Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Questions (37)

Eoin Ó Broin


37. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when the social housing quarter 3 output report for 2020 will be published; and the status of the quarter 3 output. [38310/20]

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Oral answers (10 contributions) (Question to Housing)

Will the Minister indicate when he intends to publish the quarter 3 social housing pipeline output report? Will he also share any information he has on the level of recovery in commencements and completions since the second quarter report earlier this year?

I thank the Deputy for his question. Increasing the supply of housing, particularly social and affordable housing, is a priority for me and for the Government. The programme for Government contains a commitment in respect of increasing the social housing stock by more than 50,000 units, with an emphasis on new builds. I will elaborate on that presently. In budget 2021, we backed this objective with funding of €3.3 billion for the delivery of housing.

This is the largest budget allocation for housing in the history of the State. This investment will ensure that the housing needs of over 28,500 households are met. The available funding will deliver 12,750 new social homes through build, acquisition and leasing. However, a major focus of this investment relates to the delivery of new-build homes, with an overall target of 9,500 such homes. Increased build targets will see increased local authority construction activity on local authority land. That is what the Government wants to see.

My Department publishes comprehensive programme level statistics on social housing delivery activity. These quarterly figures are published on the statistics page of the Department's website. In addition to the statistical overview of activity in each local authority area, a detailed social housing construction status report is published which provides scheme level detail on new-build activity. The most recent publication covers the period to the end of quarter 2 of this year. The reports have been delayed due to Covid-19 as we prioritised the response on homelessness and housing delivery. However, we are currently collating this information. The statistical returns for the construction status report for quarter 3 will be completed in the coming week, certainly well in advance of the end of the year. I have asked for that to be expedited. There has been some pick-up in activity in the quarter 3. When the Deputy has finished, I will update him on that.

No one in the Opposition thought output would not be dramatically affected, if somewhat temporarily, by the impact of Covid-19 on construction. Many of us were surprised at the size of the impact. The Minister will know, from the quarter 2 report, that only 9% of new builds had been delivered on track and that figure increases to 12% when one adds new builds and acquisitions. I do not cite those figures to criticise the Department because, in fairness, it was quick to ensure social housing construction sites opened before private sites. I also acknowledge that the Minister secured social housing as a priority infrastructure in the second round.

There is a concern that Covid-19 is not the only reason for the slowdown this year. We have been hearing from elected members in a number of urban councils that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's value-for-money exercise for projects above €20 million is also having a negative impact. That is not the Minister's Department but my concern is that, notwithstanding Covid, we would have been behind at any rate. Can the Minister give us any information on where we are with the recovery? In particular, will he address the concern expressed about the value-for-money exercise?

The Deputy makes a fair point. We are all aware of the reason delivery stood at only 9% at the end of quarter 2. I was criticised by the Deputy in that regard but that is fair enough. A housing delivery task force comprised of all the stakeholders - the housing delivery co-ordination office, local authorities and approved housing bodies - meets regularly and I will have the report in the next couple of weeks.

I am focusing on quarter 4 completions. Given the target of delivering more than 11,000 completions, it is important that we do not fall further behind. For this reason, the Government agreed with my request to keep construction and all ancillary services open during the current level 5 restrictions. We should reach or exceed 70% of the target by the end of the year. As the Deputy will be aware, there is a big push in quarter 4 and that is what I am looking at currently.

The Minister should not always assume that my comments on an issue amount to criticism.

The Deputy criticised me.

No. As I said, this is one occasion where I was not criticising.

If we reach 70% of the target, it would be very good and I would welcome that. However, I am concerned that Covid is not solely responsible for the lag and the value-for-money exercise is also responsible. I ask the Minister to examine that issue with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. Will he add the 30% that may not be delivered this year to the 2021 target to ensure the net position by the end of 2021 will be the same as it would otherwise have been under the Rebuilding Ireland targets?

I am projecting that we will reach approximately 70% of the target but it could be higher. I am giving the Deputy the information to the best of my knowledge. Obviously, a large number of people are doing intense work to ensure we catch up. I visited a number of the sites in question. Yesterday, for example, I was on the site on the Enniskerry Road in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown which shut down, even though it was a public site, and it took ten weeks to get it up and running to full capacity. We should remember that a productivity on a number of those sites decreased before the official shutdown in March because people were moving off site.

I will make an assessment of the housing completion figures when we get to the end of the year. We have set a very exacting target for next year of 12,750 completions, of which 9,500 will be new builds. Leasing will form part of that, as will a move away from acquisition. Allowing for only 800 acquisitions next year, we need that flexibility for different types of housing, such as adapted housing and larger houses.

I will report progress to the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage and to Deputies in the House. We are projecting completions to exceed 70% of the target for the year. We will assess housing completions by the end of the year and see how we are doing.