Planning Issues

Questions (97, 123)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

97. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties for communities in the Dublin Docklands area due to pressure from developers to increase heights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16370/19]

View answer

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

123. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he has considered legislation that would protect small low-rise communities from losing sunlight from their homes and communities due to high-rise development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16407/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 97 and 123 together.

On 7 December 2018, I issued ’Urban Development and Building Height’ Guidelines for Planning Authorities and An Bord Pleanála, pursuant to Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended).   Publication of the guidelines, which were called for widely in the wider planning and development sector, followed a period of public consultation and consideration of over 100 submissions and a thorough assessment by my Department.  A copy of the guidelines is available on my Department’s website at the following link. 

Under Section 30 of the 2000 Act, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is specifically precluded from exercising power or control in relation to any particular case with which a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála is or may be concerned.   Objections in relation to particular planning applications are a matter for the relevant local authority or An Bord Pleanala in the event of an appeal. 

More generally, however, it is important to note that the guidelines specifically address their application in the context of areas covered by Strategic Development Zone Planning Schemes (SDZs), such as in the Dublin Docklands.  SDZs may be reviewed at any stage by their respective development agencies to reflect changing implementation and policy circumstances and development agencies frequently employ these review mechanisms. Any alteration of approved planning schemes will require the undertaking of a review process that is provided for in statute.  

In this regard, the guidelines seek to ensure that, on the one hand, planning authorities give practical effect to Government policy on building height in planning scheme areas, while at the same time allowing for effective public engagement in any significant policy shift in relation to heights to comply with Government policy and in view of the absence of third party appeal rights in relation to planning applications in SDZs.

Regarding their wider application, the guidelines set out a series of practical considerations, including in relation to daylight, that planning authorities must take into account in assessing relevant development proposals.  

In determining planning policy and making planning decisions around appropriate building heights, the planning process has to strike a careful balance between enabling strategic long-term sustainable development, while ensuring the highest standards of urban design, architectural quality and place-making outcomes.  I am satisfied that the guidelines concerned are necessary and appropriate to give clear context and direction to the overall requirement to promote increased density and building height in appropriate locations within our urban centres. 

Local Authority Housing Data

Questions (98)

Jan O'Sullivan

Question:

98. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the reason the number of voids restored to use is no longer counted in the housing delivery statistical comparisons with previous years; the reason the number approved for 2018 is considerably lower than in previous years; his plans to change the way in which local authorities are assisted in bringing their own empty properties back into use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16329/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Social housing homes that are upgraded and returned to use with capital funding support from the exchequer via the voids programme are a continuing element of the Rebuilding Ireland programme. Given the level of investment that has been made to date, it would be expected that the scale of the voids programme would reduce over time.

For Rebuilding Ireland statistical reporting purposes, I indicated to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, that activity under the voids programme in 2018 would only be reflected up to the level of the target for the year, if reached. However, it was also agreed that my Department would continue to provide funding support for the local authorities’ work in returning vacant properties to use, over and above the numbers reflected in Rebuilding Ireland targets. Therefore, while the Rebuilding Ireland delivery statistics show that the voids target of 560 homes for 2018 was met, a significant programme of voids refurbishment beyond the targeted level was also funded. The total number of voids brought back to productive use which were funded by my Department in 2018 was 1,765, which is comparable to the level of activity in 2017.

Looking forward, the management and maintenance of local authority housing stock, including pre-letting repairs to vacant properties, responsive repairs and implementing planned maintenance programmes, will continue to be matters for each individual local authority, in line with Section 58 of the Housing Act 1966.  I believe the best way in which improvements can be made in this area is for local authorities to have a common approach to this work, based on established best practice. I am pleased, therefore, that a group representing a number of local authorities is working to identify best practice in relation to housing stock maintenance and repairs, within the structure of the City and County Management Association (CCMA).

Local Authority Housing Eligibility

Questions (99, 107)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

99. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans for raising the income eligibility criteria for social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16404/19]

View answer

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

107. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the review of the income eligibility limits for social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16251/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 99 and 107 together.

Applications for social housing support are assessed by the relevant local authority, in accordance with the eligibility and need criteria set down in section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011, as amended.

The 2011 Regulations prescribe maximum net income limits for each local authority, in different bands according to the area concerned, with income being defined and assessed according to a standard Household Means Policy.

Under the Household Means Policy, which applies in all local authorities, net income for social housing assessment is defined as gross household income less income tax, PRSI and the universal social charge.  The Policy provides for a range of income disregards, and local authorities also have discretion to decide to disregard income that is temporary, short-term or once off in nature.

The income bands and the authority area assigned to each band were based on an assessment of the income needed to provide for a household's basic needs, plus a comparative analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation across the country. It is important to note that the limits introduced at that time also reflected a blanket increase of €5,000 introduced prior to the new system coming into operation, in order to broaden the base from which social housing tenants are drawn, both promoting sustainable communities and also providing a degree of future-proofing.

Given the cost to the State of providing social housing, it is considered prudent and fair to direct resources to those most in need of social housing support.  The current income eligibility requirements generally achieve this, providing for a fair and equitable system of identifying those households facing the greatest challenge in meeting their accommodation needs from their own resources.

However, as part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of income eligibility for social housing supports in each local authority area is underway. The Housing Agency is continuing to carry out the detailed statistical work, which will underpin this review, on behalf of my Department.

The review will also have regard to current initiatives being brought forward in terms of affordability and cost rental and will be completed when the impacts of these parallel initiatives have been considered.

Oireachtas Joint Committee Reports

Question No. 101 answered with Question No. 73.

Questions (100, 110)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

100. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will reconsider his opposition to establishing a latent defects redress fund in view of media reports in relation to another development (details supplied). [16411/19]

View answer

Mick Wallace

Question:

110. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he has considered the report, Safe As Houses? A Report on Building Standards, Building Controls and Consumer Protection, by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government; his plans to implement a redress scheme supported by an industry levy, interest free loans or tax deduction with regard to building deficiencies in apartment blocks as suggested by the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16353/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 100 and 110 together.

The Safe as Houses report referred to has been considered by my Department and while I can subscribe to many of the principles in the report, I believe that the building control reform agenda, with its many initiatives, already provides a comprehensive roadmap for embedding a culture of real compliance within the construction industry. The reform agenda includes:

- Amendments made to the Building Control Regulations;     

- Establishment of a shared services National Building Control Management Project; and

- The ongoing development of new legislation through the Building Control (Construction Industry   Register Ireland) Bill.

In relation to legacy issues, I and my predecessors have supported homeowners and addressed a number of the defects that have come to light over the last decade, including through -

- the independent Report of the Pyrite Panel and the Pyrite Remediation Scheme; 

- the Report of the Expert Panel on Concrete Blocks; and

- the publication of a Framework for enhancing Fire Safety in dwellings where concerns arise.

I acknowledge the very stressful circumstances which the owners and residents of buildings face when defects occur in their homes.   However, in general, building defects are matters for resolution between the contracting parties involved: the homeowner, the builder, the developer and/or their respective insurers, structural guarantee or warranty scheme. It is important to note that while my Department has overall responsibility for establishing and maintaining an effective regulatory framework for building standards and building control, it has no general statutory role in resolving defects in privately owned buildings, including dwellings, nor does it have a budget for such matters. 

While the Committee’s report recommends a redress scheme,  it is not possible for the State to take on responsibility/liability for all legacy issues. Nor would it send the right message to the industry regarding their responsibility for compliance.

Local authorities have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003, the Housing Acts and the Planning and Development Acts, all of which may be relevant where fire safety concerns arise in residential developments. Fire services may inspect buildings in cases of defects or complaints in respect of fire safety.  They work with building owners to ensure immediate risks are addressed, and  a plan put in place for works to bring buildings into compliance. They have enforcement powers for cases where co-operation is not forthcoming, or progress cannot be made on an agreed basis.  Local authorities are independent in the use of their statutory powers.

In the interest of supporting owners and residents living in developments where concerns regarding non-compliance with fire safety requirements arise, it was agreed that a review be undertaken by an independent fire expert to develop a framework for general application.  In August 2017, the  Framework for Enhancing Fire Safety in Dwellings was published, which is intended to be used as a guide by the owners and occupants of dwellings where fire safety deficiencies have been identified, or are a cause for concern. The Framework will also be of assistance to professional advisors, both in developing strategies to improve fire safety and in developing strategies to enable continued occupation in advance of undertaking the necessary works to ensure compliance with the relevant Building Regulations. The Framework is available on my Department's website at the following link.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June 2017, and in recognition of fears expressed for fire safety, my Department's National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management was asked to convene a Task Force to lead a re-appraisal of our approach to fire safety in Ireland.  In its report, the Task Force acknowledges the importance of fire safety in apartment buildings and makes a number of recommendations in this regard and I have tasked the Directorate's Management Board with implementation of the recommendations within its remit, and oversight of the implementation of other recommendations.  The Task Force Report is available on my Department's website at the following link.

In addition, in relation to the Building Regulations, work has been on-going to review Part B – Fire Safety and a new Part B/ TGD B Volume 2 (2017) came into force on 1 July 2017. This Volume 2 applies to dwellings/(houses) only.  A revised Volume 1, dealing with buildings other than dwellings, which includes apartments, is being prepared for public consultation.

 

Question No. 101 answered with Question No. 73.

Climate Change Policy

Questions (102)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

102. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will reassess the National Development Plan 2018-2027 and Project Ireland 2040 for climate impact following the report of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Action; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16389/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Project Ireland 2040 provides a robust and resilient strategic policy and investment framework for the development of Ireland taking account of a range of relevant and contextual requirements, including existing and emerging climate mitigation and impact considerations.

Moreover, addressing the shared national strategic outcomes common to the National Planning Framework (NPF) and National Development Plan (NDP) strands of Project Ireland 2040 that relate to transitioning to a low carbon future and addressing both the effects and drivers of climate change, the Government is at an advanced stage of preparing a detailed climate action plan, taking account of all relevant inputs, including from the Oireachtas.

Therefore, rather than having to revisit Project Ireland 2040 from a climate perspective, the focus should be, and is, on taking the required steps to advance the necessary practical implementation measures to underpin the achievement of the broad strategic outcomes of the NPF and the NDP.

Expert Panel on Concrete Blocks

Questions (103, 108)

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

103. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the details of the proposed MICA redress scheme; the date in 2019 from which homes will begin to be repaired under same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16180/19]

View answer

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

108. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the establishment of the MICA redress scheme; the proposed commencement date of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16179/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 103 and 108 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.

In 2017, the report of the Expert Panel was published and included eight recommendations, which my Department is actively progressing with the relevant stakeholders, prioritising the implementation of Recommendations 1 and 2.

With regard to Recommendation 1, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) established a Technical Committee to scope and fast track the development of a standardised protocol. The standardised protocol will inform the course of action in relation to remedial works for all affected householders.  The standardised protocol was published by the NSAI on 13 November 2018 and ‘I.S. 465:2018 - Assessment, testing and categorisation of damaged buildings incorporating concrete blocks containing certain deleterious materials’, is available at www.nsai.ie.

The standard can 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, in order to decide what, if any, remedial work could be carried out.  The standard:

1. 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); 

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

3. describes the scope of any testing required; and

4. categorises buildings, in  accordance with the 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 has provided assurance that they are in the process of finalising measures to establish such a register now that the standardised protocol is in place. Engineers Ireland have issued a call for suitably qualified engineers to participate on the register.  They have recently announced that training will be provided in May for those engineers with the aim of ensuring consistency throughout the industry in assessing and categorising the damage.

In 2017, 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. I made similar visits to both counties last year and I will continue to monitor the situation and to update affected parties on progress.

Under Budget 2019, the Government approved in principle the development of a grant scheme of financial assistance to support affected homeowners in the two counties to carry out the necessary remediation works to dwellings that have been damaged due to defective concrete blocks.  Work on the development of such a scheme is well underway, including discussions with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in relation to the operation and funding of the scheme.  It is intended to revert to Government with proposals for the scheme shortly, with a view to publishing details of the scheme thereafter.

Legislative Reviews

Questions (104)

Bobby Aylward

Question:

104. Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the position regarding the review of Schedules 3 and 4 of the Valuation Act 2001; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16417/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Following the move of the Valuation Office to come under the aegis of my Department on 1 January 2018, a review was initiated of the categories of relevant rateable properties contained in the Valuation Act 2001, as amended.

My Department has an overarching objective to ensure the sustainable funding of local authorities. As commercial rates provide an important source of funding for local services any recommendations arising from the review must support that sustainability requirement.

The review will examine the underlying policy rationale relating to the inclusion of categories of relevant property in Schedule 3 of the Act property that is not rateable, in Schedule 4. The review will assess the likely effects, costs and benefits of any proposed changes in categorisation. 

There is a broad stakeholder base involved and this is reflected in the composition of the review group.  The Valuation Office, the Joint Rateable Valuation Forum, the local government sector and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform were asked to nominate members to the Group.  The other members of the Group are officials from my Department.  It is also proposed that a public consultation would take place and formal submissions would be sought from relevant Government Departments.

The first meeting of the review group was held on 21 February 2019 to agree the terms of reference. The Group plans to conclude its consideration and make its report in the autumn. 

Local Authority Staff

Questions (105)

Clare Daly

Question:

105. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he is satisfied with the level of staffing in housing departments in local authorities. [16334/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Under section 159 of the Local Government Act 2001, each Chief Executive is responsible for the staffing and organisational arrangements necessary for carrying out the functions of the local authorities for which he or she is responsible. 

From my extensive engagement with local authorities on housing matters, I am satisfied that Chief Executives are committed to ensuring that their Housing Departments have access to sufficiently increased resources, commensurate with the priority attaching to making significant progress on housing and my Department has put in place a range of supports for local authorities in that regard.

Since 1 January 2015, my Department has received 941 housing-related staff sanction requests from local authorities in relation to filling vacant/additional posts, of which 923 have been approved, with 18 pending. The annual breakdown is set out in the table below. In most cases, the posts that are pending, are awaiting supporting information prior to a final decision being taken.

Year

Number of posts approved

2015

400

2016

139

2017

127

2018

205

2019

52

Total

923

 

Housing Issues

Question No. 107 answered with Question No. 99

Question No. 108 answered with Question No. 103

Question No. 109 answered with Question No. 106.

Question No. 110 answered with Question No. 100

Question No. 111 answered with Question No. 73

Question No. 112 answered with Question No. 92

Question No. 113 answered with Question No. 89

Question No. 114 answered with Question No. 69

Question No. 115 answered with Question No. 96

Questions (106, 109, 125, 654)

Martin Heydon

Question:

106. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the steps he is taking to ensure that rural dwellers continue to have the opportunity to build homes in their own local communities, including the planning permission guidelines for one-off houses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16397/19]

View answer

Darragh O'Brien

Question:

109. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when new rural housing guidelines will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16252/19]

View answer

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

125. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when he plans publishing the new rural housing guidelines in view of the Flemish Decree judgment; the reason for the delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16335/19]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

654. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the degree to which particular attention can be given to ensure that the rural indigenous population are able to obtain planning permission in their own area within reason; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16708/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 106, 109, 125 and 654 together.

Under the current 2005 Guidelines on Sustainable Rural Housing, planning authorities are required to frame the planning policies in their development plans in a balanced and measured way that ensures the housing needs of rural communities are met, while avoiding excessive urban-generated housing and haphazard development, particularly in those areas near cities and towns that are under pressure from urban generated development.

Following engagement between the European Commission and my Department regarding the European Court of Justice ruling in the "Flemish Decree" case, a working group was established 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. The working group comprises senior officials from the Planning Division of my Department and senior officials from the Planning Divisions of local authorities, nominated by the local government sector.

The objective is to ensure 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.

Planning authorities were advised in May 2017 by way of Circular Letter PL 02/2017, that the existing 2005 Guidelines remain in place, pending the issuing of the revised guidelines. The Circular also advised that they should not amend the rural housing local needs policies in their development plans until the revised Guidelines have issued.

The National Planning Framework (the NPF) also provides an important context for the finalisation of the revisions to the 2005 Rural Housing Guidelines. National Policy Objective 15 of the NPF fully supports the concept of the sustainable development of rural areas by encouraging growth and arresting decline in areas that have experienced low population growth or decline in recent decades, while simultaneously indicating the need to manage certain areas around cities and towns that are under strong urban influence and under pressure from uncoordinated and ribbon-type development, in order to avoid over-development of those areas.

Furthermore, National Policy Objective 37 of the NPF requires each local authority to carry out a Housing Need Demand Assessment (HNDA) in order to correlate and accurately align overall future housing requirements, as an evolution of their existing Housing Strategy requirements under Part V of the 2000 Act. This will assist local authorities in ensuring long-term strategic housing needs are met across all types, tenures and locations across their functional areas, both urban and rural. Accordingly, the NPF objectives are aligned with the approach already expected of planning authorities under the current 2005 Guidelines. My Department intends to provide further guidance to local authorities later this year, to support their HNDA work as part of the review of their Development Plans.

Taking account of the engagement with the European Commission regarding revisions to the 2005 Guidelines and subject to the completion of the ongoing deliberations by the working group, I will be in a position to finalise and issue to planning authorities revisions to the 2005 Rural Housing Guidelines that take account of the relevant European Court of Justice judgment.

Question No. 107 answered with Question No. 99.
Question No. 108 answered with Question No. 103.
Question No. 109 answered with Question No. 106.
Question No. 110 answered with Question No. 100.
Question No. 111 answered with Question No. 73.
Question No. 112 answered with Question No. 92.
Question No. 113 answered with Question No. 89.
Question No. 114 answered with Question No. 69.
Question No. 115 answered with Question No. 96.

Housing Policy

Question No. 117 answered with Question No. 68.

Questions (116)

Eamon Ryan

Question:

116. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to approve mixed social and cost-rental housing on land (details supplied); the way in which it would be funded; and the timeline for delivery of such developments. [16390/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is currently working with the National Development Finance Agency in relation to modelling a number of development scenarios for the site at Shanganagh. This exercise is comparing and contrasting the different potential approaches, as required by the Public Spending Code.

The site at Shanganagh has the potential to deliver some 600 homes. It is the intention to provide a mix of social and affordable housing on the site, but the exact mix, including the extent of any cost-rental component, has yet to be determined.

This site is also part of a Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) project for Woodbrook, Shanganagh. Funding of €4.16m has been approved for road infrastructure improvements, of which €3.12m (or 75%) is Exchequer funding, with the balance being funded by the local authority.

The Land Development Agency is currently working on a delivery plan for the site, including financing, which will be presented for decision by Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council’s elected members later this year. It should be noted that any plan regarding the development of the site is ultimately a matter for the local authority. Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council has notified my Department of its intention to seek funding for the Shanganagh site under the Serviced Sites Fund; any application in this regard will be considered carefully.

Question No. 117 answered with Question No. 68.

Commercial Property

Questions (118)

Eamon Scanlon

Question:

118. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to tackle commercial vacancy rates particularly in the north-west in which counties Sligo and Leitrim have the highest commercial vacancy rates in the State; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15747/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

There are many factors that may influence commercial property vacancy rates around the country. The Government is committed to doing all it can to help minimise commercial vacancy in cities, towns and villages using all available mechanisms. In this regard, while my Department is not the lead Department in terms of commercial enterprise, it does have policy responsibility for a number of areas that it is bringing to bear on this issue, such as through planning policy, the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund, building standards, and commercial rates. Local authorities also work closely on the ground with business and communities on this issue.  

The Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF) is an important element of Project Ireland 2040. It comprises an allocation of €2 billion from the National Development Plan (NDP) to 2027, with €58 million available for expenditure in 2019 and an overall Exchequer allocation of €550 million earmarked for the Fund up to the end of 2022. The URDF, targets the regeneration and rejuvenation of Ireland’s five cities and other large towns. URDF support of €8.2m have been approved in principle, for projects in Sligo and Leitrim.  

In terms of commercial rates, legislative provision is made for the refund of rates paid on vacant commercial properties in certain circumstances such as, for example, if the premises are unoccupied for the purpose of additions, alterations or repairs; where the owner is bona fide unable to obtain a suitable tenant at a reasonable rent; and where the premises are vacant pending redevelopment. The collection of rates and the determination of eligibility for a refund in this context are matters for each individual local authority.

Some local authorities have introduced locally designed business incentive schemes which promote the use of vacant commercial property.  Such schemes rely upon Part 9 of the Local Government Act 2001 that provides that the functions of local authorities include providing grants, loans guarantees or other financial aid to promote the interests of the local community, including economic interests.  No Ministerial sanction is required for the setting up of these schemes.

The Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018, which contains proposals for modernisation of the legislation governing commercial rates and provision for schemes for the abatement of rates on vacant properties, is currently before the Oireachtas.

Finally, my Department has made legislative amendments in support of the reactivation of vacant properties. New exempted development Regulations came into operation last year, allowing for the change of use, and any related works, of certain vacant commercial premises to residential use without the need to obtain planning permission.  

This week sees the formal launch of the new Bringing Back Homes Manual for the Reuse of Existing Buildings, the contents of which have been informed by a representative working group, established and chaired by my Department. The manual provides property owners, local authorities and those involved in the construction industry with clear and detailed guidance on current policy and regulatory requirements that apply to vacant “over the shop” type development.  The manual is available on my Department's website at the following link:

https://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/publications/files/bringing_back_homes_final.pdf.

Planning Issues

Questions (119)

Martin Heydon

Question:

119. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the progress that has been made regarding the provision of serviced sites as outlined in Project Ireland 2040; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16375/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The National Planning Framework (NPF), published as part of Project Ireland 2040, sets out the Government’s overarching strategic planning approach underpinning the proper planning and sustainable development of urban and rural areas in the period to 2040.  

National Policy Objective 15 of the NPF supports the sustainable development of rural areas that have experienced low population growth or decline in recent decades. Furthermore, under National Policy Objective 18b, my Department is committed to developing a programme with local authorities, public infrastructure agencies, such as Irish Water, and local communities for the provision of serviced sites for housing to attract people to build their own homes and live in small towns and villages.  

The development of such a programme must take account of lessons learned from experience with so called “Developer Provided Water Services Infrastructure” (DPI), which my Department’s National Taking in Charge Initiative (NTICI) examined and reported on.  The report is available on my Department’s website at the following link: 

www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/publications/files/national_taking_in_charge_initiative_report_dec2018.pdf.

I understand that Irish Water will be bringing forward proposals for a Small Towns and Villages Growth Programme which will support a number of the National Policy Objectives and National Strategic Outcomes under the NPF. The Small Towns and Villages Growth Programme is intended to provide water and wastewater growth capacity in smaller settlements which would not otherwise be provided for in Irish Water’s Investment Plan, based on an identified need against set criteria. 

Irish Water is subject to regulation by the Commission for Regulation of Utilities (CRU).  The proposals from Irish Water in this regard form part of its submissions to the CRU on its detailed investment plans.  These submissions are currently being considered by the CRU and a decision is expected in the second half of 2019.  

The broad approach outlined in the document “Water Services Guidelines for Planning Authorities” which I published last year in draft format under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended), is to ensure that there is effective coordination between planning authorities in their planning functions, Irish Water in its rolling capital investment programmes and local community interests.   The draft Guidelines highlight that it is the policy of Irish Water to facilitate connections to existing infrastructure, where capacity exists, in order to maximise the use of existing infrastructure and reduce additional investment costs; and that there is a general presumption that development will be focused into areas that are serviced by public water supply and wastewater collection networks with the exception of domestic systems for single dwellings.  I propose to issue final Guidelines shortly. 

Rental Sector

Question No. 121 answered with Question No. 81.

Questions (120)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

120. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the position regarding entry level rents for cost rental projects (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16412/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Government is committed to the introduction of a not-for-profit, cost rental sector in Ireland. Together with delivering more affordable and predictable rents, cost rental will make a sustainable impact on national competitiveness and the attractiveness of our main urban centres as places to live and work.

Cost rental is new to Ireland and in order to drive delivery, two early mover pilot projects are being advanced, one at Enniskerry Road, in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, and the other at Emmet Road in Inchicore.

The Housing Agency, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLRCC) and two Approved Housing Bodies (Respond and Túath) are working on the project at Enniskerry Road, which will deliver 50 cost rental homes and 105 social housing homes. This project is providing very valuable lessons and is helping to shape the model and specifications for future larger-scale projects. Tenders for the project have been assessed and contractors are expected to be on site later in Q2 2019. An application submitted by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council for funding under the Serviced Sites Fund last year in relation to the project was successful and some €4m in grant assistance will be provided.

With regard to the Emmet Road site, while this project is at an earlier stage of development, it is envisaged that the final tenure-mix, which will be decided by Dublin City Council, will likely include 140 social housing homes, with the remaining 330 homes predominantly provided under cost rental arrangements. The City Council has appointed a dedicated project manager and a team to drive the project forward and an Urban Design Development Framework Plan will be prepared. The European Investment Bank (EIB) is also providing financial and advisory services on this project.

Shanganagh Castle is an excellent site and DLRCC is continuing to engage with all relevant parties to progress the development of this site, including with my Department, the Housing Agency, the Land Development Agency and the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA). I am advised that the Integrated Design Team is making good progress on developing a Masterplan, including an Infrastructural Masterplan for the site. DLRCC is also engaging with the Land Development Agency (LDA) to explore options for the affordable element, with the intention to submit a formal application to my Department under the Serviced Sites Fund (SSF). The exact mix of housing, however, is ultimately a matter for the local authority.

Under the cost rental model, minimising retained earnings, land and other delivery costs, while securing very competitive EIB financing, means that affordable rents can be achieved. The final rents, for any given project, will be set after all associated costs are determined, following on from the competitive construction and management tender processes. I expect that the cost rental schemes should be able to deliver rents of between of 10% to 25% below the market rate.

Question No. 121 answered with Question No. 81.

Local Authority Housing

Question No. 123 answered with Question No. 97.

Questions (122)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

122. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the amount of local authority owned potential building lands available for local authority affordable housing in the greater Dublin area with particular reference to those counties immediately adjacent to Dublin; if particular reasons have emerged which might inhibit progress of a major house building campaign to meet the demands of the local authority waiting lists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16396/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The development of major local authority residential sites in Dublin and the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), where under supply and the greatest affordability issues are being experienced, is a major priority for the Government.

In the first instance, it is a matter for each local authority and its elected members to agree the optimal approach to development and financing of its land bank, including the viability of sites for development. Notwithstanding this, my Department has been working closely with all local authorities, including local authorities in the GDA, to ensure that new social and affordable homes can be delivered from the public land bank, with particular emphasis on prioritising those sites with the greatest potential to deliver housing at scale, in the short to medium term.

In terms of the strategic development of the State’s residential land bank, all local authority sites have been mapped on the Rebuilding Ireland land map. The map includes details of over 700 local authority and Housing Agency owned sites amounting to some 1,700 hectares including the land owned by local authorities in the Greater Dublin Area and is available at the following link:

http://rebuildingireland.ie/news/rebuilding-ireland-land-map/.

All local authorities are being funded to significantly increase their delivery of social housing, as part of the Rebuilding Ireland programme, and a strong social housing construction pipeline is already in place for local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies. A detailed breakdown of the social housing construction programme for all local authorities is set out in the Social Housing Construction Status Report, which is published on a quarterly basis. The report covering the period up to end Quarter 4 of 2018 is available on the Rebuilding Ireland website at the following link:

http://rebuildingireland.ie/news/minister-murphypublishes-social-housing-construction-status-report-for-q4-2018.

Further projects will continue to be added to the programme on an ongoing basis.

In terms of affordable housing, a targeted approach is being pursued to support local authorities.  Significant housing delivery is to be achieved through the Serviced Site Fund (SSF), where €310 million has been allocated to support the delivery of at least 6,200 affordable homes over the next three years.  An initial 8 projects across the GDA, listed in the table below, were among 10 projects, with the potential for 1,400 affordable homes, which have been approved for €43 million of funding under the first call for proposals. The first homes are expected to be delivered next year. A second call for proposals under the SSF has now also issued.

Table:  List of projects in the GDA that have received approval in principle under the SSF first call for proposals.

 LA

 Project Description

Total Provisional Cost of Proposal - €

Provisional Exchequer Grant Amount - €

 Provisional LA Contribution - €

Affordable Housing Potential

 Dublin City

Cherry Orchard

 €7,645,415

 €6,804,419

 €840,996

 183

 Dublin City

 Balbutcher, Ballymun

 €4,135,351

 €3,680,462

 €454,889

 74

 Dublin City

 Sillogue, Ballymun

 €3,975,000

 €3,537,750

 €437,250

 83

 DLR

 Enniskerry Road

 €4,537,576

 €4,038,443

 €499,133

 50

 Fingal

 Church Fields, Mulhuddart

 €11,000,000

 €9,790,000

 €1,210,000

 753

 Fingal

 Dun Emer, Lusk

 €1,500,000

 €1,335,000

 €165,000

 74

 Fingal

 Hackettstown, Skerries

 €2,198,667

 €1,956,814

 €241,853

 49

 Total

 

 €34,992,009

 €31,142,888

 €3,849,121

 1,266

My Department will continue to engage proactively with the local authorities to accelerate the delivery of these projects.  The combination of this Fund and the significantly increased funding for the social housing programme will open up more opportunities for larger mixed-tenure developments on key sites such as O’Devaney Gardens and Oscar Traynor Road in Dublin.

Acknowledging that renters in Dublin are currently facing significant access and affordability challenges, the Government is also committed to the introduction of a not-for-profit, cost rental sector in Ireland. Cost Rental is a model of delivery where the provider supplies accommodation and charges rents sufficient to cover both the cost of provision and ongoing operational expenses.  Two pathfinder pilot projects in the former St. Michael's Estate Inchicore and Enniskerry Road will deliver 380 cost rental homes and the experience gained from these projects will inform a national approach to cost rental and its delivery at scale.

Question No. 123 answered with Question No. 97.

Local Authority Housing Maintenance

Question No. 125 answered with Question No. 106.

Questions (124)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

124. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the way in which he can address the lengthy maintenance turnaround time for local authority properties before they can be allocated to new tenants while ensuring all best practices are followed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16371/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The management and maintenance of local authority housing stock, including pre-letting repairs to vacant properties, responsive repairs and implementing planned maintenance programmes, is a matter for each individual local authority, in line with Section 58 of the Housing Act 1966.  Local authorities return vacant properties to use through their own resources but my Department also continues to provide exchequer support to local authorities under the voids programme to support the timely re-tenanting of social homes that become vacant and require significant investment prior to re-letting.  Indeed, in 2018 over €26 million was provided to local authorities for this purpose. 

The challenges faced by local authorities in re-tenanting properties vary considerably, with some requiring minimal upgrade or re-decoration, while others require very extensive and costly pre-letting works before they can be safely re-tenanted.  I believe the best way in which improvements can be made in this area is for local authorities to have a common approach to this work, based on established best practice. In that regard, a group representing a number of local authorities is working to identify best practice in relation to housing stock maintenance and repairs, within the structure of the City and County Management Association (CCMA).

In addition to building on the expertise and best practice that already exists in the local authorities, Councillors can also play an important role in this area, overseeing the performance of their respective local authorities in achieving timely re-lettings of social housing homes.  

Question No. 125 answered with Question No. 106.

Departmental Functions

Questions (126, 127)

Michael Moynihan

Question:

126. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the EU policy coherence unit in his Department; the number of staff allocated to same; and if this has increased in the past two years. [16358/19]

View answer

Michael Moynihan

Question:

127. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach the way in which the EU policy coherence unit provides a whole-of-Government approach in EU policies. [16359/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 126 and 127 together.

The EU Policy Coherence Unit in my Department works to ensure whole-of-government coherence in cross-cutting EU policies, providing overview and strategic focus in areas including the Union’s budget (MFF), eurozone matters, the internal market, trade and the European Semester.

It is part of the EU Section which assists me in my role as a member of the European Council and in my other EU engagements, working closely with other relevant Departments including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

It comprises three posts and draws on the work of a small team that provides shared administrative support for the EU Section. Staffing resources are kept under ongoing review in line with business needs.

There are 26 posts in the International, EU and Northern Ireland Division of my Department, of which EU Policy Coherence is part. This Division covers work on all international, EU and British-Irish and Northern Ireland affairs within the Department, including Brexit issues.

Augmenting the ongoing work the International, EU and Northern Ireland division on Brexit, is the Brexit preparedness and contingency planning unit, which assists the secretaries general group, overseeing ongoing work on national Brexit preparedness and contingency planning. The unit has a current staffing complement of 11. The unit works closely with other divisions in my Department, including the economic division, and with colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which has overall responsibility for Brexit.

Appointments to State Boards

Questions (128)

Denis Naughten

Question:

128. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Taoiseach the number and percentage of women on each State board under the remit of his Department on 8 March 2016 and 8 March 2019, respectively. [16027/19]

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Written answers (Question to Taoiseach)

I appoint members to two State Boards under the remit of my Department - the NESC and the National Statistics Board (NSB).

I have limited discretion in these appointments as in certain cases, per the relevant legislation, members are nominated by other bodies.

Of the appointments that I have made since I became Taoiseach and have had discretion over, three of the five were female (60%).

On 8 March 2016, when the NESC had 34 members, 11 were women and 23 were men. Overall, female representation on the NESC was at 32.4%.

On 8 March 2019, now the NESC has 28 members, 10 were women and 18 were men. Overall, female representation on the NESC was at 35.7%.

On 8 March 2016, the National Statistics Board consisted of three women, one of whom was the Chairperson, and five men. Overall, female representation on the NSB was at 37.5%.

On 8 March 2019, the National Statistics Board consisted of two women, one of whom is the Chairperson, and six men. Overall, female representation on the NSB was at 25%.

All appointments are made in line with the Guidelines on Appointments to State Boards