Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Questions (26, 29, 31)

Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

26. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if projects that were approved for funding under the first national taking-in-charge initiative but that were not completed will be prioritised under the new national taking-in-charge initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45228/19]

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Aindrias Moynihan

Question:

29. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the criteria that will be used to allocate funding under the new national taking-in-charge initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45227/19]

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Martin Heydon

Question:

31. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of applications for funding by Kildare County Council under the National Development Plan 2018-2022 for developer-provided infrastructure to assist in the taking in charge of housing estates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44688/19]

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Oral answers (14 contributions) (Question to Housing)

Across the country, people are living in unfinished estates where the treatment plant is malfunctioning and sewers are backing up. This taking-in-charge initiative represents a possible opportunity for them to straighten up the place, make it safer and get on with their lives. We have already seen that it has taken a year to review the pilot scheme and the scheme is only accepting applications at this stage. How soon can people in these houses expect to see funding released and work started to improve the estates around them?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 26, 29 and 31 together.

In July this year my Department launched the multi-annual developer-provided water services infrastructure resolution programme. Bids were sought from local authorities around the country for funding under the programme. The development of such a multi-annual funding programme was a key recommendation of the report on the national taking-in-charge initiative that was published by my Department in December 2018. That is less than a year ago. The programme will enable the progressive resolution, on a priority basis, of substandard developer-provided water services infrastructure, commonly called DPI, much of which was installed in housing estates during the building boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s. These privately owned and temporary facilities provide mostly wastewater treatment with a small number providing drinking water.

In a survey conducted by our Department in late 2015, it was estimated that just over 900 housing estates around the country depended on developer-provided infrastructure for their wastewater services. However, in a workshop recently organised by my Department to inform local authorities of the new resolution programme, it is now estimated that approximately 513 housing estates depend on such infrastructure. It is a lot less than what previously would have been talked about.

In April 2016, my Department launched the national taking-in-charge initiative. This was in recognition of the financial commitment that residents made in buying their homes and the importance of ensuring that roads, open spaces, car parks and service connections are completed and maintained to a satisfactory standard. The purpose of the initiative was to trial or demonstrate new approaches and working methods in supporting and accelerating overall national and local action on the process for taking in charge of housing estates, including those with developer-provided infrastructure. The collaborative experience gained by the key stakeholders in implementing the taking-in-charge initiative has now informed the new resolution progamme. The objective of the programme is to resolve this substandard component of our water services infrastructure in a sustainable manner, and ultimately to support residential estates being taken in charge. The national development plan published in February 2018 includes provision of €31 million for the period 2018 to 2021 to support the programme.

The closing date for bids under the programme was 18 September 2019. It was opened in July. A total of 19 local authorities with developer-provided infrastructure in estates in their areas made applications under the programme for support. Bids for ten estates were received from Kildare County Council. I think it was 11 in Cork County Council, but we can go into that shortly. My Department is currently completing a preliminary evaluation and clarification process on the bids received with the local authorities.

The intention is to set up an expert panel shortly to evaluate the bids independently and recommend suitable projects for funding. This evaluation will take place over the coming months. Membership of the panel will include departmental, stakeholder and independent representation in the Chair. The expert panel will make recommendations to me on the suitability of projects for funding under the programme based on the criteria set out in the framework document issued to local authorities when requesting proposals. The panel will report to my Department when its examination of the bids is concluded. We expect to be in a position to make announcements in early 2020 on approvals and allocations once that process is concluded and has been considered.

To clarify, we had the report in December 2018, we opened for proposals in July 2019, that closed in December, and we are now making those decisions to be announced in early 2020.

We are almost halfway through the plan that runs from 2018 to 2021 and the Minister of State has just taken in applications. Is it realistic that all the funding will be pushed out until next year and the year after that? Will he prioritise the release of funding this year given that he is almost halfway through the 2018 to 2021 scheme without having spent on it? Will he prioritise schemes on it? Crossbarry, which was part of the original pilot and was identified as having a great need, was the only one of the pilot scheme that did not advance to construction because it was found that the job was even bigger and the need greater. They had all the background works and so on done and now they have to wait for the review and for a new application despite having been delayed all along. Will such schemes be prioritised, because they have already gone through the mill, so to speak, and been assessed and identified as having a need?

The Minister of State has a number of different classes of schemes. There are smaller ones that would only deal with one housing estate and others that would supply an entire village and possibly open up and unlock other lands for housing.

Will the Minister of State look at every scheme before releasing all of them or will he prioritise some of those that would give rise to the release further housing? For example, there could be an impact in Crossbarry where a large amount of extra land could be opened for further housing and where there are already planning applications.

The pilot scheme informed the framework of how to judge and place various estates in order of priority. That was the reason we had the pilot scheme. The framework was developed and every local authority was involved in that framework. There were workshops on it as well to help to inform them when they placed estates and projects on the priority list.

The Deputy specifically referred to Cork. The Cork city area did not have any estates with DPI infrastructure requirements. Cork county submitted nine individual bids, including two for the four DPI estates at Crossbarry. The council bid addresses 11 estates overall. In it, the council estimated the cost of sustainably resolving the DPI of these estates at just over €1.56 million. The expert panel is to be formed in the next couple of weeks and it will use the framework and the criteria that are set out. The Deputy is correct that there are three categories. The panel will make the calls on that. Naturally, every local authority was asked to detail why it was putting forward various estates and the priorities behind that. I expect that is all included in the applications and the expert panel will judge. We will try to prioritise key areas. Public health is a major part of the framework as well.

To be clear, the framework funding that was set aside is ring-fenced over the three years and will be spent accordingly. It covers from mid-2018 to 2021. That money is still there and its purpose is to fund this infrastructure. The infrastructure is there since the 1990s and early 2000s.

I return to the question of prioritising. Will the Minister of State look at every scheme and release all of them in a big bang or will he recognise that some places can provide houses much faster on the ground? These are places such as Crossbarry where planning applications and so forth are already in place and where development is being held up because of the absence of these schemes. Will he look at every application or just at some of the classes first and release those so he can get houses built and give residents in those unfinished estates the benefit more quickly, especially given the fact that they have been held up for so long? They were part of the pilot and had to wait for the review, which took over a year, and it appears that they have to wait again. They have already been assessed as having a need. In fact, it is a much greater need than originally believed. That is why they did not advance in the pilot scheme.

The Minister of State has €31 million. How is he distributing that across the three classes? Has he made a decision on that and can he clarify how he plans to spend it? This scheme is for the period 2018 to 2021 so we are half way through it. Will the Minister of State release some of that funding before the end of the year to let people get on with it? Time is slipping by.

To be clear, we are not half way through. The funding is allocated in an envelope for a couple of years so it is not the case that we are any way through it. The money must be spent on these estates before 2021. This is about the resolution of previous mistakes and that is where the focus will be. This is developer infrastructure that was not monitored properly and probably was not planned properly. In hindsight, it possibly should not have been allowed under previous Administrations. We are dealing with that now. It is a resolution. That is the priority on which it will be allocated. The expert panel will judge the applications that have been made. As I said, Cork made 11 applications and Crossbarry is mentioned in them. The criteria are there for judging them and the expert panel will use them. Neither I nor the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, will tell the expert panel how to judge. It will use the assessed criteria that have been set out. However, this is about resolution and rectifying the mistakes of the past.

I call Deputy Heydon.

What about the distribution of funding?

A number of these estates were developed in Kildare. It is questionable whether the single stand-alone developer infrastructure should have been permitted in the first place. Kildare County Council has submitted a list. When will a decision be made on funding for the estates? The Moone Village estate currently has raw sewage flowing out onto the street. A number of constituents contacted me about this in recent weeks. It has been a long-standing issue in Moone. There are also Allen Court in Allen, the Paddocks in Ballitore and Lios an Ri in Clogherinkoe. There is a long-standing legacy issue with Moorhill Wood in Brannockstown from the boom times. Redhills Park in Ellistown and Mountrice Mill in Monasterevin are part of a pilot scheme with Irish Water. Can the Minister of State provide an update on the current position with the Irish Water protocol regarding taking-in-charge? With regard to the list that has been submitted by the council, when will a decision be made on that in the context of the €31 million he has available? If and when these estates are upgraded, and it must happen as quickly as possible, who will have responsibility for maintaining them in the future? Will it be the local authority or Irish Water?

Deputy Heydon managed to name all ten estates that are the subject of applications from Kildare County Council. They will be judged on the criteria. Submissions closed in September and Kildare got in on time with ten. An expert panel is being put together to judge the applications based on the criteria set down in the framework. That was based on the pilot scheme we had in the past. The panel will make those judgments and we expert it will be able to announce its decisions in early 2020. Work can begin throughout 2020 as well. There is an envelope of €31 million for the next couple of years. The number of estates in this category is probably about half of what we initially thought it would be, which is positive. There has been much change to housing developments in the last number of years, but there are potentially approximately 500 estates to be addressed. This allocation of funding will go a long way towards dealing with some of them and, hopefully, will bring badly needed resolution for residents who were let down by previous decisions. It is not so much that developer provided infrastructure was completely wrong, but that there was no plan to join it up and no logic to it. There was no monitoring of it and no quality assessment. It is basically down to how it was managed without any long-term thinking. That is what is being corrected now. There is a methodology set out on how to judge that and correct it in the future.

I agree that there is a lack of management and monitoring. There are lessons for us to learn as we continue development around the country. With regard to the local authorities and the staff they have for different areas, are there enough staff in compliance sections to oversee? Is it also a key issue for Irish Water in terms of its resources to examine the compliance levels and ensure that where there is developer provided infrastructure it is being correctly implemented and installed? There are significant challenges in places such as Moone, Allen, Ballitore and Clogherinkoe and the people in these estates are encountering them daily. Hopefully, we can get funding through this scheme to address many of these problems. What is the longer-term plan for Irish Water in the context of a taking-in-charge protocol? Who will have responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of these estates when they are taken back in charge? Will they be in the charge of the council or Irish Water?

Irish Water is involved in the solution in a high percentage of cases because the infrastructure can quite easily be tapped into its network and so forth. It will be in charge of that. In other cases they are rural areas which are a little more difficult, but individual solutions will be found as well. The key part is that we use the pilot scheme and enable the knowledge on this. Irish Water and local authorities are fundamental to the solutions, and the funding is allocated to the local authorities to carry out this work. They will be in charge of and oversee the work.

Regarding the present and the future, planning has changed completely in the last seven or eight years since we have been in government in terms of how it is managed and regulated. This cannot and would not be allowed to happen again. I am confident of that because we made sure to change it with regulations and the changes we made in the context of how we approach planning and development. With regard to servicing lands in the future, there are proposals on the desk of the Minister - these will be announced shortly - regarding Irish Water and what will happen in the future. We are also looking at a more joined-up approach between local authority development plans and Irish Water's spending plans. There cannot be development without infrastructure now. That does not happen any more.

The Minister has €31 million for that and he is spreading it across three broad categories. They include smaller estates and estates where a solution would also provide a solution for the wider village and community. Has he made a decision on how he will distribute the €31 million across the three categories?

Would the Minister of State accept that, if he is spends some of it on measures that will benefit the wider community, more people will benefit from it? Undeveloped zoned ground for which planning permission has already been granted can also be brought into play. He can kill two birds with one stone and deal with unfinished estates while bringing zoned ground into consideration. Has he decided how he is going to spend that €30 million across those categories? Could he prioritise one category over another? Has he thought about this? Would he consider it? Could schemes that have already undergone assessment not be allowed to get on with their business rather than being held back while everybody else is assessed?

There are four categories to be analysed by the expert panel. I will not prejudge the panel's decision. Criteria are set down and decisions will be made in conjunction with local authorities. Local authorities have done their homework and have worked out, as best as they possibly can, the cost of doing this work. They have considered whether some of the projects are shovel-ready and how easy it is to tap into the current system. Naturally, if other planning gains arise, they will be considered but my priority, which I assume is the same as the Deputy's, is to help those people who have been left stranded in a very difficult position. That is what this is about. It is about taking in charge existing estates where people were failed in the past. That is the number one criterion. Where these estates exist alongside existing Irish Water infrastructure and infrastructure that has capacity for the future, that will be of benefit, but this work is about taking in charge existing housing estates that were built in an unsatisfactory manner, which are serviced with unsatisfactory infrastructure and which are vulnerable to issues relating to wastewater and, in some cases, water.