Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Questions (42)

Catherine Connolly


42. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government further to Parliamentary Question No. 49 of 18 September 2019, the agreed work programme for the Galway social housing task force; the reports completed to date by the task force; if the minutes of the meetings held to date will be provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51819/19]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Housing)

I thank the Acting Chairman and the Deputies for agreeing to allow me back in. I was launching something trí Ghaeilge. Sin an fáth nach raibh mé anseo. This is a specific question on the social housing task force in Galway. I am asking about the work programme to date, the reports that have been completed by the task force and the minutes of the meetings. It is important. The Minister has set up a social housing task force because of the housing emergency in Galway. I want a specific answer to the question. The Minister is always calling for facts so I am asking him to give me the facts.

I thank the Deputy for the question. The Galway social housing task force, which I established earlier this year, has held four meetings to date. It is working to improve and accelerate social housing delivery in both of the Galway local authority areas. Galway County Council and Galway City Council have a combined target of just over 2,000 social housing homes to be delivered through build, acquisitions and leasing in the period from 2018 to 2021. On 2019 delivery, both councils are working hard to achieve their targets of 191 new social housing homes in the city and 259 in the county. Having said that, it should be acknowledged the task force was established precisely because it was recognised the two local authorities required support in advancing their delivery programmes.

The chair of the task force provided an update on its work earlier this year and confirmed both local authorities were intensively involved in the task force's work and it is providing them with an important opportunity for direct, round-table dialogue with my Department, the Housing Agency and the AHB sector, so that each Galway authority can be supported in building the momentum essential for expanded delivery. The chair also advised that achieving the necessary levels of delivery will take focus, time and continuing prioritisation but all participants in the task force are committed to the Government's housing targets.

I expect a further report from the task force chair at the end of this year and I understand the secretariat for the task force, which is provided by Galway City Council, is arranging to have minutes of the meetings made available to local public representatives. I also understand the chief executives of both authorities report to their councils on the work of the task force following each meeting.

I thank the Minister for confirming the minutes will be made available, which begs the question why it has to be raised in the Dáil before the minutes are made available. On focus, time and the different criteria he mentioned, we have the most serious housing crisis in Galway, on a par with Dublin. In Galway city, we have 302 homeless people and we have a city council that has achieved only 25% of its build target. HAP is the only show in town in Galway and that is difficult. We have HAP placement officers but we have a lack of staff responsible for providing homes for people on a permanent basis. The State has the land and if it does not, we should know about that by now. My information is the State has land that is zoned for residential use and it has institutional land and this task force has not produced a single report, even though it was set up before April of this year. It has had four meetings, which does not even amount to a meeting once per month. What has been decided? What is the work programme for the task force?

I thank the Deputy for the follow-up questions. She is correct that Galway needs help and that is why we put the task force in place. Those minutes will be published but the priority has been to get the task force to work on different sites and schemes so we can see delivery.

We know the task force model works because we developed it and deployed it in Cork. Let me give an example of what happened in Cork. In 2016, 45 homes were built. In 2018, 511 were built. The target was 408. This was across the two local authority areas. In 2019, the figure will be close to 1,000. The task force drove the delivery with the two local authorities.

What we expected to see this year in the two local authority areas in Galway, because of the work the task force is doing, was a fourfold increase in the build in the city. There were poor numbers last year but there will be a 400% increase this year if the targets follow through given the work we have been doing with the task force. In the county, the local authority will come close to its target of 191 homes, if not reach it. We will not know until the end of the year. We have this clarity now because the task force is in place.

Putting allegations about ideology aside, I want to work with the Government. Minutes are not complicated. They should simply be published and put on the website.

With regard to a 400% increase, or whatever figure the Minister used, there were no builds prior to last year, when we built 14 houses. Any increase is welcome in a city where there are over 4,000 on a waiting list. The position is unclear because, as the Minister knows, those who get the housing assistance payment are taken off the waiting list. Let me give an example. On Monday, my office was informed about somebody with young children who has been on a list for 11 years and who has been in emergency accommodation for six months. Not once in this period was the person offered a house. That is the nature of the crisis in Galway. We have developer-led development. We have no master plan for the city and no open acknowledgement of what land we have. Public housing on public land is one of the major ways to deal with the housing crisis in Galway. Where can I gain access to a document that states the work programme of the task force, its ambitions and time limits?

That is all available on the Rebuilding Ireland website.

I am referring to the task force in Galway.

I have given a commitment, on which I followed through, to publish the targets for every local authority each year. Those targets are published and a follow-up is given. The task force is to try to achieve the targets. Last year, there were 24 builds in the city. That is not very good. We are going to increase it by four this year. That one local authority can increase the number by such a factor is impressive but it needs to do a lot more than that. It is going to acquire homes and lease them. Last year, it acquired 28 and leased two. Since Galway city is poor on delivery, we have put in place the task force. Of course it should publish the minutes. It should not need a Minister to tell it to do so. It is going to publish the minutes that are outstanding. The chief executives do report to the locally elected representatives of the council after the meetings of the task force.

I understand the Land Development Agency is also examining issues concerning a master plan for Galway in terms of what public sites might be available. We are committed to public housing on public land. It is where our money is going. There has been an investment of €2.4 billion this year.

Question No. 44 replied to with Written Answers.