Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee Report

John Brady


45. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to designate certain areas including Bray, County Wicklow as municipal borough districts; the effect this will have for areas that are made municipal borough districts under the proposals as contained in the Local Electoral Area Boundary Committee Report 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1317/19]

I ask the Minister his plans to designate certain towns around the State as municipal borough districts. We do not know what that means. It includes eight towns throughout the State. Is this a fancy name change or are powers being designated to these new municipal borough districts, including additional funding? I would appreciate if the Minister could outline what exactly is a municipal borough district.

Section 22(a) of the Local Government Act 2001, as amended by section 19 of the Local Government Reform Act 2014, provides for the naming of municipal districts, including the naming of certain municipal districts containing the administrative areas of former boroughs.

In December 2017 the Department established two local electoral area boundary review committees. The terms of reference of committee No. 1, which dealt with Wicklow, included a requirement that "each town which was formerly a borough or the population of which within the county ... is equal to or greater than 30,000 shall be designated as a distinct Municipal Borough District".

Statutory instruments for former boroughs have now been developed to achieve this designation. While it was initially intended that towns with populations greater than 30,000 would also be designated as municipal borough districts, it is not possible to do so in the absence of an underpinning amendment to primary legislation, which will be addressed this year. Notwithstanding this, the creation of local electoral areas and municipal districts around large towns provides an urban focus and strengthens town representation at plenary level within those local authorities.

The relevant orders to give effect to the committees' recommendations will shortly be laid before the Houses. The municipal districts specified in the orders will apply to the newly formed councils after the 2019 local elections.

Basically, they mean nothing at this point. This needs to be communicated to the local authorities. I spoke to senior management in Wicklow County Council just before Christmas and it really has not got a clue as to what is going on. It saw the report last year according to which Bray was to be designated as a municipal borough district. There was no communication after that. One local authority area in Wexford, namely Wexford city, has been renamed Wexford municipal borough district, so what it appears to be is simply a name change. This comes at a cost because all the stationery and everything else will need to be changed. What the Minister of State is really saying is that there are no additional powers. Most of these towns would have been town councils prior to this, and the Minister of State knows only too well the powers that those town councils had. He needs to elaborate as to what exactly the plans are here because the local authorities have not got a clue what is going on.

The paper on municipal governance, which was proposed by the Department and agreed by the Government, is currently before the Oireachtas joint committee. I do not think it has yet had a chance to discuss it, but it goes into some of the detail to which the Deputy refers. Specifically identified is the return of some version of the old block grant that town councils used to have and which I would say was part of what the Deputy alluded to in his supplementary question. The paper also proposes that the members of the municipal borough district would be in a position to allocate these funds, which would be different from other municipal districts that do not have former town council areas contained within them.

To give the Deputy a flavour of some of the other things that are included in the paper, one of the measures that was taken on board by the boundary review committee was to ensure that urban centres would be strongly represented at full council level. The paper refers to a number of towns. One in particular on the west coast used to have a nine-seater town council and a population of over 30,000, but in the last local election only two county councillors were returned from within the town area. As a result of the redrawing of the boundary now, as well as the town and its immediate hinterland, no other rural areas are included, which will ensure that there will be seven councillors elected from that particular town to that local authority. Along with the possible return of the block grant system-----

The Minister of State has exceeded his time.

-----the other things being considered are additional reserve functions, decisions on local capital works and local disposals of property by municipal councillors from those borough districts.

That needs to be communicated to local authorities because there is real confusion out there. I and others are well aware of the changes that were put forward. For example, Bray has been split into two local electoral areas, two four-seaters, and people are aware of that. After that, however, they have not got a clue when it comes to municipal borough districts. As I said, senior management in Wicklow does not know whether it needs to go and get stationery or change the name over the door of the local authority office in Bray. These are small, simple things. The real crux of the question is when the legislation to underpin all this will come forward. Many of these towns, as I said, had previously been town councils, and with that came those additional funding streams and powers. The important thing is that people, local authorities and public representatives need to know. Can the Minister of State give a definite timeframe as to when this critical piece will be in place to give these areas, these municipal borough districts, the real teeth that, unfortunately, were taken away from them with the abolishment of town councils?

The commitment I can give the Deputy is that it is my intention to have the legislation in place before the new councils take office, which will be following the local elections at the end of next May. However, the Government is not responsible for the business of the House any more. The report to which I referred on additional powers for municipal districts across the country has been with the committee for over six months. I understand that it is the housing committee and that there are other things deemed by the membership to be more of a priority to consider, but it is my intention that the new council, once it is in place, will have the functions to which I referred in my answer.

Housing Policy

Darragh O'Brien


46. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when new rural housing guidelines will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1314/19]

The Minister of State will be aware that, following the Flemish decree of the European Court of Justice in 2013, a working group comprising senior representatives from his Department and planning authorities was established in May 2017 to review the new rural housing guidelines. At what stage is this process, and when does he expect the guidelines to be published? When they are published, will he open them for public consultation?

Under the current 2005 guidelines on sustainable rural housing, planning authorities are required to frame the planning policies in their development plans in a balanced and measured way that ensures the housing needs of rural communities are met while avoiding excessive urban-generated housing and haphazard development, particularly in those areas near cities and towns that are under extreme pressure from urban-generated development.

Following engagement between the European Commission and my Department on the European Court of Justice ruling in the "Flemish decree" case, a working group was established to review and, where necessary, recommend changes to the 2005 planning guidelines on sustainable rural housing, issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. The working group comprises senior officials from the planning division of my Department and senior officials from the planning divisions of local authorities nominated by the local government sector.

The objective is to ensure that rural housing policies and objectives contained in local authority development plans comply with the relevant provisions of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

The national planning framework, NPF, also provides an important context for the finalisation of the revisions to the 2005 rural housing guidelines. National policy objective 15 of the NPF fully supports the concept of the sustainable development of rural areas by encouraging growth and arresting decline in areas that have experienced low population growth or decline in recent decades, while simultaneously indicating the need to manage certain areas around cities and towns that are under strong urban influence and under pressure from unco-ordinated and ribbon-type development, in order to avoid overdevelopment of those areas. Accordingly, the NPF objectives are aligned with the approach already expected of planning authorities under the planning guidelines.

Taking account of the engagement with the European Commission on the matter and subject to the completion of the ongoing deliberations by the working group, I expect to be in a position shortly to finalise and issue to planning authorities revisions to the 2005 rural housing guidelines that take account of the relevant European Court of Justice judgment.

We do not envisage the need for a public consultation, at least at this moment in time, but we can certainly see what the working group concludes and have a discussion here or in committee. I do not think we will need that, though. We should be okay. We can have the conversation here or in committee-----

-----and if we feel we have to, we can do that, but I hope we will not have to go down that road.

I welcome the Minister of State's response. It has taken quite some time to get to this stage. When he says "shortly", are we looking at the next month or two? We all have different definitions of "shortly", but this has gone on for quite some time. My understanding is that the working group concluded its deliberations in September 2017, so I do not think we can make a call as to whether there would be a requirement for public consultation until we can actually see the revisions. I agree with him that the best place for them to go to first would be the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government to assess them. I cannot understand why it has taken so long. I know quite a degree of work has gone into it and that we have had to liaise with the Commission and others on this, but could the Minister of State be more specific as to when the Government intends to publish them? Will he give a commitment that they will be brought to the committee in advance of making any decision as to whether or not public consultation will be required?

The best indication I can give is that the next meeting of the working group, which will hopefully be the final meeting, is this month, a few weeks away. We should be in a position to finalise the work after that. It has taken a long time because we have engaged with the Commission on this and that can be lengthy. The working group met four times, most recently in November 2018. The first meeting was in May 2017. We will see what comes out of the final meeting this month. Then we can take it forward and I will be happy to engage with the committee on that as well because it is important to bring clarity to this. We will have to issue guidelines to local authorities to implement which should help the new development plans in the roll-out after the regional plans are put in place.

If the working group meets toward the end of January, will the Minister of State convey to it our earnest desire to have this concluded as swiftly as possible and that it would come to committee in the first quarter of this year? We all want balanced and appropriate rural development that sustains the rural community. That has to be underpinned by a rural housing policy. Should that need to be revised, which it will, the sooner it is done the better. It should also conform with national planning policy.

There is a lot of interest in this. There has been a lot of discussion about what the Flemish decree will mean for rural housing policy in all our county development plans. I ask the Minister of State to bring that message to the working group at its final meeting this month.

That message will certainly go back. We have the same message as well. We would like this finished to bring clarity to this issue. We have tried to pre-empt what might happen with our work on the national planning framework. The Deputy will see the slight change we have made in rural planning which is along the same lines. We are all very clear on this. There is often a conversation here about rural Ireland but if the Deputy looks back over recent years, quite a few one-off houses, numbering in the thousands, are developed and permitted in rural Ireland. In some areas, such as Galway, the majority are one-off houses. As a planning authority and Department, we are open to one-off housing in the appropriate setting and place. We would all agree it cannot be excessive in an unco-ordinated way in pressure zones. The Flemish decree is an interpretation of that. We have dealt with that pretty well and we will see what the working group brings forward. We will move swiftly after that to issue guidance to local authorities to enable councillors make their decisions on development plans.

Building Control Management System

Darragh O'Brien


47. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to develop supports for multi-unit developments affected by fire defects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1316/19]

I raised this question with the Minister of State in the last quarter of last year, has he advanced his plans to develop supports for multi-unit developments affected by fire safety defects and other building defects? Could he update the House on progress on that in the Department?

In general, building defects are matters for resolution between the contracting parties involved: the homeowner, the builder, the developer and-or their respective insurers, structural guarantee or warranty scheme. In the case of multi-unit developments, the legislative position is clear on where responsibilities rest. Under the Building Control Acts, 1990 to 2014, primary responsibility for compliance of works with the requirements of the building regulations rests with the owners, designers and builders of buildings.

When a building is constructed and occupied, statutory responsibility for safety is assigned by section 18(2) of the Fire Services Acts, 1981 and 2003, to the "person having control" of the building. In multi-unit developments, the "person having control" is generally the owner management company. Under the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011, the owner management company must establish a scheme for annual service charges and a sinking fund for spending on refurbishment, improvement or maintenance of a non-recurring nature of the multi-unit development.

In the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in June 2017, a task force was established to lead a reappraisal of our approach to fire safety in Ireland and recommendations arising from the report of the task force to enhance fire safety are currently being implemented. Additionally, in response to the building failures that have emerged over the past decade, my Department has advanced a robust and focused building control reform agenda. This work, including amendments to the building control regulations and the development of new legislation through the building control (construction industry register Ireland) Bill will continue to be progressed in 2019.

That is pretty much along the lines of the Minister of State's previous answer. No one is asking Government or the Exchequer to carry the can for every defective development. The majority of sinking funds held by management companies and owner management companies are wholly insufficient to deal with some of the deficiencies and defects. In many instances, builders and insurers have walked away, there is an argument and people are left in abeyance. The Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government did a good report on this, "Safe as Houses?", which contained several detailed recommendations. That gained cross-party acceptance at the committee. Is the Minister of State minded to accept any of those recommendations and move on them or is it a case of thanking the committee for doing the report and moving on?

The Apartment Owners Network has requested certain measures as well. I intend to bring forward legislation this month in respect of sinking fund provisions and giving more clarity. I hope we will be able to secure support across the House and in Government to move that forward speedily. There are deficiencies in this area. Management companies were relatively new in Ireland ten or 12 years ago. There is a lot of work to be done to bring them under control. We need to address this for the 500,000 people living in multi-unit developments, many with defects.

The Department is working on the committee’s report and other reports and the task force is working on implementing their recommendations. There is an issue around when a government intervenes. Governments have decided in some cases to intervene to support homeowners in dwellings subject to significant damage such as pyrite, and, in budget 2019, a decision was made to bring forward a scheme to help homes affected by mica-contaminated blocks in Donegal and Mayo. They have significant visible damage. If that is not addressed, it will lead to greater difficulties. In some cases, those homes have been rendered unusable. In general, while the Department has overall responsibility for establishing and maintaining an effective regulatory framework for building control and fire services, it does not have a statutory role in resolving defects in privately-owned buildings, including dwellings, nor does it have a budget for such matters. There has been a decision to intervene in some cases because properties were so badly damaged. Other recommendations need to be considered in the round.

The committee made detailed recommendations. What aspects of those recommendations would the Minister of State accept and move on? I fully appreciate that it is not up to the State to carry the can all the time. The Minister of State mentioned in response to a question on pyrite how the proposed levy at the time on the insurance and construction sectors was dispensed with. While the taxpayer will have skin in the game, so should the insurance and construction sectors because this problem will not go away. We do not want any more Priory Halls or Longboat Quays or the other cases that the Minister of State and I know about that residents do not even want to mention.

We can help owner management companies; it is not all about finance. I proposed having a regulator for owner management companies to provide proper advice because there have been many lay directors who are not necessarily legally minded or qualified to deal with detailed legislation, insurance and construction firms and they have nowhere to go. I have published a Bill which would set up a regulator in the sector. There are things we can do that will not cost us a heap of money. Will the Minister of State read the report again? I look forward to meeting him, the Minister, Deputy Murphy, and other Members regarding the sinking fund legislation that I will bring forward this month.

Standing Orders permit me to call on Members for a short supplementary question. I call on Deputy Ó Broin and then Deputy Durkan.

There are thousands of families who bought properties before 2014 that have substantial latent defects, including fire safety issues and water ingress. The State is partly responsible for this. The non-existent regulatory regime allowed unscrupulous builders, developers or architects to build those homes.

We asked in the "Safe as Houses?" report by the Oireachtas committee for the Minister of State to look at the issue and, in the first instance, try to design a non-judicial latent defects resolution process so people are not forced to spend money they do not have to go to court or to chase builders who are no longer solvent. Second, we asked that some funds be put into a latent defects resolution fund that could be matched by industry or others to try to deal with the issue. The problem will grow. It is disappointing for the Minister of State to say it is just a matter between the homeowner and the person who sold him or her the house. I also think it is wrong to say the Minister of State has been looking at the issue when I am not aware of any work in the Department looking at any of the recommendations relating to latent defects in the "Safe as Houses?" report. I urge the Minister of State to give a commitment to at least look at it, develop a non-judicial process to resolve it and to assist with financing, where appropriate, where developers are no longer trading and cannot be pursued through that process, possibly with a fund that is matched euro-for-euro with industry contributions.

Does the Minister of State accept the idea that the consumer is the person who must be protected both on health and safety grounds and in terms of liability for defects? In that context, we should consider quality assurance and a stamp of approval issued by the local authorities, the Department or somebody which can be stood over so the people responsible for approving the poor standards, or whatever the case may be, are held accountable. It will bring to a conclusion the idea of presuming to be able to escape from responsibility and somebody else will handle it. Like Deputy Darragh O'Brien, I agree the State cannot pick up the tab for everybody who wants to build a substandard house and run away from it afterwards.

The most important thing is to clarify that when Fine Gael came to Government, the first opportunity it got it brought in the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014. It should have been done many years before that but it was done by the Fine Gael Government in conjunction with the Labour Party because we recognised the importance of addressing the unacceptable situation of building failures in the past, which were allowed to happen by what I would call lax regulation. We stepped in and changed that. We have a lot more confidence in the building sector going forward and in what is being produced today and with regard to people's protections when they buy and build properties. The owner is also part of that conversation. They have to assign competent persons to design, build, inspect and certify the building and the works thereafter, both in a one-off house where there is the option to opt out of that, which is not an option people should take. We have addressed it and rightly so and it is a pity it was not done well before that. It has certainly been done now. We have other legislation coming forward on the Construction Industry Register Ireland, CIRI, which is to recognise the construction industry and the number of people who want to develop a proper culture of top-class construction and a high-quality certification process. I am glad that over 800 companies have voluntarily gotten involved in it and many more will come through it too.

The Department takes all committee reports very seriously and has certainly taken that one very seriously. It has been working through its recommendations. It is still working on it. Both the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and I have engaged with the committee on those recommendations. We will continue that work. We will also work with the committee on this area. They are privately owned properties. With regard to management companies, the Department of Justice and Equality is also involved in it. It is ongoing work. Perhaps it is a conversation we could continue on Committee Stage. That is where it stands at present.

Rent Pressure Zones

Jan O'Sullivan


48. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if the cities of Limerick and Waterford will be included in the rent pressure zones in view of the rate of increase in private rents in both cities over the past year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54554/18]

I raise the exclusion of the cities of Limerick and Waterford from rent pressure zones as a result of the formula used. It is over two years since the legislation passed that set up the system of identifying areas that qualify as rent pressure zones. In the past year, whether one looks at the daft.ie or RTB rent indices, Limerick city has had the highest rent increases of any city in the country. They are way higher than Cork and Galway, for example. Will the Minister take action to ensure Limerick and Waterford can be included in rent pressure zones?

Section 24A of the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, as amended, provides that the Housing Agency, in consultation with housing authorities, may make a proposal to the Minister that an area should be considered as a rent pressure zone. Following receipt of such a proposal, the Minister requests the director of the RTB to conduct an assessment of the area to establish whether or not it meets the criteria for designation and to report to the Minister on whether the area should be designated as a rent pressure zone. For the purpose of the Act, "area" is defined as either the administrative area of a housing authority or a local electoral area within the meaning of section 2 of the Local Government Act 2001.

For an area to be designated as a rent pressure zone, it must satisfy the following criteria set out in the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016: the annual rate of rent inflation in the area must have been 7% or more in four of the last six quarters and the average rent for tenancies registered in the area with the RTB in the last quarter must be above the average national rent. The most recent average national rent available for this purpose is taken from the third quarter of the 2018 RTB rent index report which records an average national rent of €1,122. Local electoral areas in Limerick and Waterford cities do not currently fulfil the rent pressure zone designation criteria under the legislation. The Housing Agency will continue to monitor the rental market and may recommend further areas for designation. Where, following the procedures set out in the Act, it is found at a future date that additional areas meet the criteria, they will be designated as rent pressure zones.

I want to pursue the detail of this. If one looks at the rent index published by the RTB in December, just before Christmas, Limerick city west and Limerick city east both have average rents of over €1,000. In the case of Limerick city east, it is €1,103.57. The national average is €1,122. They both meet the criteria for the number of quarterly increases of over 7%, which is required under the legislation. They are almost there in both cases. Both of those local electoral areas include rural areas which have low rents. As I understand it, the Minister can make regulations that would use electoral districts rather than local electoral areas to determine inclusion in rent pressure zones. I ask the Minister to look at it. I took two of the three Limerick city local electoral areas, both of which have very high rents in places like Dooradoyle and Castletroy. They are areas where rents are very high, where there are quite a large number of rental properties and people are under huge pressure. If the formula was applied to the district rather than the local electoral area then those areas would qualify because the rents are higher than the national average and they have more than reached the 7% increases in four of the last six quarters. After two years of this legislation, I ask the Minister to review the process so renters in Limerick can have the pressure taken off them.

I note the positive, which is an acknowledgment by the Deputy that rent pressure zones are working, hence the request that additional areas be included in them.

There were some qualifications to it.

Why would the Deputy want them to be in rent pressure zones if she did not think rent pressure zones were working? That is the logic of the request. In quarter three we saw a difference between existing tenancies and new tenancies which showed that further work may be required on rent pressure zones. The picture is not necessarily consistent within rent pressure zones. The Deputy is right to point to Limerick. Unfortunately the legislation does not allow for rents that are almost there as it is currently drafted. When one looks at Limerick and the data from quarter three of 2018, we see that in five quarters out of the previous six Limerick city west and Limerick city east recorded an increase of more than 7% but Limerick city north did not, with lower rents there. We saw a similar picture in Waterford in that not all parts of the city recorded increases in four quarters out of the previous six to allow them to be designated under either of the criteria let alone be designated under one of them. We are seeing significant rent pressures in areas like Limerick that are outside of rent pressure zones but the legislation as drafted does not allow for me, the Housing Agency or local authorities to take a different approach.

Will the Minister either change the legislation, which would be a very small change, or introduce regulation under the legislation? It is not fair. If one looks at the areas in Dublin, by and large an urban area is an urban area. A local electoral area is either rural or urban but if one looks at a place like Limerick or Waterford, both have extensive rural parts of their counties included in the local electoral areas we are talking about. It means renters in the urban parts of those local electoral areas have to put up with really high rent increases that are causing homelessness. The Minister needs to look at it.

I remember the Minister's predecessor stating that he expected parts of Limerick to be included in the rent pressure zones very quickly. There is clearly a need to look at this again. We passed this legislation at some ungodly hour of the night in December 2016.

Deputy Kelly was Minister at the time.

We argued over the formula and had to amend it because it was wrong. It is now determining that people are not protected from rent hikes. I ask the Minister to look at it again.

We have to be very careful about our approach in this regard. One of my predecessors gave a signal to the market that he was going to do something about rents. It did not happen but during, I suppose, what one might call the period of dithering, rents increased quite dramatically to the detriment of tenants. What we have are rent pressure zones that were brought in under legislation. We cannot take an "almost there" approach; we have to follow the law as it is drafted. Rent pressure zones are still new in the scheme of things but have been shown to work in those areas where they are being implemented for existing tenancies. We have to be very careful of all the data we receive from the RTB, including the data that tell us we are losing landlords. Since 2015, we have lost over 1,500 landlords. Some of them own more than one property, which means even more tenancies than that have been affected. In everything we do, we have to make sure we are protecting the tenant as best we can. We are not protecting a tenant if we are bringing in measures that are forcing landlords out of the market. That would be making the situation worse.

I am not asking the Minister to do that; I am asking him to be fair.

We have to be careful how we consider matters. We have to ensure that everything we do is based on sufficient data in order that we might be sure our actions are in the best interests of all those experiencing housing pressures at the moment.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Bernard Durkan


49. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of direct-build local authority houses envisaged for completion, ready for occupation or both in 2019, excluding those that will be built by approved housing bodies; his plans to utilise public or private lands for the provision of sufficient housing starts by the local authorities with a view to ensuring that the annual increase and requirement for such housing is being adequately met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [1421/19]

This question seeks to ascertain the precise extent to which it is expected to have available a specific number of local authority houses. I refer to local authority houses only. This is to determine the degree to which the waiting lists can be reduced and the extent to which the market is moving, growing or fluctuating on an annual basis.

The implementation of the Government's Rebuilding Ireland plan is well under way and significant progress is being made. In particular, the social housing construction programme has expanded significantly, comprising over 17,500 homes at the end of the third quarter of 2018, over 40% up on the position at the end of the third quarter of 2017. While final 2018 delivery data are not yet available, I am satisfied that further substantial progress was made on the social housing build programme last year.

I am determined to keep this momentum going across all areas of social housing delivery in 2019, including local authority builds, approved housing body builds and new homes secured through Part V delivery. Over 6,200 new-build social homes are targeted for delivery this year. The latter is 40% higher than the corresponding target for 2018. Specifically, local authorities will contract for the delivery of over 3,000 of these newly constructed social homes, while approximately 600 more are expected to be added to the stock of local authorities through Part V construction.

The Rebuilding Ireland land map shows that a significant quantum of land is available to local authorities to support social housing delivery, although the position in individual authority areas varies significantly. My Department engages closely with local authorities on opportunities to acquire additional lands. In addition, turnkey developments and delivery through Part V provide opportunities to secure new-build social housing in areas where local authority access to land is constrained. The work of the newly established Land Development Agency will also be important in harnessing public lands for housing development.

Is due cognisance being taken of the fact that when a private sector company builds houses for letting or reletting, it has to make a profit? This increases the rent chargeable to the tenant and, as a result, makes the economy less competitive because it is costing more. Is it recognised that it is necessary to provide local authority direct-build houses in the shortest possible time in order to ensure that fewer players are involved in the production of the houses? A contract could be given to the private sector to build a specific number of houses within a specified period. This would contribute quite substantially to the future competitiveness of the economy.

The Deputy is absolutely correct in terms of that approach. Under Rebuilding Ireland, the Government has taken the view that the State needs to be directly involved in the building of houses. In the context of social housing units, the first priority was to get that stream under development. Then we want to see things like cost rental and we have the affordable schemes under way as well. At the same time, we are ensuring that construction is increasing throughout the country. There is no point talking about the price of a home if homes are not actually being built. That is why this year, the stock of social housing will increase by 10,000 homes, the majority of which will be directly built by local authorities either working with housing bodies or contracting directly with builders. Over 3,000 of these will be local authorities contracting with builders to build social housing homes on their own land or, when they do not have access to land but it is in the right area, to do turnkeys. By "turnkey", I refer to a process, where the land is there and we know we need social housing, even before planning has been granted, of engaging with a developer to build on that site. Some 10,000 new homes will come into the stock of social housing. When we have the data for 2018, we will see that between one in four and one in five homes that were newly built in that year will be social housing homes, as the Taoiseach pointed out earlier. That has not happened in this country for a very long time. It will continue this year and into next year.

That is why we have a problem; it did not happen for a very long time but it needs to happen now. I acknowledge what the Minister is saying and hope that it progresses satisfactorily. There have been more than 100,000 people on local authority waiting lists for as long as I can remember and only when the economy goes down does that figure go down. In the current economic climate, is due regard being taken of the need to provide for a sufficient number of direct-build local authority houses? They should be provided in such as way as puts them beyond the need for anybody to have an ongoing profit or whatever. This would create stability among a certain cohort who are looking forward to that kind of alleviation.

The Deputy is absolutely right to raise the prospect of future shocks to the economy or what might happen to the construction of social housing units during a downturn. One of the things we have tried to do and have done successfully in Rebuilding Ireland is to ensure that, regardless of what happens to the economy in the future - for example, if there is a slowdown in growth or if something else happens - the State will always be providing public housing. We have the different streams of delivery so that if, for example, an approved housing body gets into difficulty and can no longer provide social housing homes, the slack can be taken up by another approved housing body, a local authority or by way of Part V. There will always be social housing homes being built regardless of what is happening in the wider economy. We did not have that with the crash, not just because our construction industry fell apart but also because at that time social housing output was almost exclusively outsourced to the private sector. When the private sector collapsed, with it came the collapse of social housing.

What we are doing differently now is seeking to make sure that regardless of what is happening, social housing is always being done. We have the provision of ring-fenced funding for the first time under Rebuilding Ireland, which had not happened before with the housing programme. This year, we will spend more money on housing in general than has ever been spent previously in the history of the State. With things like cost-rental, by actually getting those models up and working and financed by bodies like the European Investment Bank with super-low finance, we will be able to ensure that a much bigger section of housing that is being delivered to rent is being delivered for cost rental, not for the profit but actually to deliver sustainable housing solutions using public land. That is one of the things the Land Development Agency will be doing as well.

Questions Nos. 50 and 51 replied to with Written Answers.

Regeneration Projects Funding

Jan O'Sullivan


52. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the amount spent under the national regeneration budget for 2018; the allocations for each local authority that has a regeneration programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54557/18]

This is to ask the Minister about the amount spent under the national regeneration budget for 2018 and the allocations for the different areas that have regeneration schemes.

The Department supports a programme of large-scale regeneration projects in Dublin, Cork and Limerick and smaller projects in Tralee, Sligo and Dundalk. In 2018, a total spend of €68 million in funding was provided under this programme. The specific amounts provided to the relevant local authorities were: Cork City Council, €4.4 million; Dublin City Council, €17.8 million; Kerry County Council, €3.4 million; Limerick City and County Council, €40.8 million; and Sligo County Council, €1.5 million.

Over the lifetime of Rebuilding Ireland, some €211 million is being made available under the national regeneration programme to support the direct delivery of over 1,000 new social housing homes. Together with providing a significant number of new homes, the projects seek also to address the causes of disadvantage in these communities through a holistic programme of physical, social and economic regeneration. Projects being funded under the programme target the country’s most disadvantaged communities, including those defined by the most extreme social exclusion and high unemployment.

Taking account of that, social regeneration activities in the areas are also funded by my Department for the duration of each regeneration project.

In addition, the projects harness the input of key community groups helping to rebuild communities and strengthen community bonds. I have met some of them throughout the country and certainly in Limerick with the Deputy. The groups driving these projects represent a great addition to the work we are trying to do there.

By adopting this holistic approach, the aim is to ensure that each regeneration project is successful and sustainable in the long term. A good example of what is being achieved in this regard is evident in the Deputy's constituency, which the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and I have seen at first hand during our visits to some of the high quality housing projects undertaken as part of the Limerick regeneration programme in recent years.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer. I welcome the continuing significant budget for regeneration. In my constituency of Limerick City I have seen the positive fruits of that. The Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, both visited the projects that had been completed.

Is it intended to start any new regeneration programmes or will we just see out the existing ones? For social and economic regeneration it is important to see out the existing ones. We have seen a considerable amount of physical activity, but considerable economic disadvantage remains in regeneration areas, not just in Limerick but also in other parts of the country. Is that monitored and is work continuing in providing opportunities for economic activity in the regeneration areas?

In 2019 nearly €72 million will be spent on existing regeneration programmes. There will be more schemes under the urban regeneration fund to enhance that work and to continue with that even in the years beyond the scope of Rebuilding Ireland because the work we are doing is essential.

The 50 projects that will bring forward the 1,000 new houses as well as the retrofit of other houses are monitored and checked on a weekly basis. The Deputy can also check that online. I believe three or four projects in Limerick are due to start this year and to be completed in 2020 and 2021.

The Deputy is right in saying that it is not just about construction and housing. It is about bringing in new skills, new enterprise opportunities and new job opportunities. There is investment in market-led skills training, in community and social enterprises and in strategic projects, resulting in more than 300 jobs mainly, I think, in Limerick.

The hospitality education and training centre in Roxboro has 250 people progressing from work training into employment. The Deputy would have been involved in that in her time as Minister for Education and Skills. We are trying to encourage more of that.

In Limerick the two key acquisitions of the former Biblical Centre and the opera site have the potential to deliver significant employment opportunities in the future. Their vision is that the redevelopment of strategic sites such as the opera site will facilitate the economic, social and physical regeneration of the city. To this end Limerick City and County Council secured loans of €85 million from the European Investment bank and €85 million from the Council of Europe Development Bank to redevelop the site which was purchased in 2012 for €12.5 million. The adjacent granary building was purchased in 2012 for €3.5 million. It is hoped that these will provide significant opportunity for training and education, but will also create significant jobs and benefit the area.

That is ongoing work as part of the regeneration. While local authorities are driving this regeneration, it is important that every other Department also gets behind it along with the local groups across the sectors. On the basis of my visits to these projects my sense is that that is happening. We want to continue with that work. Housing is only one part of it. Having the physical infrastructure right is very important to drive the regeneration. That is what we are trying to do through the Department's budget.

Most people will know of South Hill and Moyross. While there has been considerable construction in both of those areas, populations have moved. For example, in South Hill, which the Minister of State visited, there are significant housing and other developments at the bottom of the hill. As an area has been cleared, I want to be sure the project will continue to conclusion so that the areas that are now open space will be used for productive purposes to ensure the entire community can benefit from the completion of the regeneration.

I do not have the full details here. Our work in that area is governed by the master plan, which we have been following. More than €360 million has been spent in Limerick over the past six or seven years. We are also absolutely committed to that. Apart from the new homes being delivered, 783 homes have been upgraded. Naturally people are moved. I recently visited a project which is an excellent example of accommodation for older people. Some residents had moved - I do not know if it was up the hill or down the hill - and were very happy with their new homes. It is a great experience to meet them. We are absolutely committed to continuing the work there. We will follow through on that master plan as the best way to do it. About five projects in Limerick are due to start over 2019 and 2020. I presume there are more to come, but those are the ones I have seen in the pipeline of projects which I would be happy to share with the Deputy at some stage. It is also available on the Department's website.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.