Planning Issues

Questions (198)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

198. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his position in respect of the opposition of the planning regulator to an out-of-town shopping centre in County Cork as set out in a letter to Cork County Council in December 2020; and if the letter will be published on the website of his Department. [2299/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

In evaluating the making or varying of county and city development plans by local authorities, the Office of the Planning Regulator (the Office) must have regard to provisions set out in the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended (the Act), including, but not limited to, the National Planning Framework, Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies (RSESs), the principles of proper planning and sustainable development, relevant guidelines issued under Section 28 of the Act, relevant government policies and directives, and other provisions as set out in the Act. The statutory process for the review of development plans and variations by the Office is also set out in the Act.

In February 2019 the Office made a statutory recommendation to the Minister in relation to Variation No. 2 of the Cork County Development Plan 2014, and in March 2020, Cork County Council received the Minister’s notice of intent to issue a Direction, which included a draft Direction, pursuant to Section 31 of the Act. This notice of intent was published on Cork County Council’s website and submissions were invited from the public and from elected members. In accordance with the requirements of the Act, the Chief Executive of Cork County Council subsequently prepared a report on the submissions received and this report was submitted to the Office for consideration in June 2020.

The Office, having considered the report of the Chief Executive and the submissions made directly by the elected members of the Council to the Office, issued a notice to the Minister in July 2020, and recommended that the Minister issue the Direction, as attached to the Notice of Intent in draft format in March 2020.

Following a comprehensive review by my Department of all the issues and receipt of relevant advices, it is considered that the Office set out a valid and lawful rationale for its recommendation to the Minister to exercise his function under section 31 of the Act and issue a Direction to Cork County Council, directing the planning authority to delete Variation No. 2 of the Cork County Development Plan 2014.

Accordingly, on 23 December 2020, I issued a Direction pursuant to Section 31 of the Act in relation to Variation Number 2 of the Cork County Development Plan 2014. The reasons for the Direction are set out in the Statement of Reasons section of the Direction, which was published on 24 December 2020 on my Department’s website and is available at the following link:

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/75aef-ministerial-direction-to-cork-county-council-variation-no-2-of-the-cork-county-development-plan-2014/

Postal Voting

Questions (199)

Mick Barry

Question:

199. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his views on extending postal votes to those who on polling day are in the later stages of pregnancy or have recently given birth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2301/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Postal voting is provided for in electoral law in respect of a number of categories of electors, including:

- Irish diplomats serving abroad and their spouses/civil partners,

- whole-time members of the Defence Forces,

- members of An Garda Síochána,

- electors living at home who are unable to vote because of a physical illness or a physical disability,

- certain election staff employed at the poll outside the constituency where they reside,

- full-time students registered at their home who are living elsewhere while attending an educational institution in the State,

- prisoners, and

- electors whose occupation, service or employment makes it likely that they will be unable to vote in person at their local polling station on polling day.

The Programme for Government - Our Shared Future contains a commitment to establish an Electoral Commission and goes on to further commit to mandating the new Commission to examine the use of postal voting, with a view to expanding its provision.

The Government has approved the drafting of an Electoral Reform Bill and the circulation of the Bill's general scheme to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage for pre-legislative consideration. The general scheme includes provision for the establishment of a statutory Electoral Commission. The general scheme was circulated to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on 8 January 2021 and was published on my Department's website at

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/34cf6-general-scheme-of-the-electoral-reform-bill-2020/

Any reform of electoral law in regard to postal voting will have regard to the outcome of the work of the Electoral Commission.

Electoral Process

Questions (200)

Mick Barry

Question:

200. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his views on extending voting rights in local and European elections to 16 year olds and 17 year olds; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2302/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Programme for Government - Our Shared Future contains a broad range of electoral reforms including a commitment to establish an independent, statutory Electoral Commission by the end of 2021. The Programme also contains a specific commitment to "Examine the Scottish experience of reducing the voting age to 17, in order to draw conclusions" within the lifetime of the current Dáil.

The Government has approved the drafting of an Electoral Reform Bill and the circulation of the Bill's general scheme to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage for pre-legislative consideration. The general scheme addresses a number of Government commitments including in relation to the establishment of the Electoral Commission.

The general scheme has been circulated to the Joint Oireachtas Committee and has been published on my Department's website at https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/34cf6-general-scheme-of-the-electoral-reform-bill-2020/.

It is proposed that one of the Electoral Commission's initial functions will be to conduct research on electoral policies and procedures with a view to providing advice to the Oireachtas and to the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage as may be required from time to time. Following its establishment, the Electoral Commission will be well placed, if requested, to examine, among other matters, the prospect of reducing the age at which a person would be entitled to vote at elections and referendums held in the State having particular regard to the experience in Scotland as well as in other countries where a reduction in the voting age has taken place.

Electoral Process

Questions (201)

Mick Barry

Question:

201. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his views on extending eligibility to vote in elections to Dáil Éireann to persons resident here who are not Irish citizens; extending eligibility to vote in elections to the European Parliament to persons resident here who are not citizens of an EU member state; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2303/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Under Part II of the Electoral Act 1992, every person is entitled to be entered on the register of electors if that person:

- has reached the age of 18 years, and

- is ordinarily resident in a constituency in the State.

Subject to the age and residency requirements, a registered elector’s citizenship then determines the polls at which he or she is entitled to vote. Irish citizens alone are entitled to vote at all elections (i.e. local, European, Dáil, and presidential) and at referendums.

Under the Common Travel Area agreement, reciprocal arrangements are in place with regard to voting rights between Irish citizens resident in the United Kingdom and British citizens resident in Ireland. In this regard, British citizens resident in Ireland are also eligible to vote at elections to Dáil Éireann as well as at local elections.

Citizens of other Member States of the European Union may vote at European Parliament and local elections. Under European Union law, only citizens of the European Union have the right to vote (and stand for election) in European Parliament elections.

Non-EU citizens may vote at local elections only.

While electoral law is kept under ongoing review, I currently have no plans to change the existing arrangements in respect of voting rights.

Wildlife Protection

Questions (202)

Jennifer Whitmore

Question:

202. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when details relating to the level and types of staffing, resources and funding that will be provided for the new wildlife crime unit will be determined; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2331/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

It is proposed to establish this dedicated Unit during 2021. Details in relation to staffing resources and funding will be determined as soon as possible.

Housing Assistance Payment

Questions (203)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

203. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will standardise the HAP system to allow intercounty HAP transfers between all counties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2340/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The flexibility of HAP as a social housing support is one of the scheme's key characteristics and was one of the primary benefits envisaged at the outset of the scheme. With this in mind, Departmental circulars relating to inter-authority movement issued in 2017 and 2019, with the aim of facilitating movement of HAP households from one local authority area to another in cases where a HAP tenant wishes to access rented accommodation with HAP support in another local authority area. Inter authority movement is, however, subject to certain conditions, such as the Social Housing Income Eligibility Bands and confirmation that the applicant's income is below the threshold in the new local authority.

Given that the flexibility afforded by inter-authority movement facilitates better utilisation of all private rental stock for social housing purposes and supports the maximum activation potential of HAP households by removing geographical barriers to employment, all local authorities have been requested to give appropriate consideration to these requests.

Wind Energy Guidelines

Questions (204, 214)

Patricia Ryan

Question:

204. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when the proposed wind energy development guidelines will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2352/21]

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Christopher O'Sullivan

Question:

214. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will provide a timeframe for the publication of the revised wind energy development guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2508/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 204 and 214 together.

My Department is currently undertaking a focused review of the 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines in line with the “preferred draft approach” which was announced in June 2017 by the then Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, in conjunction with the then Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. The review is addressing a number of key aspects including sound or noise, visual amenity setback distances, shadow flicker, community obligation, community dividend and grid connections.

As part of the overall review process, a strategic environmental assessment (SEA) is being undertaken on the revised Guidelines before they come into effect, in accordance with the requirements of European Union Directive 2001/24/EC on the assessment of the effects of certain plans and programmes on the environment, otherwise known as the SEA Directive. SEA is a process by which environmental considerations are required to be fully integrated into the preparation of plans and programmes which act as frameworks for development consent, prior to their final adoption, with public consultation as part of that process.

As part of the SEA process, the previous Minister launched a ten-week public consultation on the draft revised Wind Energy Development Guidelines on 12 December 2019. The documents prepared for consultation are available on my Department's website at the following link:

https://www.housing.gov.ie/guidelines/wind-energy/public-consultation-revised-wind-energy-development-guidelines.

The consultation closed on 19 February 2020. Almost 500 submissions were received as part of the public consultation, many of which are extremely detailed and technical in nature. My Department, in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC), is currently analysing the submissions received.

Finalised Guidelines will be prepared following detailed analysis and consideration of the submissions received during the consultation phase, and the conclusion of the SEA process. The Department, in consultation with DECC, is endeavouring to finalise and publish the revised Guidelines as quickly as possible.

When finalised, the revised Guidelines will be issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. Planning authorities and, where applicable, An Bord Pleanála, must have regard to guidelines issued under section 28 in the performance of their functions generally under the Planning Acts. In the meantime, the current 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines remain in force.

Housing Policy

Questions (205)

Neasa Hourigan

Question:

205. Deputy Neasa Hourigan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when the restriction on all future commercial co-living development announced by his Department on 23 November 2020 comes into force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2371/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

With regard to co-living development, I indicated in a letter dated 23rd November 2020 to all local authorities, An Bord Pleanála and the Office of the Planning Regulator, that my preferred approach was to restrict commercial co-living development, through an update of the Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments, Guidelines for Planning Authorities 2018 document, with a Specific Planning Policy Requirement (SPPR) for a presumption against granting planning permission for Co-Living/Shared Accommodation Development.

This preferred approach was subject to the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) screening process in accordance with Regulations that give effect to the EU SEA Directive and which require a mandatory four-week consultation with the relevant environmental authorities. The consultation period was completed on 21 December 2020 and gave rise to no further issues.

Further to the SEA screening process, I issued the updated Sustainable Urban Housing: Design Standards for New Apartments, Guidelines for Planning Authorities (December 2020), as Ministerial guidance under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (as amended) on 23 December 2020.

The updated apartment guidelines now include a Specific Planning Policy Requirement (SPPR) for a presumption against granting planning permission for co-living/shared accommodation development, and replace the previous, 2018 version of the guidelines. The December 2020 changes relate solely to the ‘Shared Accommodation’ (Co-living) aspects of the guidance.

The 2018 guidelines remain in effect for planning applications that had already been submitted prior to the publication of the updated Guidelines on 23 December 2020. Any planning applications and consequent appeals, or SHD applications made after the date of publication of the updated guidelines, will be subject to the updated guidelines.

The letter I issued to planning authorities on 23 December 2020 was accompanied by the updated technical guidance, Design Standards for New Apartments: Guidelines for Planning Authorities (December 2020) and are available on the website at the following link:

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/9e2f1-ministerial-letter-to-local-authorities-updated-apartment-guidelines-to-give-effect-to-restrictions-on-co-living-development/

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (206)

Holly Cairns

Question:

206. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if employees of his Department have received Covid-19 vaccines due to their role in the Department; if so, the rationale for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2404/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

No employees of my Department have received Covid-19 vaccines due to their role in the Department.

Architectural Heritage

Questions (207)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

207. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his plans to provide a sufficiently resourced structure-at-risk team for listed buildings that require urgent repairs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2421/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

My role with regard to the protection and management of our architectural and archaeological heritage is set out in the provisions of relevant legislation, including the Planning Acts and the National Monuments Acts, as are the roles of local authorities and the responsibilities of owners.

With regard to the safeguarding of protected structures, Part IV of the Planning and Development Act 2000 gives primary responsibility to local authorities to identify and protect architectural heritage by including particular structures on their respective Records of Protected Structures (RPS). Inclusion on the RPS places a duty of care on the owners and occupiers of protected structures and also gives planning authorities powers to deal with any development proposals affecting them.

While my Department is not operationally responsible for the carrying out of such works, it provides financial support for the protection of heritage buildings and historic structures through two grant schemes which are, in the main, administered by the local authorities. These are the Built Heritage Investment Scheme (BHIS) and the Historic Structures Fund (HSF).

The BHIS is a scheme for the repair and conservation of structures on the local authority RPS. It is designed to leverage private capital for investment in small scale conservation projects across the country and to support the employment of skilled conservation professionals. The HSF is for conservation and enhancement to heritage structures and historic buildings, in both private and public ownership, for the benefit of communities and the public.

Last year 450 heritage projects across every county in the country benefited from a combined sum of over €4.3m under BHIS and HSF. An extra €1m in funding was secured for built heritage projects under the July Jobs Stimulus Package 2020, which aims to offset some of the effects of Covid-19. This funding supplemented 28 BHIS and HSF projects and supported 12 new ones, in addition to capital works by the Heritage Council and the Irish Heritage Trust.

I recently launched the BHIS and HSF for 2021, with a combined allocation of €6m, an increase of nearly 40% over 2020. Full details are available on my Department’s website and on the website of each local authority. In light of delays arising as a result of current Level 5 restrictions, I have extended the deadline for applications from Local Authorities to the Department to Friday 12 March. Individual owners should check with the relevant Local Authority regarding local deadlines.

Last year I also introduced the Community Monuments Fund (CMF) under which €1.4m was allocated for conservation and other works at our national monuments. A total of 69 CMF projects nationally were supported and I hope shortly to announce a continuance of the scheme for 2021.

Local Government Management Agency

Questions (208)

David Cullinane

Question:

208. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if the recent graduate recruitment campaign run by the Local Government Management Agency was open to applicants with graduate degrees, including higher diploma, postgraduate diploma and master's degrees; if applicants presenting such qualifications were deemed to have met the stated academic requirement; the rationale used to determine if the academic requirement was met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2440/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The qualifications for the recent Local Authority Graduate Programme run by the Local Government Management Agency required that applicants would at time of application be able to demonstrate that they had on or before the 31 December 2020 a recently achieved first or second class primary (2.2 minimum) honours degree (level 8 on the National Framework of Qualifications).

Each application was assessed on an individual basis to determine if they met the essential requirement of an Honours degree. Where queries arose in relation to the assessment of qualifications presented, these were considered on the basis of definitions provided by Quality and Qualifications Ireland which is the national agency responsible for qualifications.

Applicants who were deemed ineligible were entitled to appeal the decision if they so wished.

Local Authority Staff

Questions (209)

David Cullinane

Question:

209. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if his Department or an agency under his remit recognises a difference between honours bachelor of arts degrees and higher diplomas for recruitment purposes to local authorities despite their similar national framework of qualifications level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2441/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

In line with statutory provisions, my Department declares qualifications of such classes and descriptions for specified employment under a local authority or for such of the employments as belong to a specified class, description or grade.

An Honours degree, Level 8 on the National Framework of Qualifications, is set as the standard requirement for candidates to be deemed eligible to compete for certain posts in the local authority sector.

Covid-19 Pandemic

Questions (210)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

210. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if local authorities have provided information on the number of construction sites they have given their approval to remain open during the current level 5 restrictions; if so, the number of sites by local authority area; if he has received complaints regarding non-compliance; if so, the number of same; the persons or bodies that made the complaints; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2446/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Government announced that additional public health restrictions would apply under Level 5 of the Plan for Living with COVID-19 on 6 January 2021. The additional restrictions required all construction activity to cease from 6pm on Friday 8 January, with certain exemptions, including social housing developments meeting certain criteria. These measures are set out in the Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 10) (Amendment) Regulations 2021. The Housing Agency is maintaining a register of sites, which have been designated as essential social housing projects under the Regulations. The table below sets out the number of sites designated in each local authority. I have not received any complaints in relation to non-compliance at these sites.

Local Authority

No. of Projects Designated

Carlow County Council

10

Cavan County Council

4

Clare County Council

4

Cork City Council

16

Cork County Council

23

Donegal County Council

5

Dublin City Council

18

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown

10

Fingal County Council

8

Galway City Council

5

Galway County Council

7

Kerry County Council

12

Kildare County Council

31

Kilkenny County Council

6

Laois County Council

13

Leitrim County Council

3

Limerick City and County Council

14

Longford County Council

4

Louth County Council

12

Mayo County Council

5

Meath County Council

6

Monaghan County Council

7

Offaly County Council

2

Roscommon County Council

4

Sligo County Council

3

South Dublin County Council

10

Tipperary County Council

2

Waterford City and County Council

12

Westmeath County Council

10

Wexford County Council

11

Wicklow County Council

16

Total

293

Social and Affordable Housing

Questions (211, 213, 218)

Robert Troy

Question:

211. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the status of the launch of an affordable housing scheme. [2470/21]

View answer

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

213. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the details of the proposed affordable housing scheme including but not limited to criteria (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2492/21]

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Cormac Devlin

Question:

218. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the status of his plans to increase the provision of affordable housing; if he will consider increasing income thresholds for buyers in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2663/21]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 211, 213 and 218 together.

The Programme for Government, ‘Our Shared Future’, commits to putting affordability at the heart of the housing system and to:

- prioritise the increased supply affordable homes and to ensure that local authorities are central to delivering housing, and

- progress a state-backed affordable home purchase scheme to promote home ownership.

To begin delivering on these commitments, Budget 2021 ring-fenced €75 million for the introduction of an affordable housing shared equity scheme in 2021.

Broadly, the objectives of the Affordable Purchase Shared Equity scheme are to:

- improve access and affordability of new homes for First Time Buyers

- stimulate an increase in supply of homes by improving confidence as to the viability of future housing developments to meet increased realisable demand and

- support economic recovery from COVID-19 by encouraging employment in the construction and related sectors

In addition to this scheme which will support the delivery of homes on private lands, the Government will also finalise the development of a local authority led affordable purchase scheme. This will also see the first affordable homes delivered by local authorities under the scheme delivered in 2021.

In December 2020, the Government approved the priority drafting of the Affordable Housing Bill 2020 which will provide a legislative basis for both of these schemes. Once enacted, the Bill will deliver on key commitments in the Programme for Government. The detailed design of these schemes is currently ongoing and will be finalised following engagement with the range of key stakeholders.

It is intended that these schemes will be targeted at first-time buyers who are seeking to buy a new home, but who cannot quite secure the full mortgage amount to do so at the present time. The equity support provided will help them secure their own home by bridging the gap between the mortgage available to them and the price of the home that is suitable to meet their needs.

It is my intention to launch both of these schemes by mid-year.