Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Questions (41)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

41. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will work with Dublin City Council to secure European Investment Bank finance and a serviced sites fund allocation to ensure the delivery of social and affordable homes on the Oscar Traynor road site in Coolock, Dublin 17. [38723/20]

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Oral answers (8 contributions) (Question to Housing)

As the Minister knows, a substantial majority of Dublin City Council members rejected the proposal of their management to transfer land on Oscar Traynor Road to a private developer as part of the scheme there. I understand the Lord Mayor of Dublin has written to the Minister. This is an opportunity for us to work together and not be adversarial but to try to put in place a better funding package and a better scheme. I am interested in his thoughts on how best to proceed on this site.

I am aware of Oscar Traynor Road and the decision the city council took. I walked that site myself with Deputy Paul McAuliffe and others, and all of us will agree it has been vacant and unused for far too long. It is a significant site. The proposal rejected by the local authority, which is within its powers and function, would have delivered 853 homes and included 253 social homes fully funded by the Department. A further contribution of just short of €9 million was available to assist in the delivery of 172 additional affordable homes on the site.

Following the vote last week, I sought a report from council management. I have received this, and it is short. I am meeting them tomorrow, not just about Oscar Traynor Road, although it will form part of those discussions. Not surprisingly, given the decision, the council has confirmed it needs some time to engage with councillors to gather views and to try to build some consensus on how the sites should be developed.

My Department, and the Ministers of State, Deputies Burke and Noonan, will not be found wanting in that regard. We cannot delay too long on this. I do not want to see another protracted discussion back and forth. I would be more than happy to work with the Deputy and others across the House. However, let us be realistic too. The Department and myself, as Minister, cannot build out every site in the country. This one is significant. We will help where we can. I urge the city council and the councillors of all parties and none to work towards a realistic and deliverable proposal so we can work with on this site very quickly. I am meeting the city council tomorrow.

I welcome the Minister's response. He will recall that he worked alongside others in opposition and the then Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, to successfully remove St. Michael's Estate from the land initiative into a much more sustainable public housing funding model that is currently working its way through. That is what we need to do in this instance.

The vast majority of councillors who opposed the transfer of land are not opposed to the residential development on that site. In fact, the local community needs social and affordable homes. The best way to proceed is in exactly the way the Minister has outlined, but with some haste, and to secure European Investment Bank funding alongside departmental funding to deliver fully public development on this site. The tenure mixture in terms of social, affordable rental and affordable purchase is a matter for the local councillors and the local community. It is our job to put forward the best funding model. I believe this site could be broken up into several Part VIII sections to expedite planning permission next year, do tendering and procurement in parallel and then be onsite the following year. However, the key is the Department working with the local authority to secure that package of European Investment Bank and departmental funding. I am certainly willing to work constructively with the Minister and others to try to achieve that aim.

I thank the Deputy. I do not want to constrain what the city council will do over the coming weeks by giving my own view on the solution or the way forward with this. All I would say is that there are a number of workable options available and we should not constrain the thinking within the council on what those would be.

My Department had provided significant funding under the original proposal, which has been rejected. Housing tenure and different housing types also need to be looked at, without rejecting any one type of housing tenure out of hand, as some have done. I am open to working with others on this to deliver quickly. What I am not open to is having months of protracted discussions on it; I am not interested in that. I want to be open and let the council do its bit and assess what has happened. I am going to meet council management tomorrow and while I am not meeting them solely on Oscar Traynor Road, that will form part of my discussions. I hope we will be able to advance this very quickly over the coming weeks into early January.

The haste the Minister speaks about is, again, something we would welcome and we will work with him on this. We cannot have strategic sites such as this being used, for example, for so-called affordable housing that costs the purchaser between €325,000 for a one-bed up to €380,000 for a three-bed. We cannot have valuable public land like this being used to sell open market, unaffordable housing for between €400,000 and €420,000.

I welcome the fact the Minister has given a very clear commitment over a number of months both to deliver public housing on public land to meet social and affordable need, and also, crucially, to oversee a step change in Government policy. The land initiative was never really something that the majority of Dublin city councillors wanted. It was a product of a time capital funding was slashed and we do not have to use that model. What I would say, and I say it in good faith, is that if the Minister wants to demonstrate that his Ministry is radically different from that of his predecessor, Oscar Traynor Road is his opportunity to prove that. He should give the council the options. It cannot pluck funding models out of the sky; the Minister has to show a willingness to work with it. I believe that if he puts those funding models on the table, he will see a welcome response from the councillors.

We will work with others on it but it will not be either of those. We will not be held to ransom by a small number of councillors with ideological opposition to certain different types of housing tenure.

What is the Minister talking about?

The Deputy has just arrived. Will he relax? I think he doth protest too much.

Let us deal with this from the perspective that we can resolve this situation. We have an opportunity. We need to develop the lands the State has better and faster. We cannot constrain or restrain the ambition that some local authorities will show in regard to how they deem it fit to develop their lands. Some local authorities are better at doing it than others. I ask people to look at the historical delivery of some local authorities versus others.

As to what we will do in regard to this particular site, it affords us an opportunity to look at the issue again and look at how we can deliver faster. Fundamentally, we have to deliver more homes, both public and private, for our people. This year, we will probably deliver under 17,000 house completions and we need at least 33,000 homes, private and public, not just public.