least one year.

The minimum reckonable income for eligibility under the scheme is determined by the relevant local authority in accordance with the detailed provisions of the Ministerial Direction issued under Sections 24(3) and (4) of the 2014 Act. In the determination of the minimum reckonable income, local authorities include income from a number of different sources and classes, such as from employment, private pensions, maintenance payments and certain social welfare payments, including pensions, where the social welfare payment is secondary to employment income.

In determining reckonable income, the income of all tenants of the house, including adult children that are joint tenants, is included, as is the income of the spouse, civil partner or other partner / cohabitant of a tenant who lives in the house with them, thus ensuring the appropriate level of discount is applied to the purchase price.

The minimum income criterion was introduced in order to ensure the sustainability of the scheme. Applicants must demonstrate that they have an income that is long-term and sustainable in nature. This ensures that the tenant purchasing the house is in a financial position, as the owner, to maintain and insure the property for the duration of the charged period, in compliance with the conditions of the order transferring the ownership of, and responsibility for, the house from the local authority to the tenant.

In line with the commitment given in Rebuilding Ireland, a review of the first 12 months of the Scheme’s operation has been undertaken. The review has incorporated analysis of comprehensive data received from local authorities regarding the operation of the scheme during 2016 and a wide-ranging public consultation process which took place in 2017 and saw submissions received from individuals, elected representatives and organisations.

The review is now complete and a full report has been prepared setting out findings and recommendations. In finalising the report some further consultation was necessary and due consideration had to be given to possible implementation arrangements. These matters are now almost completed and I expect to be in a position to publish the outcome of the review shortly.

Mortgage Lending

Questions (1309)

Michael McGrath

Question:

1309. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if persons whose credit history indicates some missed loan repayments in the past can still qualify under the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24984/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan is designed to enable credit-worthy first-time buyers to access sustainable mortgage lending to purchase new or second-hand properties in a suitable price range. The scheme is targeted at first-time buyers who have access to an adequate deposit and have the capacity to repay a mortgage, but who are unable to access a mortgage sufficient for them to purchase their first home.

As part of the application process for the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan scheme, applicants must:

- consent to an Irish Credit Bureau search; and

- provide evidence of all existing borrowings, with 12 month up-to-date loan statements.

Applicants with a poor record of repaying loans are unlikely to secure approval for the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan. However, the final decision on loan approval is a matter for each local authority and its Credit Committee on a case-by-case basis.

Decisions on all housing loan applications must be made in accordance with the statutory credit policy that underpins the scheme, in order to ensure consistency of treatment for all applicants. Loan applicants who are dissatisfied with a loan application decision of a local authority Credit Committee may appeal that decision to the local authority. Details of the appeals process can be obtained from the relevant local authority.

Grant Payments

Questions (1310)

Jackie Cahill

Question:

1310. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if grants payable under the Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2013, that is, SI No. 222 of 2013, are paid on approval or on completion of the agreed work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24988/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2013 (S.I. No. 222 of 2013) provide that a grant for qualifying works is only payable on completion of those works and in compliance with a number of criteria.

Electoral Reform

Questions (1311)

Clare Daly

Question:

1311. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government further to Parliamentary Question No. 242 of 31 May 2018, if he will confirm that the Bible should not be on display in polling stations and should only be presented for the taking oaths or affirmations by voters in certain circumstances. [25000/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

A copy of the Bible forms part of the essential documents and equipment used by presiding officers at polling stations. All operational arrangements in polling stations, including arrangements for the use of essential documents and equipment, are a matter for local returning officers and in turn for the presiding officer at each polling station.

If a voter is asked by a presiding officer to take an oath or an affirmation, such as, for instance, confirmation of a voter's identity, it is up to the voter to decide which to take. The availability of the bible is simply a measure of administrative efficiency to facilitate the process of taking an oath. An elector may make an affirmation if they object to taking an oath on the ground that he or she has no religious belief or that the taking of an oath is contrary to his or her religious belief.

Protected Disclosures

Questions (1312)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

1312. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the date an application by a person (details supplied) was received under the Protected Disclosure Act 2014; the reason for the delay in issuing a decision to the request; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25044/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The submission in question made under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 was first received by my Department on 22 June 2016.

Consideration of the matters raised in the submission has taken longer to complete than initially envisaged. However, the lapse of time since the matters the subject of the submission arose, as well as the range and seriousness of the allegations made, have been contributing factors.

As the individual concerned was informed in writing on 18 May 2018, my Department has now concluded its assessment of the submission, the report provided by the relevant local authority in response and associated supplementary information. Legal advice of the Office of the Attorney General in relation to my Department’s assessment has been sought with a view to informing the appropriate next steps.

Social and Affordable Housing Maintenance

Questions (1313)

Jackie Cahill

Question:

1313. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if an association will be requested to bring a house back into repair (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25057/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The management and maintenance of local authority or approved housing body social housing stock is a matter for each individual local authority in the first instance, including housing maintenance and repairs. In relation to the property referred to, I understand that refurbishment works on the property are imminent and are due to be completed within 3 weeks.

Social and Affordable Housing Data

Questions (1314, 1315)

Jackie Cahill

Question:

1314. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of housing units owned by an association (details supplied) without a tenant; the period of time they have been without a tenant, by county, in tabular form; the main reason for this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25058/18]

View answer

Jackie Cahill

Question:

1315. Deputy Jackie Cahill asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of housing units owned by an association (details supplied) that are without a tenant; the period of time they have been without a tenant, by county, in tabular form; the main reason for this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25059/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1314 and 1315 together.

The information that the Deputy has sought is not available in the format requested.

Under the Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme (SHCEP), properties leased and owned by Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs), including properties funded under the Capital Advance Leasing Facility (CALF), are made available to local authorities for social housing under Payment and Availability (P&A) Agreements. Where such a dwelling becomes vacant, the terms of the P&A agreements provide that payments continue to be made to the AHB for a maximum period of 3 consecutive months in order to allow for re-tenanting of the dwelling. For CALF properties, this period can be extended by one additional month where the housing authority has not provided a nomination within one month of being notified of the vacancy.

If the dwelling remains vacant at the end of the 3-month period and has not been withdrawn from the scheme, it is deemed to be inactive and notified to my Department. No payment is made by my Department in respect of inactive dwellings. Inactive dwellings may become active again when they are re-tenanted.

In relation to the AHBs referred to in the questions, I understand that there are currently no inactive properties in the SHCEP programme. However, my Department does not hold data on properties within SHCEP that have been vacant for less than 3 months.

AHBs may also avail of funding of up to 100% under my Department’s Capital Assistance Scheme to assist them in providing housing for the elderly, homeless and people with disabilities. As this scheme is administered by the local authorities, my Department does not have information relating to tenancies.

The oversight of AHBs is currently conducted through the Voluntary Regulation Code (VRC), Building for the Future, A Voluntary Regulation Code for Approved Housing Bodies in Ireland, which is available at the following link:

https://www.housingagency.ie/Regulation/The-Code.pdf .

At present, 245 AHBs are signed up to the VRC which is overseen by the Interim Regulation Committee (IRC), based in the Housing Agency.

Annual regulatory returns for the AHBs which are signed up to the Code are submitted to the Housing Agency's Regulation Office which undertakes an assessment of those AHBs. While I understand that the Regulation Office does not as a matter of course collect data on the information sought by the Deputy, as part of the annual assessment, AHBs are asked to provide the total number of voids that an organisation experienced in a year and the average length of voids. However, the Regulation Office does not provide data on individual AHBs, but provides consolidated data on the sector within their Annual Reports, which are available on their website at the following weblink:

https://www.housingagency.ie/regulation/publications-and-useful-links.aspx .

Planning Data

Questions (1316)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

1316. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of planning appeals against local authority decisions decided in 2018 by An Bord Pleanála; the number of these decided within the statutory objective time of four months; the average time it takes to decide appeals; the steps he plans to take in terms of the provision of resources or otherwise to address the delay in dealing with planning appeals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25077/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Under Section 126 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, An Bord Pleanála has a statutory objective to determine planning appeals within 18 weeks. Where the Board does not consider it possible or appropriate to reach a decision within 18 weeks (e.g. because of the particular complexities of a case or the requirement to hold an oral hearing), it will inform the parties of the reasons for this, and will indicate when it intends to make its decision.

During the period January to April 2018, the Board received 713 normal planning appeals and disposed of 635 cases, 222 of which were disposed of within the statutory objective period, resulting in a compliance rate of 35%. This overall reduction in the compliance rate can be attributed to a number of factors.

Firstly, there was a reduction in Board capacity in mid-2017, arising from a time interval between the departure of five outgoing Board members, whose terms of office had expired in April and May, and the five new replacement Board members taking up their posts. While by September 2017, the Board complement had been fully replenished, this time interval significantly impacted on the Board’s case work output for some time thereafter.

In addition, An Bord Pleanála is also implementing a major ICT strategy which will facilitate the introduction of on-line planning services as part of a complete upgrade and replacement of core systems. In this regard, a new case management system was installed and became operational in Q4 2017. As is to be expected with such a fundamental and integrated project, the transition to the new system has caused some initial disruption to the processing of cases, resulting in a further increase in the backlog of cases on hand. However, measures have been put in place to ensure that the new system is bedded down and becomes operational at an optimal level as soon as possible.

Furthermore, during this period, there has been a general increase in cases received by the Board. For example, there was an increase of almost 12% on normal planning appeals received in 2017 compared to 2016; this upward trend has continued into 2018. The intake of normal planning appeals at end-April 2018 was 17% greater than the intake at end-April 2017. As mentioned above, during the period January to April 2018, the Board disposed of 635 appeal cases, compared to 601 cases during the same period in 2017.

Now that the Board's full complement has been restored, combined with the measures that are being put in place in relation to the new ICT systems, it is expected that the backlog of cases will begin to reduce over the coming months, with an associated improvement in the compliance rate with the statutory objective period for the determination of cases.

It should be noted that, in line with Government policy in relation to the provision of housing supply, all planning appeals in respect of housing developments of 30 units or more are prioritised by the Board for decision. The Board also prioritises developments which have a significant employment or economic potential on a national, regional or local scale as well as new, and extensions to, school buildings and educational facilities.

In relation to priority cases being dealt with by the Board, since July 2017, the Board has been determining planning applications for strategic housing developments (SHDs) made directly to it within the 16-week timeframe prescribed for such planning applications under the provisions of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016. At end-April 2018, 24 SHD planning applications had been made, with the Board issuing decisions in 16 cases, all of which were made within the prescribed 16-week timeframe.

My Department liaises closely with the Board to ensure that it has appropriate resources in relation to the performance of its functions. With regard to the additional functions in relation to SHDs recently assigned to the Board, a new Strategic Housing Division of the Board has been established to decide on these applications, involving the recruitment of an additional dedicated 10 professional and administrative staff members in 2017. Two additional Boards members have also been sanctioned to serve this Division, with the appointments being made in February and June this year. The Board now has a complement of 11 members and there are over 150 staff members employed by An Bord Pleanála. I am satisfied that the Board has sufficient and necessary resources in this regard.

Planning Issues

Questions (1317)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

1317. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the progress made to date in discussions with the EU Commission on the "Flemish Decree"; his plans to hold a public consultation on this matter before issuing a new planning circular to the local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25082/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Following engagement between the European Commission and my Department regarding the 2013 European Court of Justice ruling in the "Flemish Decree" case, a working group, comprising senior representatives from my Department and planning authorities, was established in May 2017 to review and, where necessary, recommend changes to the 2005 Planning Guidelines on Sustainable Rural Housing, issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, with a view to ensuring that rural housing policies and objectives contained in local authority development plans comply with the relevant provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

This Working Group concluded its deliberations in September 2017 and taking account of the Group's analysis and recommended outcome, my Department has been engaging with the Commission on the matter, with a view to issuing a further circular letter to planning authorities as soon as possible, setting out revisions to the 2005 Guidelines that take account of the relevant ECJ judgment. I have no plans to conduct a public consultation prior to the issuing of the circular.

Fire Stations Provision

Question No. 1319 answered with Question No. 1301.

Questions (1318)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

1318. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the construction of the new fire station in Kanturk, County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25124/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The provision of a fire service in its functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs and the provision of fire station premises, is a statutory function of individual fire authorities under section 10 of the Fire Services Act 1981. My Department supports the fire authorities through setting general policy, providing a central training programme, issuing guidance on operational and other related matters and providing capital funding for priority infrastructural projects.

A re-assessment of fire station projects was undertaken in 2015. This graded proposals on the basis of the:

- Area Risk Categorisation of the Fire Station (population, fire risks etc.);

- Established Health and Safety Needs;

- State of development of the project (is site acquired, etc.);

- Value for Money offered by the proposal.

As a result of this re-assessment, a new programme of construction/ refurbishment of twenty six fire stations was proposed. This included sixteen new builds and ten upgrade/refurbishments.

Kanturk Fire Station is included in the programme of 16 fire stations for construction and funding is planned and provided for within the five-year, €40 million allocation of funding for the Fire Services Capital Programme announced in February 2016. A site is available for the station and draft designs have been received and reviewed. My Department will be continuing to work with Cork County Council to progress this fire station project as quickly as possible.

Question No. 1319 answered with Question No. 1301.

Legislative Measures

Questions (1320)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

1320. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the sections and parts of all legislation brought forward by his Department in each of the past four years that have yet to be commenced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25181/18]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The sections and parts of all legislation brought forward by my Department in each of the past four years that have yet to be commenced, are set out in the following table.

Act

Sections/Parts not yet commenced

Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014

Part 4 - Section 41(4): Designation of areas where no further dwellings will be approved for housing assistance

Part 4 - Section 44: Payment to housing authority by HAP beneficiary of rent contribution under s. 31 of 2009 Act (ss. (1)) and Prescription of manner of payment of rent contribution (ss. (2))

Part 4 - Section 47: Payment of HAP in respect of certain beneficiaries under the Capital Assistance Scheme

Part 4 - Section 48: Internal review, on request, of HAP decisions in prescribed decision classes

Section 20

Section 53

Section 54(1)

Local Government Reform Act 2014

Section 1 (23)

Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2015

Sections 16 (d) and (g); 17(d) and (e); 23-24; 34-35; 37-38; 43; 46; 48; 51(1)(b); 52*; 53; 57(1)(b); 59;

60(a), (b)*, (c) and (e)*; 61; 62(b)(iii);

63 (a), (b), (c) and (d)*; 64-65; 70-73

*these provisions have partially commenced.

Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015

Section 34

Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016

Sections 26 and 27

Section 28(1)

Sections 44, 45 and 48 of Part 3 and Part 3 of the Schedule

Water Services Act 2017

Section 61;

Section (5)(1)(b)(iv);

Section 23.

Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Act 2017

Section 6, which concerns the repeal of the Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil Constituencies) Act 2013, comes into operation automatically on the dissolution of Dáil Éireann that next occurs.

Water and Sewerage Schemes

Questions (1321)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

1321. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the estimated annual cost if the existing subsidy to domestic group and private well water users covered the full operating costs of providing water for domestic use. [25222/18]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

In late 2017, my Department conducted a review of Group Water Schemes' subsidies. The review involved discussions with the National Federation of Group Water Schemes, the representative body of the group water sector. Discussions concluded in December, when I approved revised subsidy levels. The new subsidy arrangements, endorsed by a special delegate conference of the Federation on 13 December 2017, came into effect on 1 January 2018. It is estimated that the revised subsidy levels will cost approximately €23.3 million per year compared with an average annual cost of €19.5 million for past comparable years.

This increase in the level of subsidies to Group Water Schemes was the first of a number of actions I am taking to address the recommendation contained in the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, endorsed by both Houses of the Oireachtas in April 2017, that there is equity of treatment and equivalent financial support between households using public water services and those availing of private water services.

At that time I also signalled my intention to establish a Working Group to conduct a wider review of investment needs and rural water services. The Working Group was established in April 2018 and its inaugural meeting took place on 17 May.

The Group's review is considering how best to position and resource water services in rural areas so that they can contribute further to the development and long-term sustainability of a comprehensive and cohesive Rural Water Sector that will have the capacity to produce quality outcomes comparable to those available to customers of public water services. The Working Group is focusing on the actions required to improve and sustain rural water services, and will consider issues such as governance, supervision and monitoring of the sector, in addition to capital investment priorities and requirements across all elements of rural water services. In keeping with the Joint Oireachtas Committee’s recommendation this Working Group will consider the investment needs of all elements of rural water services including Group Water Schemes, Group Sewerage Schemes and Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems. The Working Group is specifically tasked with addressing grant support for Individual Domestic Water Supplies (private wells) to encourage the refurbishment of wells to improve the quality of drinking water in private supplies.

Considering the importance and scale of this task it is considered important that the Working Group would have access to accurate recent comprehensive information on all aspects of the Rural Water Sector. Therefore to support the business of the Working Group an exercise is being initiated to gather information on the capacity of the Rural Water Sector and to establish the interventions including the levels of capital investment and the levels of funding that will be required to sustain the Sector.

Local Authority Management

Questions (1322)

Pat Casey

Question:

1322. Deputy Pat Casey asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if there will be a review of the powers of the chief executive role in local authorities, with a view to ensuring accountability and transparency in local government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25228/18]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

In response to a Programme for Partnership Government commitment, a policy paper on local government leadership, which will examine the possible direct election of mayors for Ireland’s cities, will be submitted to Government in the coming weeks. This paper will consider the division of executive and reserved functions in local authorities, and examine alternatives to current arrangements. It is in this context that the potential relationship between a city council chief executive and its directly elected mayor will be considered.

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