Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Land Availability

Mick Barry

Ceist:

6. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the amount of publicly-owned land which is zoned for residential use; the amount which could potentially be zoned for residential use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39094/18]

What is the amount of publicly-owned land which is already zoned for residential development use and the amount which could potentially be zoned for same, and will the Minister make a statement on that?

I thank the Deputy for his question. My Department, in conjunction with local authority planning departments, published a residential land availability survey in February 2015 covering all lands zoned for residential development in statutory local authority development plans and local area plans across the country. The survey showed the location and quantity of lands, whether owned privately or by the local authority, that may be regarded as being undeveloped and available for residential development purposes in each local authority area, and identified as being the highest priority for development.

The aggregate area of all such lands amounts to 17,434 ha which, given a range of densities appropriate to whether the lands are in small villages or in larger towns and cities and as determined by the relevant local authorities, could enable the construction of an estimated 415,000 dwellings. This is more than sufficient to deal with current and expected demand for housing.

Under the Government's Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, an online housing land map has been launched by my Department which aims to provide users with a range of information on residentially zoned lands. The map includes details of over 700 local authority and Housing Agency-owned sites, as well as 30 sites owned by other public bodies. In aggregate, these sites comprise some 2,000 ha, capable of supporting some 50,000 homes.

The establishment of the new Land Development Agency represents a major step forward in delivering new homes on State lands. It has an initial focus on eight sites that are capable of delivering at least 3,000 new homes in the near term, with further potential for 7,000 homes on other identified public lands. Overall, over the 20-year period of the national planning framework, the agency will have the potential to support the delivery of some 150,000 homes, including significant levels of subsidised and social housing.

It is clear from the reply that there are vast tranches of public land already zoned for residential development. I understand that between the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, and the local authorities, there is sufficient such land to build 114,000 new homes. Why is the Government proposing a privatisation model regarding large tranches of that land? If there is 60% private development on what is now a State asset, what will be the price of those houses? The average price of a new home in Dublin currently is €446,000. How affordable is that?

I want to ask questions about the official definition of "affordable" but I will leave that for the supplementary question. I ask the Minister directly about his plans for what is in effect - he cannot deny otherwise - the largest privatisation programme of land in the history of the State.

I thank the Deputy for his further answer. To throw NAMA land into this issue confuses the matter because, as the Deputy knows, NAMA has security on the loans and not the land itself. That agency has been doing what it can to deliver housing on those portfolios of lands, working with the lenders and the debtors. Also, it has been offering properties for social housing where it has been in a position to do so.

We have a significant local authority landbank, which has already been earmarked for development of social housing homes. That is already under way. That is what the €6 billion behind Rebuilding Ireland is for. The Land Development Agency is something we have never had in this State previously. It involves bringing forward large amounts of public land that is used very inefficiently, not for private developers but for our public State developer to develop. For the first time, we have this massive provision whereby 40% must be social and affordable homes on these sites. That does not mean that the other 60% will not be affordable - it will depend on the market rate and where they are being built - but what we will have is the bringing forward of public land for houses to be built for the general public. I do not see what is wrong with that. We have a responsibility to all our citizens in this Republic.

I will zone in on the issue of affordable housing. For genuinely affordable housing, one would not want to be paying over €200,000. If we take the Central Bank's guidance that a mortgage should be no more than three and a half times the household income, for a household with an income of €60,000, the top rate it could pay for a house is €210,000 if we are talking in terms of an affordable price, but the Minister does not seem to be talking in those terms. He is quoted in an article in The Irish Times as having said that when we talk about house prices, we talk about €320,000 generally in the greater Dublin area, Cork and Galway and €250,000 in other parts of the country.

The idea that a home for sale at €320,000 is affordable is incredible; it is a joke. Ordinary workers on ordinary wages are locked out of the housing market with that kind of price. How can the Minister stand over that as an affordable price?

I thank the Deputy. One can just about build a home for €200,000. We need to be reasonable in terms of what we are trying to deliver and in terms of people's expectations. If the Deputy looks at the Ó Cualann model, which we support and which the local authority delivered, and which we want to do to scale using the serviced sites fund, each of those houses got between €70,000 and €80,000 of a discount for each site to allow people to be able to buy those houses for less than €200,000. We need to be honest with the public when we talk to them about what we are trying to achieve in terms of delivering more affordable homes for them.

When we talk about €320,000, we are talking about a cap. Two people earning the average wage of €40,000 can get a mortgage to buy a house at €320,000. The problem is that not enough homes are being built. We have a shortage of housing and we are playing catch-up, although we are catching up very quickly. As we build more homes in particular areas we see that it has a mitigating impact on the price of houses being sold there. If we look outside of Dublin, the greater Dublin area, Cork and Galway, 88% of homes sold in the last 12 months were sold for less than €250,000. Of course, there is a problem in Dublin and the greater Dublin area, but approximately one third of homes sold there in the last 12 months were sold for less than €250,000.

Clearly, there is a problem in terms of affordability. That is why we are bringing forward schemes like the subsidised housing scheme using the serviced sites fund and LIHAF. That is why the Land Development Agency will bring forward land that would not have been available for housing in order to deliver that land in a way that is social, subsidised and for the general public.

Credit Union Lending

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

7. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the progress that has been made on ensuring that a funding vehicle for credit unions to invest in social housing provision as committed to under Rebuilding Ireland is compatible with Central Bank of Ireland regulations in view of the fact that such a vehicle will have to be regulated by the Central Bank; if an assurance can be given that such a vehicle will be established that will facilitate credit union finance being made available to approved housing bodies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39066/18]

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

24. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the work on assisting credit unions to provide lending for the purposes of building social housing; and the reason, almost a year after the approval of such lending, no progress has been made to date on this matter. [39017/18]

Does the Minister have plans for a funding vehicle for credit unions to invest in social housing provision through, for instance, approved housing bodies in the context of the Central Bank having indicated it will allow credit unions to invest in such social housing provided the Department creates a suitable funding vehicle?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 24 together.

Following engagement with the credit union sector on proposals for credit unions to provide funding for the provision of social housing, the Central Bank undertook a review of the relevant investment framework in 2017. On foot of this review, the revised regulations commenced on 1 March 2018. The revised regulations included the addition of investment in “regulated investment vehicles where the underlying investments of the regulated investment vehicle are investments in Tier 3 Approved Housing Bodies” as a permitted investment class for credit unions. As such, since 1 March 2018, credit unions are permitted to provide funding, through a regulated investment vehicle, to tier 3 approved housing bodies for the provision of social housing.

In respect of the development of specific special purpose vehicles, SPVs, by the credit unions to enable them to make investments in the sector, it is a matter for the credit unions themselves to make the necessary arrangements to facilitate this. We had this discussion earlier. It is something we want to encourage and to see happen, and there is a process in place to make it happen. My Department informed the credit union representative bodies that it was funding a project being undertaken by the Irish Council for Social Housing to examine the establishment of SPVs to facilitate investment in the sector. The Department put the bodies in contact with the Irish Council for Social Housing with a view to those bodies examining further how they could invest in the sector. There are two different credit union bodies and we want to make sure both get equal and fair treatment. They have been asked to engage with the Irish Council for Social Housing around this SPV.

I outlined to the House earlier that there are three phases to that work, two of which are complete, and the last part will, hopefully, be completed in October but certainly in the weeks ahead. That should facilitate more investment. Again, to be clear, one approved housing body has set up a special purpose vehicle and can take money, and one of the credit union bodies is also ready to make investments.

Is the Minister of State suggesting credit unions are now able to invest in the provision of social housing through approved housing bodies? How many credit unions are now able to do that? I am sure the Department monitors this. It is a really good social development and it would be a very good provision for co-operative-type housing developments, like the Ó Cualann development, to be funded through the credit union model. How many credit unions have actually succeeded in doing this so far?

I agree with Deputy Burton it is a very good development. It is something the whole House wanted to happen and we tried to ensure it happened. My understanding is that no credit union has invested money yet.

That is the question I was asked and I am giving the Deputy the answer. Since 1 March they are allowed to do this and they have spent the year working on the process to do it. One of the credit union bodies, the Credit Union Development Association, is ready, able and available to invest money through approved housing bodies if it wants, and it has been engaged with that sector. That process is there and that is as far as we can bring it, to be honest. The sector overall is working with the Irish Council for Social Housing to develop another SPV and there will probably be a range of vehicles to facilitate different types of investment. That work should be completed in October. We are not in a position, and we are not allowed, to design that SPV for them but we are trying to encourage the process to make it happen because we would like it to happen. It will come down to approved housing bodies deciding who they want to take their money from. That is where it is at.

I completely understand it is not the Department's responsibility to create the SPVs, whether for the approved housing bodies to borrow or the credit unions to lend. However, what we are hearing from both of those sectors is they do not feel they are getting enough assistance from the Department of Finance, with its expertise in this area, and possibly from the Minister of State's Department to help them set up either one vehicle or two separate vehicles, that is, one to lend and one to borrow. I urge the Minister of State to use his good offices, along with the Department of Finance, to bring together the various players and to try to assist them in doing what we all agree on, namely, the setting up of the vehicle or vehicles to get the lending flowing.

Again, I think that is unfair criticism from the sector, in that we have engaged with them as much as we possibly can. We cannot design it for them. They are private entities. I want to be very clear on this. Our job is housing. We are not in the business of setting up special purpose vehicles. We have been trying to engage with the process and certainly through our offices, both of us, as Ministers, and our officials have met them on many occasions to try to engage with them, encourage them and put them together. One of the credit union movements is ready; it is through all of the process and has money available. I cannot be any clearer than that. The other credit union movement is engaged with a process which should be completed in October and that will enable it also. My understanding is that one approved housing body has its own SPV. People need to understand what is going on here. We brought this as far as we could possibly bring it. I would be unhappy that it took so long from the Central Bank point of view but we are not in charge of that section. It is my understanding that we cannot do any more for them at this stage.

Has the Cabinet sub-committee on this issue met? Has the Government brought together the Department of Finance, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the credit unions? To be honest, the credit unions are being treated like "pass the parcel". They are going to the Central Bank, which has given the okay after a lot of consideration, and they are going to the Department of Finance but it is telling them to go to the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. All of those offices are held by Fine Gael Ministers. Can these guys not sit down over a caffè latte or something like that and actually agree to iron it out? This is an area where they could untangle the bureaucracy in which they are buried in order that people who need housing could get it, in particular through the co-operative model. It is sad. There is €13 billion to €14 billion in credit unions at the moment, a proportion of which could be very safely invested in providing much-needed homes for people. The credit unions are a community movement. They want to do it. Can Fine Gael and the Government not facilitate this?

I understand Deputy Ó Broin does not require a supplementary question, which is helpful.

I think my colleague on my right prefers a mocha frappuccino, although they are not very common down in my area. I prefer the mocha to be straightforward. To be clear, we have sat down with them. I would point out that when we took up the brief of housing, as Fine Gael Ministers, one of the first issues was to make sure the money that credit unions have was made available, and while they would not have €13 billion or €14 billion to invest in housing, they certainly have an amount of money.

Our Departments did come together and facilitated a lot of meetings and processes.

We do not control the Central Bank. The Central Bank is not run by any Fine Gael Minister. The Central Bank has completed its work. The process is complete in terms of the work that can be done by the Departments of Finance and Housing, Planning and Local Government and by the Central Bank. It is up to the entities themselves to develop SPVs and to work with the Approved Housing Bodies, AHBs, on that. Some have been successful and are through the process and money is available to be spent today. I am trying to be very clear about that. That part is complete. The AHBs have to decide who to borrow money from and how much they will pay for that money. That is their decision. We cannot make them do it. We have encouraged them to bring forward projects. There is a pipeline of projects across many sites. Currently, there are over 1,000 sites and development projects coming forward and a large percentage of them are through AHBs. There are options there in terms of this investment happening. The Fine Gael Ministers have sat down and done their work on this and that work is complete.

Housing Agency

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

8. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government why only 529 properties out of 3,967 offered to the Housing Agency for purchase have been acquired to date; and the reason the vacant homes strategy published over the summer contains no targets or new funding allocations to ensure the maximum return to the housing stock of vacant homes across the State. [39020/18]

Rebuilding Ireland promised the delivery of 1,600 homes over a number of years through the Housing Agency's €70 million fund. It was a good initiative which Sinn Féin welcomed at the time, although we felt it was underfunded. Of the 3,967 properties offered to the Housing Agency for purchase under this fund, only 529 have actually been formally purchased which is a success rate of 15%. Is the Minister satisfied that the 3,438 homes that have not been purchased or will not be purchased were not available or appropriate for social housing? Can he confirm he has looked at the list to satisfy himself of that?

I thank the Deputy for his question. Under Rebuilding Ireland, the Housing Agency is actively engaged with banks and investment companies on its acquisitions programme. An acquisitions fund of €70 million, which is a revolving fund, has been established with the objective of acquiring some 1,600 units over the period to 2020 for social housing use. The agency also acquires units through other funds made available to it.

As of 31 August 2018, the agency had bids accepted on over 900 homes for acquisition. Contracts have been signed for 552 homes and 529 of these purchases have closed. The process of selling properties on to AHBs is underway, with 181 onward sales completed and other homes under caretaker lease arrangements with AHBs which allows upgrade works and tenanting to proceed in advance of the onward sale.

Properties offered to the Housing Agency may be rejected for a number of reasons such as the guide price being above unit cost limits, the property being a non-residential unit such as a holiday home or student accommodation, a lack of demand for a property in a particular area or an oversupply of social housing in an area already. Even when a property is considered appropriate by a local authority, a bid may still not go through because the property may be withdrawn or the bid not accepted.

The national vacant housing reuse strategy, which I published in July, acts as an overarching roadmap and a focal point for the co-ordination and implementation of initiatives right across Government to ensure that we are utilising our existing housing stock to the fullest extent possible. The aim is to return as many recoverable vacant properties as possible back to viable use and to increase the supply of sustainable housing while also revitalising the vibrancy of local communities. Several initiatives are already targeted at bringing vacant homes back into use. More recently available data and survey work suggests a much reduced vacancy level from that recorded in Census 2016. Nevertheless, work under these various initiatives will continue, in co-operation with local authorities.

I thank the Minister for his reply. There are two issues. One is the length of time it is taking to purchase these properties and get them tenanted and the other is the very significant number of properties for which bids have not been made. I did not table this question in order for the Minister to outline how the scheme works. I understand that very well and the Minister has just repeated all of the details he gave me last week in response to a parliamentary question I submitted. My question is a genuine one. There were 3,028 properties for which bids were not placed. I understand the generality of why that might be the case. I am asking whether the Minister is personally satisfied that none of those 3,028 units were appropriate or suitable for social housing. I am asking that direct question because these are turn-key properties that we know could be used for housing first clients or to get families out of emergency accommodation and a level of additional scrutiny from the Minister's office could be helpful in this regard.

I thank the Deputy for his follow-up question. I do not inspect the properties myself. I have engaged with the Housing Agency and with my officials who have been in constant engagement on this issue and am satisfied, as Minister, that everything that can be done is being done. We must recognise that this is an acquisition programme over a three year period with the aim of securing 1,600 homes. As I said earlier, bids have been accepted on more than 900 homes to date, so a huge amount of work has already been done.

I will give the Deputy a more detailed breakdown of what has happened with regard to the 3,967 homes that were offered initially. The local authorities themselves were interested in 2,742 of those homes. This figure was reduced to 2,163 when some of the homes were withdrawn by the vendors. The Housing Agency placed bids on 1,492 homes and to date, 939 of those bids have been accepted. Contracts have been signed for 552 of those bids. A final decision is awaited on a further 97 and an additional 194 were withdrawn by the vendor. When one looks at the amount of properties that were available to the Housing Agency and in which the local authorities were actually interested, the percentage secured is actually very large. A huge amount of work has been done and that work continues in terms of bidding and the negotiations that are already underway. It is a fantastic programme because it enables us to acquire homes that have already been built and to get them into use for social housing, with the co-operation of the AHBs. That work is happening.

I understand that this process takes time and that multiple agencies are involved. However, with a 15% purchase rate to date and a 30% bid rate, it seems the Department will not meet the target of 1,600 homes by 2020, although I hope it does. If Sinn Féin can assist in any way with any local authority, we will do so. Where local authorities are not expressing an interest, is the Minister satisfied that it is for legitimate reasons? Some might not express an interest for very good reasons like the property being in the wrong location but some might use spurious arguments about an already existing oversupply of social housing which may not be valid. All I am asking is that the Minister, if he has not already done so, ensures that where properties are not being pursued, it is for the right and appropriate reasons. Every one of these properties that is purchased, as the Minister knows, can potentially get a family or a single person out of emergency accommodation. In that context, greater urgency is required in ensuring that the Department meets, if not exceeds, the target of 1,600 by 2020.

We are going to meet the target of 1,600 by 2020. I am satisfied with the work that the local authorities have done in terms of making sure that these are properties that they actually want and need and that we can use, bearing in mind the criteria that must be met for social housing. If one looks at the actual offers made, the rate is almost 50%. In terms of the bids that were made by the Housing Agency, after it was satisfied that such bids should be made, 939 were successful out of 1,492, which is somewhere in the region of 70% to 75%. These bids have been accepted by the other side and we are moving to sign contracts as quickly as we can.

Solar Energy Guidelines

James Browne

Ceist:

9. Deputy James Browne asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the detail of his Department's engagement with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment concerning the introduction of planning guidelines for solar energy projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39088/18]

I ask the Minister to provide details of his Department's engagement with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment concerning the introduction of planning guidelines for solar energy projects.

As is the case with the large majority of development types, there are currently no specific planning guidelines in place in respect of solar farms. Proposals for individual solar farm developments are subject to the statutory requirements of the Planning and Development Act 2000 in the same manner as other proposed developments, with planning applications made to the relevant local planning authority and a right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála. Within the wider national and local planning context, planning authorities must make decisions based on the specific merits or otherwise of individual planning applications.

While I am satisfied that the planning code is sufficiently robust to facilitate the assessment of individual planning permission applications for solar farm developments, the matter is being kept under review, in consultation with the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, who leads on renewable energy policy. Our two Departments are exploring the potential for enhancing national planning guidance on solar energy, taking account of solar energy projects being assessed by planning authorities and the scope for future development of the sector in the context of the ongoing development of renewable energy policy. On foot of this ongoing engagement between the two Departments, where the need for specific planning guidance for solar farms is identified, my Department will develop such guidance as appropriate but that need has not been identified as it stands.

The Minister of State's last statement is absolutely bizarre. The chairman of An Bord Pleanála has sought solar energy planning guidelines and has argued that they are needed. The Minister of State has said that they are not needed but he should talk to the chairman of An Bord Pleanála. I also have an issue with the language being used by the Minister of State and his references to "solar farms". He is using the language of the large, commercial energy sector but these are not farms. The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has said that they are not farms because their owners are not entitled to claim under the basic payment scheme. The Revenue Commissioners have said that they are not farms because no farming takes place on them. Indeed, owners lose their agricultural relief if they set their farms over to solar energy projects.

The Minister of State needs to change his language. He also needs to look into this more carefully because effectively it is the Wild West out there in terms of these solar energy projects. There are no guidelines. Planners are crying out for guidelines, as are the rural communities that are being undermined by these solar energy projects. Solar energy is crucial if this country is to meet its renewable energy targets but we need proper guidelines to protect our rural communities.

Solar farms have been called for over many years. We can certainly review the terminology if that is what the Deputy wants but it is not the case that thousands of planning applications have been granted or applied for. There is a good deal of speculation about that and, as such, this area is speculation-led. The policy in this area is put in place in conjunction with the two Departments, and it is something we carefully monitor. There is not a great demand for guidelines on this issue. We will certainly give guidance to planning authorities but our planning department works with planners from every local authority on a daily basis and consults with them on these issues.

An Bord Pleanála is separate and independent from our Department. When we decide, in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment, that there is a need for planning guidelines in this area we will certainly do that, but we do not believe that need has been proven yet. These decisions are still best made locally. That is what local planners do: they make the best decision on these individual site applications as they come forward, as they do with many large-scale developments. Local council members set the planning and development guidelines in their own areas, in conjunction with national policy, and that works quite well in the majority of cases.

Local planners, An Bord Pleanála and rural communities are calling for these guidelines. How did the Minister determine that there is no need for these guidelines? Who in his Department is saying they are not required? This will have a real impact in local communities once these projects are constructed. Effectively, they are industrial projects. They take grade A arable farmland out of use. Where is the joined-up thinking in terms of our food security needs? Grade A, top-class land should not be allowed to be converted into solar projects. That land needs to be kept for its proper use in terms of farming.

In terms of speculation, in my county of Wexford, applications have been made for 400-acre farms to be turned into solar projects. There is massive controversy in the United Kingdom over huge solar projects on 200-acre farms. We are turning 400 acres of top class lands across Wexford into these solar projects. There is a desperate need for guidelines. It is probably too late for Wexford, considering the sheer volume of applications that have been submitted, but this will spread to other counties and the Minister of State needs to provide guidelines for these projects.

Under the Act, each planning authority, city or county development plan must set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area concerned. That is what local councils would do. Section 10 of the Act requires a development plan to include, inter alia, objectives for the provision or facilitation of the provision of infrastructure, including energy facilities. Many local authorities have developed renewable strategies for their areas in this context.

As with many development types for which there are no specific planning guidelines, in making decisions on planning applications for solar farms, planning authorities and the board must consider the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, having regard to the provisions of the local development plan; any submissions and observations received; and the relevant ministerial or Government policies, including any relevant guidelines issued by the Department. Planning authorities must then make their own decisions based on the specific merits or otherwise of individual planning applications.

As Ministers with responsibility for planning, our role is to ensure that a development is facilitated in a planned, sustained and considered way. Most of the policies are set by the Department of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, which determines the scale, scope and financial viability of such proposed developments.

There are not as many planning applications coming forward as the Deputy stated. There is speculation and talk about them but there are not many applications coming through yet.

They are going to An Bord Pleanála on appeal. How can the Minister of State say they do not exist?

I did not say they do not exist-----

He said "speculation", whatever that means.

Deputy Joan Collins's Question No. 10 is linked with Deputy Darragh O'Brien's Question No. 12. I call Deputy Darragh O'Brien.

Social and Affordable Housing Funding

Joan Collins

Ceist:

10. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if there have been discussions or agreement on providing capital funding from budget 2019 for a local authority and cost rental housing pilot scheme at an estate (details supplied) or other local authority cost rental housing schemes nationally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30956/18]

Darragh O'Brien

Ceist:

12. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if the pilot project cost rental scheme has gone to tender; if so, when construction will begin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38900/18]

I ask the Minister if the pilot project-----

(Interruptions).

Hold on. Lest there be any doubt, these two questions are linked. We will get there. Deputy Wallace, in fairness, has been-----

No, I have the next question. Just do not take all day.

In fairness, I think I have kept to the time, like most people, but I might not this time.

Come on. The clock is ticking.

He is delaying it now.

I will be brief but this is a very important issue. It is to ask the Minister if the pilot project on the cost rental scheme has gone to tender; if so, when construction will begin; and if he will provide an update on it. I have asked this question a number of times. I hope we will get a positive response to the effect that there is some progress this time.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 12 together.

I thank the Deputy for the question. Acknowledging that renters in Dublin and other urban centres are currently facing significant affordability challenges, this Government is committed to the introduction of an affordable, not-for-profit cost rental sector in Ireland. Together with delivering more affordable and predictable rents, cost rental will make a sustainable impact on national competitiveness and the attractiveness of our main urban centres as places to live and work.

Taking account of the expected population increase of almost 1 million extra people by 2040, we will need around 500,000 new homes over the next 20 years and the State must be proactive in identifying and delivering the types of new homes that our changing population will need. We need to offer something different to renters on moderate incomes in Dublin, who are currently facing average rents of over €1,500, and I believe the cost rental model can deliver just that. From the extensive debates on the issue in this House, I welcome the broad agreement on all sides that cost rental needs to form a significant part of our future housing system.

It is now crucial that we identify and support good projects to prove the cost rental concept in an Irish setting and to inform the development of a framework for further projects. In this regard, there are now two pilot cost rental schemes being advanced, one at Enniskerry Road, in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and one at St. Michael’s Estate, in Inchicore. It is expected that 50 affordable units and 105 social homes will be made available on the Enniskerry Road site, while the site at St. Michael's Estate can accommodate over 470 homes.  While the final tenure mix on the Inchicore lands will be decided by Dublin City Council and informed by the detailed site development process, it will likely include 140 social housing homes, with the remaining 330 homes predominantly provided by the city council under cost rental arrangements.

The Enniskerry Road project has now gone to tender and it is anticipated that, once the procurement process is completed, construction will commence in the first quarter of 2019. With regard to St. Michael's Estate, while this project is at an early stage of development, Dublin City Council has appointed a dedicated project manager and a project team to drive the project forward. In addition to pre-existing consultative arrangements, the council is also facilitating the establishment of a special Inchicore regeneration consultative forum specifically for this project.

With regard to the funding arrangements, I have made it clear that direct Exchequer funding will be provided for any social housing element of these mixed-tenure developments. My Department is engaging directly with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, as part of the budgetary process, with regard to housing funding more generally. In addition, my Department is in regular discussion with the European Investment Bank with regard to financing options for the Inchicore project and also leveraging the bank's vast experience and knowledge in developing and supporting public housing projects in other member states.

I thank the Minister. I am glad the tender has been received. The pilot project for Enniskerry Road was announced in 2015, which is more than three years ago, so it is important that we move on with it. The Minister is right, and I and many other Members believe, that the cost rental model will be part of the solution but we need to start delivering supply again in this area. The Minister will have seen the report today that average rents in Dublin are almost €1,600 per month, which is 26% above the peak in 2008. There are individuals and families across this country paying up to 55% of their net take-home pay as rental payments. The market is broken, so a cost rental scheme is an absolute must. Can the Minister expand on when the income limits will be announced? He is running a pilot scheme but that construction does not start until quarter 1, 2019. Can he announce the parameters of the scheme?

I am pleased about the decision for St. Michael's Estate, and I commend that group and the residents for the work they have done, but have any changes been made to the St. Michael's Estate plan on foot of the recent hurried discussions with the Minister's colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, in advance of Tuesday's motion? Have any concessions been given to her vis-à-vis St. Michael's Estate?

No changes have been made in terms of our ambitions for St. Michael's Estate. I can be quite clear on that. What I am not clear on is Fianna Fáil's position in the constituency in terms of supporting this project. When I launched the plan in June, the Deputy's party's representative turned up. It was the first time I ever heard her speak about it and it was in negative terms. The Deputy might clarify the position on it with his colleague.

The Minister might answer the question.

On the timeline for St. Michael's Estate, we are talking about the project team being fully in place, Part 8 planning in November 2018, project funding to go to the European Investment Bank, EIB, which has said the project is eligible, for December of this year, and construction procurement in quarter 1 of next year. We then go to expressions of interest, also in quarter 1 of 2019, with construction beginning later in the year.

When we talk about income limits around our cost rental project, what we are talking about is a reduction of the current market rent of 15% to 25%, depending on the site. The income limits will be the same as those which applied to the affordable purchase scheme, namely, €50,000 for an individual and €75,000 for a couple.

The Deputy referenced the rent index report we saw today. It is clear that people are paying too much for rent and that rents have to be better controlled. One of the positives we saw is that one in four rent agreements entered into in the last quarter was for more than 12 months. We are seeing some stability in that regard but we need to see more, and longer-term leases. That is what cost rental can deliver but other measures can deliver it as well.

We must do more to incentivise longer-term leases and improve security of tenure for tenants by way of legislation.

The residential tenancies Bill which was due to be brought forward in July of this year was delayed. Will it be put before the House this month or next? It is urgently needed. I acknowledge the budget is coming up in ten days but I ask the Minister to clarify the current status of the residential tenancies Bill.

The residential tenancies Bill is incredibly important, particularly given the data we have seen today. It will give more powers to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, and provide a rent register, more rent transparency and RTB inspections and greater security for tenants, who will be entitled to a longer notice period before having to quit their accommodation. All of those things will happen under that Bill. It was delayed in the last Oireachtas term. Deputy Darragh O'Brien may remember that there was a significant amount of filibustering of other legislation so the Bill could not be brought forward.

It underwent pre-legislative scrutiny by the joint Oireachtas committee. I have been very closely engaging with the Attorney General on the Bill in the past week and a half. There is one particular legal element which we must clarify but it is my intention to publish it in the next two weeks.

Land Development Agency

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

11. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when he expects legislation to be introduced on the Land Development Agency, LDA; the number of staff the agency currently employs; if the position of CEO of the agency was advertised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39097/18]

When does the Minister expect legislation relating to the Land Development Agency to be brought before the House? How many staff does the agency currently employ? Was the position of CEO of the agency advertised? The Minister stated that the LDA will enable the Government to address traditional volatility in land prices as a result of speculation. I ask him to outline how that will be done. Is the Government planning to bring in separate legislation to complement the LDA, such as a tax on unused land? If not, I fail to see how bundling together public land and allowing developers to build on it will address volatility and speculation.

Together with the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Donohoe, I signed the establishment order for the LDA on 13 September 2018. It will act as a new commercial State body to actively manage the development of public lands.

The establishment order is an initial and enabling measure to get the LDA up and running as quickly as possible, ahead of the provision of a more comprehensive primary legislative basis for the agency and its intended scope of powers and operations.

Work is already under way on this legislation and I expect to have the general scheme of the Bill ready for submission to the Government in early November. This will seek approval for the detailed drafting of the legislation which will then be taken forward urgently so that a Bill can be published and brought before the Houses as early as possible in the new year, with the aim of securing enactment of the legislation by Easter 2019.

The LDA has been established with three staff members initially, rising to five in the coming weeks and increasing progressively thereafter, in line with a business plan and the expansion of its development lands portfolio.

As is common in agency start-ups of this kind, I have appointed a chief executive on an interim basis. The filling of this position on a permanent basis will be subject to open competition and advertisement upon enactment of the primary legislation for the agency.

I thank the Minister for his reply. As he is aware, I believe that the LDA will hand control of the supply of housing to a few elite entities, such as developers and investors, rather than it being under the control of the Government or builders. That is not the right way to move forward.

I am mystified as to how it was decided to appoint a former NAMA chief financial officer as CEO of the LDA. What expertise does he have in residential delivery?

We are giving up public land and allowing financiers to speculate on it for profit and private builders to build on it for profit. One cannot expect that the private units in such schemes will be affordable. I have introduced legislation proposing an increase in the vacant site levy to 25% and the removal of many of the exemptions that currently apply. It is awaiting a money message from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform before Committee Stage may begin. If the Government wishes to address land volatility and speculation, it must support that Bill. Does the Minister agree with a 25% tax on landbanking?

I thank the Deputy for his reply. I will not mention any individual who does not have the right to come to the House to defend himself or herself.

The Land Development Agency is the developer. It is a public developer. It will guarantee an uplift from all the work it will put into the land in terms of preparing master plans for sites, obtaining planning permission, seeking procurement, buying sites before they are zoned for residential use and taking on board the ten to 15-year time horizon to ensure we are providing homes in the right places for the next 15 to 20 years and will avoid a crisis such as the two we experienced in the past two decades. It will take that uplift and put it back into affordability in these homes. The State will develop housing. In certain cases, it will sell land under licence. It will progress development according to a timeline and ensure that houses are built on public land for the general public. It will provide social houses, subsidised houses and other houses for the public. That is a good thing to do, in particular on very desirable sites such as that in Dundrum. Everyone should have the right to be able to buy a house on such a site and that is what we are trying to achieve with the Land Development Agency. It has not been done before.

On the vacant site levy, I more than doubled that levy when I came into office. It will be at 10% over two years and 7% every year thereafter. If the owner of a vacant site does not develop it, the levy will rise very quickly and be very punitive. Although the increase we have put in place is not yet in effect, we have seen examples of it being a factor in vacant sites being brought into delivery.

Land site cost per unit is currently increasing by approximately 25% per annum. Even if the 7% vacant site levy put forward by the Minister applied to all developers sitting on landbanks, it would not bother them. However, because of all the exemptions it contains, very few developers will have to pay it.

The Government stated that the LDA is based on best practice in European countries such as Germany. However, that is not the case. Under German planning law, the value of land is frozen when the local municipality specifies the area for residential construction. If that was done here, there would be no room for all the lobbyists who would come to the Oireachtas. Will the Government freeze the value of land when it is zoned for residential development? I will believe it when I see it.

It is incredible that the Minister states that the LDA will provide affordable housing. As he stated, 60% of those houses will be sold for private use. We will be lucky if the price of such houses starts at €320,000. For the majority of people in Ireland, that is not affordable housing. Why does the State not build those houses?

Just because we refer to an affordable scheme does not imply that the other houses sold on a site will not be affordable. It is probably more correct to say that they are subsidised housing. It depends on the location of the land brought forward for development. It is possible that none of this land would be developed for housing if we had not brought in the Land Development Agency and a requirement that other Ministers bring forward their entire portfolio of landbanks in order that we can examine them and determine the most efficient use of land. We will attempt to decant one site onto another and deliver housing where it is needed. That is what we are trying to achieve.

I am aware that Deputy Wallace has brought forward a Bill proposing a tax on vacant sites. Unfortunately, the Bill would not make it through the Houses because of several problems it contains. I more than doubled the vacant site levy when I came into office and we are seeing a positive impact from that. That levy will remain in place to ensure we get vacant sites developed. However, we also now have the Land Development Agency to potentially deliver 150,000 homes for the general public over the next 15 years on public land which might not otherwise have been developed. That is very important.

Question No. 12 answered with Question No. 10.

Housing Estates

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

13. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of progress with Irish Water in developing a policy for the taking in charge of developer-led waste water systems which is delaying the taking in charge of many housing estates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39092/18]

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

14. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of measure 2 of the new taking in charge initiative; the level of funding that will be available; when it will reopen for applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39081/18]

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

32. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the review of the Taking In Charge Initiative measure 2; when it will reopen for applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39080/18]

What progress has been made on developing a policy on the taking in charge of developer-led waste water systems which is delaying the taking in charge of many housing estates? Local authorities claim their hands are tied in terms of how they can engage on the matter but in some instances the local authority, such as that in Kildare, is spending a significant amount of money on water tankers and short-term solutions but states that it cannot spend money on remediating the overall issue.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, 14 and 32 together.

My Department launched the national taking-in-charge initiative, NTICI, in April 2016 to trial new approaches and working methods in supporting and accelerating overall national and local action on the process for taking in charge housing estates, including estates with developer-provided water services infrastructure, DPI. Under the terms of the NTICI, which was underpinned by €10 million in funding, developments subject to valid taking-in-charge applications were eligible for inclusion in the associated call for funding proposals. Ultimately, €7.5 million of the allocated funding was paid to local authorities in respect of 330 developments, affecting more than 14,000 houses.

Findings and recommendations from the NTICI process will be included in a report on the initiative that will be sent to the Minister, Deputy Murphy, and which it is intended to publish shortly. The publication of the NTICI report will be of value to local authorities such as that in Kildare and other stakeholders in applying the lessons from the pilot programme in a more general roll-out of a streamlined approach to taking in charge, including through co-ordination with capital works by Irish Water.

In addition, the national development plan includes a provision of €31 million for developer-provided water services infrastructure in the period from 2018 to 2021, demonstrating the Government's commitment to transition from the pilot phase under NTICI to a programme phase. It is hoped that that will resolve many of the issues affecting housing estates in Kildare and elsewhere.

The policy of allowing developers to develop and retain control of sewerage systems, as happened in many estates, was questionable from the start. I can offer the example of Walshestown Park in Newbridge, County Kildare. A couple of times each year residents there are subject to an overflow of the wastewater treatment system. Kildare County Council has probably spent a fortune on the tanker clean-up in the short term but when we seek funding for a long-term solution, which has been costed at approximately €250,000, the council says it does not have the funding for it because the estate is not taken in charge. There is a gap between the local authority, Irish Water and these housing estates and the residents of the estates are falling into it. I do not doubt that it will cost a substantial amount because there are many such estates. How many estates are affected around the country? This issue is affecting people in many areas and it is not a good use of our money. The problem also occurred in Oak Park in Narraghmore and was eventually resolved, but it is hard to resolve these matters without an overarching approach. I look forward to seeing what is in the new initiative when it is introduced. It is important that we deal with this properly because it is having an impact on people. It also affects the resale value of houses and the ability to get these estates taken in charge.

I have raised the taking in charge of these estates a number of times. There are housing estates scattered around the country, including Cluain na Croise in Crossbarry, where this represents their best chance of having the scheme in the estate upgraded. We have repeatedly heard this year that the report will be available soon. It is good that there is a review under way and that the report will be produced but when will the scheme reopen for new applications? Has the Minister set a date for that? He said there is approximately €31 million in funding for the new scheme. Is he satisfied that amount is adequate given that there was €10 million for the pilot scheme, which ran over two years and only served a number of counties? The new scheme will be expected to cover the country so is there adequate funding? This scheme represents the best chance for people in housing estates throughout the country to have the terrible plant at the end of the estate upgraded for once and for all.

Perhaps the Minister of State will correspond with the Deputies.

I will give a brief answer.

The Minister of State has 30 seconds.

It is fair to say that this was a bad policy and it is not one we will continue. It was introduced under a previous Government. There are more than 900 estates and it affects more than 30,000 homes. We are putting a procedure in place to correct this and we have allocated €31 million for it. It might require more money but what is needed is a process to make it happen. The policy in the past allowed this to happen, with no plan or initiative in place ever to take them over. That is what we are trying to correct and we are making good progress on it.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.