Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 6 Mar 2019

Vote 34 - Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (Revised)

We are in public session At the request of the broadcasting and recording services, members and visitors in the Public Gallery are requested to ensure that mobile phones are turned off or switched to flight mode for the duration of the meeting. The first item on the agenda is consideration of Revised Estimates for public services 2019 for Vote 16, the Valuation Office, and Vote 23, the Property Registration Authority; and consideration of further Revised Estimates for public services 2019, Vote 34, Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. On 20 February 2019, the Dáil ordered that the above-named Revised Estimates be referred to this committee for consideration.

I welcome the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Ministers of State, Deputies English and Phelan, and their Department officials. As we agreed in private session, we will begin with Vote 34 and then move to Vote 16 and Vote 23. For Vote 34, I will call out the programme and invite questions under that programme. Members will be called in the order in which they indicate.

Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I invite the Minister to make his opening statement.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss with the committee my Department’s Estimate for 2019, as well as the Votes for the Valuation Office and the Property Registration Authority, which are also under the aegis of my Department. I am accompanied by the Ministers of State, Deputies Damien English and John Paul Phelan, who will deal with their delegated areas of responsibility. To assist the committee, we have provided a briefing note on the Department’s funding for 2019, as well as other key performance information.

Turning first to Vote 34, the Estimate before the committee sets out my Department’s budget for this year. Gross expenditure of almost €4 billion is budgeted for my Department. This represents an increase of over €600 million or 18% on the provision in 2018. The gross provision for 2019 is made up of €1.874 billion in current spending and €2.124 billion on the capital side. In addition, my Department’s programmes will benefit in 2019 from resources of some €646 million that will be available from the Local Government Fund.

I will turn first to the largest single programme, housing. This year, in the interests of presenting information in a more user-friendly format, we have expanded the number of subheads from ten in previous years to 25 in 2019. With the growth in the range of housing measures in the context of Rebuilding Ireland, it was getting increasingly difficult for people to see on the face of the Estimate the specific provisions that were of interest to them. We have more than doubled the number of housing subheads in the Estimate to cover as far as possible the full range of programmes and we have provided the comparable data for 2018.

Turning to the actual financial provisions, more than €2.3 billion is being made available in the Vote for housing programmes this year, an increase of more than €350 million on the 2018 Estimate. In addition, local authorities will fund a range of housing services to the value of €93 million from local property tax, LPT, receipts that exceed their LPT funding baseline, bringing the total housing provision to almost €2.4 billion. This investment will see the housing needs of almost 27,400 households being met this year. Of these households and housing supports, 10,000 will be new social housing homes delivered through build, acquisition and long-term leasing programmes. The remaining supports will be delivered through HAP and RAS schemes.

A critical focus of 2019 activity is on prevention of, and delivery of services for, homelessness, and an allocation of €146 million, which is up €30 million on 2018, will address the increased demand for emergency homeless services and also assist in supporting homeless households with long-term and sustainable housing solutions. In 2019, it is envisaged that in excess of 5,000 adults will exit from homelessness into sustainable tenancies through the provision of social housing homes and HAP. Housing First will continue to be rolled out, targeted at rough sleepers, and funding will also be provided to support the further roll-out of the family hub programme. Other important housing supports and services that will be funded through the increased resources in the Estimate in 2019 include €13 million in capital funding to support a range of Traveller-specific accommodation schemes, which is up €1 million on last year; €23 million to support the continuation of the mortgage to rent schemes and allow for some 560 households to be supported under the schemes, which is also up €1 million on last year; almost €72 million, up €11 million on 2018, towards supporting the national regeneration programme targeting some of the country’s most disadvantaged communities; €25 million will improve up to 3,000 social housing homes through the energy efficiency programme; €57 million, up €4 million on 2018, will be provided for home adaptations to be undertaken, facilitating people with disabilities and older people to continue to live in their own homes; €32 million, up €2 million on last year, is being provided to fund the remediation of a further 460 houses affected by pyrite; €10 million, up €2.8 million on last year, is being provided to meet the operational costs of the Housing Agency and support the agency in its expanded role in the delivery of housing services and supports; and €12.5 million, up €4.6 million on last year, will support the expanded role and functions of the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, and also accelerate the rental inspections programme by local authorities.

Budget 2019 provided for a trebling of the serviced sites fund to €310 million over the period to 2021, meaning that the minimum number of serviced site fund homes that will be facilitated over the lifetime of the fund will be more than 6,000. The 2019 contribution to this amounts to €89 million. The Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund, LIHAF, will be supported by an allocation of €41 million in 2019. This will go towards 30 key public infrastructure projects, such as roads and bridges, which will unlock land for housing development that would otherwise remain stagnant.

The costs of normal domestic water services provided by Irish Water now fall to be met by the Exchequer from the Vote of the Department, rather than through a combination of current funding from the Local Government Fund and a capital contribution from the Minister for Finance, as was previously the case. In 2019, more than €1.2 billion - €562 million on the current side and €646 million on the capital side - is included in programme B of the Estimate for meeting Irish Water's costs in respect of domestic water services and providing a capital contribution towards investment. This includes an increase of €146 million for vital accelerated capital investment in water and wastewater services, as planned for under Project Ireland 2040. The group water sector continues to be an important element of the water industry in Ireland. As a reflection of this, a provision of €23 million is made in 2019 for capital spending under the rural water programme, through which funding is provided for group water schemes. This marks an increase of €3 million on the 2018 Estimate.

Following changes in recent years, principally involving motor tax receipts now going directly to the Exchequer and Irish Water being funded directly through the Department’s Vote, the Local Government Fund has returned more fully to its original purpose of funding local authorities, without the circular flows of funds that had built up over the years. In 2019, income sources into the fund are estimated to be local property tax of €470 million and a payment from the Vote of €185 million. The latter sum represents an increase of €60 million on 2018. My Department will make payments estimated at €646 million from the fund in 2019. Local property tax payments to local authorities of €503 million will account for most of this. In the local government area, capital investment in fire and emergency services in 2019 will amount to €11.2 million, which represents an increase of nearly €2 million on the 2018 Estimate. This will allow greater progress on our programme for the construction and upgrading of fire stations, the procurement of fire appliances and other essential specialised equipment and the provision of enhanced communication facilities.

In the planning area, €58 million in capital funding is being provided as the initial tranche of the new €2 billion urban regeneration and development fund, which has been established under Project Ireland 2040. The aim of this fund is to transform our cities and towns and help to achieve sustainable growth in these areas. The provision of €58 million for the fund takes account of the fact that among the measures the Government has identified to help to meet the increased costs in 2019 of the national children's hospital is an updated profiling of expenditure under the fund, which has indicated that €139 million of drawdown could be re-profiled from 2019 to 2020 without causing delays to projects. More than €20 million has also been allocated to resource the start-up of the Land Development Agency in 2019. A further €2.4 million is provided to meet the operating costs of the new Office of the Planning Regulator. Further areas of expenditure set out in the 2019 Estimate include meeting the capital and current costs of An Bord Pleanála, at €18.5 million, and Met Éireann, at €30.4 million.

In 2017, the Government decided to assign to my Department responsibility for Ordnance Survey Ireland, the Valuation Office and the Property Registration Authority. A provision of €15.8 million is made in Vote 34 for Ordnance Survey Ireland. The other two organisations have separate Votes, amounting to €14 million for the Valuation Office and €31 million for the Property Registration Authority. These bodies are to merge to form Tailte Éireann and work is proceeding in my Department on this important project. I have kept my remarks as brief as possible. I have focused on some but by no means all spending areas to allow for a full discussion on the programmes and funding of my Department and related organisations this year. The Ministers of State and I will be happy to deal with matters that members wish to raise.

We will first take questions about programme A - housing.

I ask the Minister to tell us in plain English what the €13 million re-profiling means. The document does not make clear what exact areas are being cut from and what will be delayed until the following year as a result. While I welcome the additional funding for pyrite works, provision does not seem to have been made for additional funding for pyrite and mica works in counties Donegal and Mayo. I know the Cabinet has approved a scheme in principle and the Minister is working on the details of it. Is the absence of anything in the Estimates for such a scheme an indication that people will not be able to access finance under it until next year, or could that change during the year?

There was an underspend of almost 50% in Traveller accommodation last year. More than €5 million was not spent and it was the same the year before. What happened to that money? What happened specifically to the more than €5 million that was not spent on Traveller accommodation? Was it spent on something else last year? Has it been rolled into the overall allocation for Traveller accommodation this year?

What will the increased allocation for the Residential Tenancies Board fund? We are supportive of the new regulations that the Minister is proposing to introduce. We know from talking to Ms Rosalind Carroll and her staff that there will be a significant additional administrative burden. Can the Minister outline what the extra €10 million will translate to?

I ask the Minister to point to where this part of the Estimates provides for additional resourcing for local authority staff in housing and planning departments. Recently, there have been some media reports - I have no idea how accurate they are - about the amount that Dublin City Council may need to ensure there is proper enforcement of the new short-term letting regulations. Is that extra money in the Local Government Fund? Where is this provision being made? Perhaps the Minister will comment in detail about the extra provision Dublin city is getting, given that it will have the greatest administrative burden as a result of the short-term lettings regulations.

Before I ask my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy English, to answer the Deputy's questions about Traveller accommodation, I will answer his question about the €13 million re-profiling from the urban regeneration and development fund. The Deputy will recall that we made the first allocations under the fund last year. We approved applications worth €100 million under the first tranche of the €2 billion. There were two streams, A and B. Stream A involved projects that were basically shovel-ready and ready to go on-site. We would have assumed from the applications that stream B involved smaller parcels of money because people were being allowed to design projects or put together a case for what would become paid funding for projects in their towns. We approved €100 million. Funding worth €100 million was successfully approved. We worked with the local authorities to look at the numbers for what might be drawn down. The team in the Department administering the fund engaged with each local authority that was successful in securing funding under streams A and B to see how to get this off the ground and to look at what needs to be done next. A little more explanation was needed in the case of stream B projects. Some projects that were not successful under stream A or stream B are now in stream C. In the course of that engagement, they became aware that not all of the €100 million that had been approved was going to be drawn down. We think that approximately €58 million will be drawn down in the course of 2019. That allows for €13 million to be allocated to meet the cost of the children's hospital. As that money is not being drawn down this year, it will not delay any projects. An additional €13 million will be provided next year to make sure the fund has all the money that was committed to it.

Was it expected prior to the re-profiling that the projects in streams B and C would have happened, even if they would have taken longer than the projects in stream A?

I suppose I can say that there is no delay for any of the projects from a funding point of view. It is true that not unlike LIHAF, approval is given in the first year but the money is not drawn down until the second year, or at least a significant amount of it might not be drawn down until the work commences. As some of the projects in stream A are quite substantial, more needs to be done on the preparation side than might have been envisaged. Some of the projects in stream B were potential stream A projects until we realised that with a little more work, they could be great. They will not necessarily draw down funding. There are no delays to any projects.

The re-profiled money will come back to us next year. The €100 million is solid. I know we are discussing this under the Estimates, but we will probably get back to it when we review Rebuilding Ireland a little later. My intention is to open another round of funding as soon as we have engaged every local authority that was successful in the first round of funding. That is when we will announce more money. This €2 billion is solid there.

I have met people from counties Donegal and Mayo who are affected by the mica issue. They have been marching the long yards. They have been incredibly patient with the Government under very difficult circumstances. I am grateful for the work of colleagues across the House. I have been working more closely on this issue with the Minister, Deputy McHugh, and Senator Mulherin than with some others. They have been working with the Minister of State, Deputy English. At budget time, I was able to agree with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the rest of our Cabinet colleagues that there would be a scheme and that it would open this year. We are very close to finalising what that scheme will be. When I say "close", I mean weeks. A couple of previous delays meant that the memorandum could not get on the Cabinet agenda. Then a few more ideas came to the table. Money has notionally been allocated. As we have said previously, money will be made available this year. My officials and I will have to see where we can make it available from. On the basis of an initial estimate, we believe we can and will make money available. At the moment, the Department is trying to finalise the details of the scheme, how it is applied, who gets access and what the liability will be beyond 2019 in terms of the money available each year after this year.

I could ask the Minister to give me an indication of what the amount might be this year, but I presume he will not do that until he announces the scheme. If he is in a position to give us some information about it, that would be useful.

More important, can the Minister confirm that it will include the mica block housing affected in Donegal and the pyrite housing affected in Mayo? That is my understanding, but I do not want there to be ambiguity.

I can answer any question the Deputy asks me, but whether he likes the answer is a different matter. To protect the integrity of the process, I am afraid I cannot discuss numbers. However, I can confirm the Donegal and Mayo elements as per the Deputy's question. People have done a lot of good work on this and we want to get it done.

I appreciate that.

We will get it done soon.

We have all had engagements with the RTB. It is doing a fantastic job in a difficult environment, given what is happening for renters and landlords. One of the first things that I wanted to do on foot of meeting the RTB when I first entered office was to help put in place a change management programme for the organisation to ensure that it had the powers and funding necessary to become an independent regulator for the sector and a robust defender of the rights of both sides of the equation. That is where we are going. We intend the 2019 increase in moneys to support the €7 million in non-pay costs reflecting the expansion of the RTB's core functions that we have outlined and the forthcoming changes to the rent pressure zones, and to resource the additional powers and functions that will be rolled out for the RTB under the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018, which the House discussed recently and will be on Committee Stage soon. The RTB will also be able to initiate complaints and then investigate them. We are moving towards the annual registration of tenancies. The RTB continues to develop a new IT system, which will help in acquiring better and more granular data on what is happening in the rental sector ahead of moving towards rent registers and rent transparency. The money will go into those different strands, which we developed over the course of 2018.

Since the first housing summit, we have told local authorities that, if they want to hire additional staff for housing functions, we would provide that funding. The short answer to the Deputy's question is that it will be provided through a number of streams. If I remember correctly, each of the vacant housing officer posts in the 31 local authorities costs approximately €50,000. Those moneys will be provided through the subhead in question as opposed to through a separate stream.

Regarding the funding allocation to Dublin City Council for short-term letting, officials are continuing their engagement on the resource requirements. The council has an idea as to how it wants to approach this and I have an idea as to how I want to approach it. Both sides have different demands, but the money is not so much that, if we needed extra, we could not repurpose it from somewhere else. We are not discussing the €13 million of the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF. As far as I am concerned, funding will not be an obstacle.

The Minister of State, Deputy English, will address the question of Traveller accommodation.

I thank the Minister.

The short answer is that the money is absorbed into the overall housing budget. Naturally, though, it is more focused. The expert panel is due to report in April. It is on track to do that. This committee has worked on the issue as well. We hope to increase capital spending on Traveller-specific accommodation. When we fund general accommodation, that is available to Traveller families as well. It is not being spent directly where we would like it to be, but it is still being spent on housing. Current spending has increased from €4.7 million to €5.3 million. That increase has generally been on social workers working with Traveller families to help them to access non-Traveller-specific accommodation. There is increased activity in that regard. The money is being absorbed by housing. Naturally, however, the desire of everyone present is that we increase spending on capital projects, which I hope will be the case from this year on.

I will ask a quick supplementary on that matter. It is not a criticism of the Department, but a concern that some of us have is that too little of the capital funding for Traveller accommodation is being spent on new units for new households and too much is being spent on refurbishments. I am not against the refurbishments but, unlike standard social housing where there is a capital budget to build or buy new units and a separate refurbishment budget, the distinction is less clear in respect of Traveller accommodation. Is it possible to supply us with a breakdown of what goes into refurbishment versus new units? How many new units are provided? That would be useful.

We can do that. New units are provided generally. I can forward the committee the details. Our spend reflects the requests from local authorities and what is required for Traveller accommodation programmes, TAPs. The new TAPs will not start until the new councils take up position. In September 2019, the Deputy will see a new round of TAPs and a five-year plan that sets out the ambitions in that regard. It is important that we try to deliver on those TAPs.

Much of the efforts are concentrated on refurbishment because those can be essential works. Given what has happened in recent years, it is important that we undertake refurbishments. We also need to increase provision. We are focused on that. We have responded to the sector and set up an expert panel, which should place us in a stronger position to deliver additional accommodation.

I thank the Minister of State.

I welcome the increase in respect of Traveller accommodation, but the Minister has appeared before us previously regarding the main problem, that being, the lack of local authority spending. Where does the review process stand and how will it move forward within the next year? Will there be significant changes in who takes responsibility for the money's spending, given that local authorities do not seem able to spend it?

Regarding the re-profiling of the €13 million, the Minister has stated that the URDF will stay at the level originally intended and that he will just move this year's €13 million to next year. That amount has to be found somewhere at some stage. We are not spending it, so we use the extra €13 million from a cashflow point of view this year to help offset the cost of the children's hospital. At some stage down the road, though, that €13 million must physically be found for the children's hospital. Eventually, it has to be taken away from some programme. What will we face next year in that regard? Each year for the next number of years, every Department will have to find a certain figure to help fund the children's hospital. The Minister is moving this year's amount into next year and keeping the envelope the same, but that €13 million and whatever we have to lose next year will have to be found.

Regarding heading A8 on research - statistics and economics, there was an 81% increase in 2019. Will the Minister indicate where it will be spent? Under subhead A21, infrastructural funding will receive an additional €130 million. Will the Minister indicate where that will be spent?

What was the first heading?

A8, research - statistics and economics. There is an 81% increase.

Subhead A8 is on capital loans. We will supply a note on that. The Deputy also had a question for the Minister of State, Deputy English.

We expect the expert panel to report to us in April at the latest. I am engaging with it and, as of last week, it was on track to do that. I will not try to guess what it will recommend in terms of significant changes. Everyone at this meeting is committed to working with the panel's suggestions and trying to implement them. It is not just desirable, but necessary, that we do our job in this regard, which has not been the case in many local authorities. The expert panel has been asked to recommend whatever it takes to make the changes that will allow us to increase the spend on and delivery of accommodation that is suitable for Travellers. We are prepared to work with those recommendations, but I do not know what they will be. I have not given the panel any instruction and it has not asked for instructions. I have been clear that we want changes that will make an impact immediately as opposed to down the line. In the short term, we will engage with more local authorities this year. Key to this is trying to get spending moving for this year.

We are all in agreement. There is just frustration about the allocation being increased but not spent.

When we increase the money, it is on the back of proposals put to us. The delivery does not happen for a combination of reasons. It is not just-----

We must work through the various reasons. I hope that the expert panel will provide us with the evidence and suggestions we need. We can discuss with the committee how to implement the changes. I get the sense that there is a desire among the various parties present to move this forward. I hope that we can make inroads. We want the money to be spent. We will increase resources once that happens, but it is difficult to increase the capital spend when it is not being spent.

I thank the Minister of State.

I am sorry, but I could not find the research subhead that Deputy Casey mentioned.

That is all right.

The Department has a number of ongoing research projects.

We have contracted the ESRI to do three specific projects, which have been happening over recent years and will also continue into this year. We have produced two of the reports. One, I think Professor Michelle Norris was involved in it, related to the appropriate use of social housing stock. If memory serves, that was the report. We always have ongoing technical research on issues such as building standards and building controls, helping to produce different reports and going back into different reports that might get published from time to time. The increased allocation for funding does not come on the back of any new programmes that have been put in place, but just because of the level of funding that is being delivered this year because more will be expected from those existing programmes.

One additional piece of research is the funding for the central Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service unit at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. The Deputy might remember we discussed reports it had produced on value for money and so on. This is work that is always ongoing in the background.

Regarding the €13 million, from the point of view of the Department, the money will not be drawn down this year. We can allocate it out of the Department to another Department, which is what has happened. However, because the budget for housing is ring-fenced, unlike other housing budgets, the €13 million will come back to us as new money next year. We are not just moving it into next year; we will actually get an additional €13 million next year because the funding commitment for housing is ring-fenced. That is, if one likes, where the new money comes from. The Deputy was saying we had to find the money some time; next year the €13 million will come back into the Vote, meaning it will not diminish what we have under the regeneration fund.

The allocation to infrastructure funding has been increased in 2019 because the serviced site fund comes in under the infrastructure fund subhead.

As there are no further questions under programme A, we will move onto programme B - water services.

We had a discussion with the EPA, Irish Water and the Department about additional funding for wastewater treatment upgrades. How much is expected to be spent on wastewater treatment this year in comparison with last year? I acknowledge additional money has been provided.

The overall capital allocation to water and wastewater will increase from €500 million to €646 million in 2019. Does the Deputy have a separate question on the capital spend?

Within that, there is capital investment to upgrade drinking water and to upgrade the wastewater treatment plants. I believe last year's spending on the upgrading of plants and the distribution network for wastewater was €240 million or €250 million. Of the increased overall capital expenditure for this year, is an increased portion going into wastewater treatment? I am asking because of the European Court of Justice judgment and the work the Department and Irish Water are trying to do to ensure the State does not get fined. What is the increase to meet those key commitments?

The infringement case is important and we are in the middle of that at the moment. Significant capital funding will be invested in our wastewater treatment facilities between now and 2021. I do not have the breakdown of the allocation for 2019 before me, but I imagine because almost all subheads are increasing, there is also an increase for wastewater treatment. This is important, not just because of an infringement case but because of how we treat our water. We all saw recent images of what was coming from the treatment plant in Poolbeg. There is a commitment to invest an additional €400 million in that facility. While these problems cannot be sorted in the morning, by making these investments, we will improve water quality. The Deputy will recall from past year the number of water bodies whose water quality improved as a result of investments that were made over a number of years. The money invested will produce the results and it has been allocated under the capital plan to 2021, the NDP and Project Ireland 2040.

I wish to get a better understanding of how the process works and the level of control the Minister has as to where the capital finding is eventually invested. As Deputy Ó Broin said, representatives from Irish Water appeared before the committee a few weeks ago. When Irish Water was established, it had an horizon window where the investment needed to be paid back in a 15-year or 20-year period otherwise it would not be viable. It is not feasible to repay the investment in that period for smaller towns and villages.

There are two issues. First, it does not hit Irish Water's radar because it does not get any return on the investment. Second, although we need to sustain rural areas and keep our smaller towns and villages alive, there has been a significant decline in population in villages because there is no wastewater treatment capacity. I could list a number of villages in County Wicklow where there has been no investment in water services for 20 years and there is no capacity to allow them to grow.

What influence does the Minister have in how Irish Water directs the money? Its representatives told us it is approaching the local authorities to get the top three priorities regarding villages. Can the Minister direct Irish Water to ring-fence a percentage of that capital investment for supporting smaller towns and villages to sustain them and help us with the housing crisis? Twenty or 30 houses could easily be built in each town or village tomorrow morning, which would help.

That is an interesting question. I have dealings with Irish Water on a number of different fronts. The CRU also monitors everything we do. We have an overarching policy framework to be met with capital funding that I have to negotiate to get for the body each year or on a multi-annual funded basis, depending on the programme. It then spends that according to the policies we put in place. At a strategic level, wastewater is a priority. As a result between 2019 and 2024, Irish Water will spend approximately €6.1 billion, one third of which will go on wastewater. However, it is for Irish Water to decide where the wastewater priorities are depending on the assets it has and also engaging with local authorities as to what their priorities are. I do not direct it in that regard; I direct it at the strategic level about the quantity of money that should be spent in this area and how important it is.

Obviously when building houses and communities, we need to ensure the infrastructure is in place. There must, therefore, be alignment between what I am trying to do as Minister responsible for housing and as Minister responsible for Irish Water. We have put in resources in both areas to ensure that one side of Government is talking to the other. As we build more homes, the infrastructure is being put in place using joined-up thinking to manage the phasing.

I am trying to remember this correctly. When I last spoke to people in Irish Water on the housing side of the brief, they mentioned a request in the pipeline for 130,000 new connections. That tallies with something I heard from the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, which indicated its professional firms are working on plans for 135,000 homes. This indicates the scale of new housing in the system and being planned for. That will materialise over the coming years.

That does not answer the specific question I asked. Can the Minister ring-fence money to be spent specifically on wastewater facilities in our smaller towns and villages? It is not that it is not a priority for Irish Water. It has a limited budget and larger towns to look after. It has to address issues where it is non-compliant. The company is not getting to the small towns and villages. The town and village renewal scheme is great and creates fantastic public open spaces. However, those villages also need to grow. They cannot grow unless the critical infrastructure relating to water and wastewater is in place. The importance of investing in this critical infrastructure for our smaller towns with populations of less than 5,000 and our larger villages has not been adequately highlighted.

Irish Water also has a role to play in the housing crisis. It would be much easier in some cases to get 20 houses in each village across the country.

The short answer is, "No." We have a water policy statement and Irish Water has to spend its money in accordance with that statement of strategy. However, separate to that, we are reviewing the needs of the rural water programme and what is happening in respect of rural water. As part of that, we are trying to anticipate where additional funding might be necessary. We can then appropriate that, say, for group water schemes. We can do it that way, if that is what the Deputy had in mind.

That is different.

But that is the rural Ireland element, if the Deputy wants it.

These are Irish Water's assets, which need to be upgraded, not the rural water programme.

The company has to do its works in line with the policy statement that I set for it. The CRU oversees and ensures that Irish Water does that. That is how that works at that level.

We will move on to programme C.

When will we have the review of the LPT?

There are two elements to the LPT reviews that are under way. One is my Department's review, which concerns how we allocate receipts from the tax to local authorities. Members will be familiar with the calculation of the baseline that we have been using from the 2014 position and then there is how money moves in and out of the LPT, 80% retention, reallocations, top-ups, etc. The second review is being conducted between myself and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. It is about the amount raised, that is, how the LPT raises money and the amount it raises. Both reviews are ongoing.

The review that is more specific to how we fund local authorities is more or less complete. The Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, has done a great deal of work on how to weight the investment into each local authority depending on how much is raised in their own areas. We call it, in shorthand, a bucket model. The Deputy will understand it when he sees it. There are different buckets that have different priorities depending on national policy. I probably should not say any more on that until we have published it.

The second review is being led by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and that work is ongoing. We understand, because of the point we will reach later in the year, that the work needs to conclude. It is a priority for both Departments.

The Minister mentioned the baseline review. That is critical for each local authority. Many of them have been screaming for a review of that process. Will that be completed?

That is the work that the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, is leading. It is essentially almost complete; we just have not finalised it. A commitment I gave previously - I am not giving a new commitment - is that no local authority would lose funding on foot of the review that we are doing. This is about allocating additional resources. I recognise from the engagements that I have had with different local authorities that some feel that the current model could be better designed to suit their particular needs as a local authority which are different from those of other local authorities depending on the type of local authority they are, who lives there, the population clusters, coastline areas, etc. All such matters are being accounted for in the review.

The second review needs to finish. When we have that, we will be able to make that public.

That is okay.

I propose we take programmes D, E and F, inclusive, together. These are: planning, Met Éireann and appropriations, respectively. Are there any questions?

I could give a forecast, if the Chairman wants.

On planning, I suppose the regional plans are coming online shortly. Operating both the NPF and the regional plans from the top level down is causing some problems locally. As a result of the regional plans and anticipating what will happen down the road, counties such as mine will have to undertake a complete review of their county development plans based on the regional plans. A number of significant towns have their own local area plans. One, in particular, has been rolled over twice and it has not had a review of its county development plan for nearly 12 years. Because the county development plan will have to be reviewed, which will take 18 months, it could be another two and half to three years before that area has a new plan. Equally, the Wicklow environs and Rathnew plan, which provides for a considerable area of growth, was meant to be implemented this year but will now be kicked down the road for another two years. Is there no process, especially for the likes of Newtownmountkennedy, which has not had a review for nearly 14 years, or Wicklow and Rathnew, by which they could proceed with their review? They are told legally they cannot proceed now because that has to run in line with the NPF, the regional plans and the county plans and everything has to be sequenced from the top down. I could have an argument with the Minister of State, Deputy Phelan, about the urban plans. They were going the opposite way. They were directing policy from the bottom up when it came before us. Perhaps the Minister could provide clarity on that.

The short answer is "No." There has to be co-ordination between all the plans and a consistent vision for the country or else they will not work. That is why it is important that we put the NPF on a statutory basis in order that all other plans must flow from it. I accept that means delays in some areas but we are talking about the next 20 plus years of the country's development and getting it right and co-ordinated. That is why we must have consistency among them.

We are going through a period of transition - if one likes, a period of disruption - as we transpose the NPF into the three regions and then, from there, into each of the county and city development plans. The long-term benefit of that joined-up thinking will be 75% growth outside of Dublin.

I have no argument with the principle of what is being proposed but some communities are being significantly affected by it. For example, the plan of Newtownmountkennedy, which has experienced significant growth, is not fit for purpose. It is the same in the case of the plan for Wicklow and Rathnew. Newtownmountkennedy is more significant because it has not had a plan for 14 years.

In fairness, the plan should be finished by May. The Deputy stated it will take two to three years. It need not take two to three years. Officials can begin the process of reviewing the Wicklow plan and all the towns and villages from the summer onwards.

Is the Minister of State saying they can review the county plan and review a local area plan within that plan at the same time?

They can get going on that. That review could start. The regional plan should be finished in May and the process can kick off then from there on. It should not take them two to three years. It is a matter of how they prioritise. Naturally, one's county plan will setting out one's overall ambition but one could complete that process in another timeline.

There is virtually no point in proceeding with a plan that will then find itself not complying with the regional spatial and economic strategies. One would have wasted everyone's time because the strategies will trump that.

Except for the urban plans, we are able to trump everything and call them wrong.

It is up to the local authority to get their resources in order. The regional plan should be completed in May.

The Minister of State and I know how long a county plan takes, even when one goes for a simple variation, never mind a full review, of it. Theoretically, one should not start a local area plan up until that process has started. With the best will in the world, one is looking at 12 to 18 months for a county development plan. Then one is only starting the process for the local area plan and that takes another 12 to 18 months. Realistically, one is looking at that timeframe.

The timeframe need not be that long. There are two positives. As the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, stated, it will align with the NPF. My understanding is through the process the Wicklow local authority is quite happy with how it turned out and it is a positive for the country. We will build on that. I accept there have been delays in getting to this stage.

We will wait and see.

I understand they are content. We will see what comes out of it.

A new local authority will be in place in June and it will be set with the job. The timeframe adds up quite well. The new local authority will have ownership of the new plan and will not be caught in the middle of that. That should be positive as well.

The Minister might give us an update on the establishment of the flood forecasting services.

This work is being done in conjunction with the OPW. I was speaking to the Minister of State, Deputy Moran, about this towards the end of last year. We are currently recruiting additional staff.

Last year, we appointed the chief hydrometereologist and commenced the recruitment of specialist staff. We have progressed an implementation plan for establishing the flood forecasting centre within Met Éireann. We have also conducted a review and a trial of a range of hydrological models and integrator systems. We can discuss what they are in more detail if the members would like but I do not know what they are. In 2019, we will continue to recruit specialist staff. We will have to select hydrological models and integrator systems for use in the operational fluvial flood forecasting and then develop a communication strategy for the flood forecasting centre in order to disseminate flood alerts in a timely and efficient manner. Obviously, it falls to Met Éireann to do this. We are providing the funding but we are co-ordinating the work with the OPW given the role it plays in flood defence.

There are no questions for the Minister on Vote 16, pertaining to the Valuation Office, and Vote 23, pertaining to the Property Registration Authority.