I propose to take Questions Nos. 232 to 234, inclusive, together.
I refer to my reply to Question No. 51, Reference No. 21671, on today's Order Paper which broadly set out the position in relation to this matter.
In addition, as part of the development of their ambitious multi-annual housing programmes, local authorities are required to consider the availability of land for housing in their area. Having identified a need to acquire additional lands, local authorities may seek to borrow the required finance from the Housing Finance Agency. My Department then recoups the land costs and any associated loan interest charges to the local authority, as part of the normal social housing project approval process.
In accordance with Section 106 of the Local Government Act 2001, as amended, the decision to borrow is a reserved function of the elected members of the local authority concerned, who have direct responsibility in law for all reserved functions and are accountable for all expenditure by the local authority. As such, it is a matter for each local authority to determine its own spending priorities in the context of the annual budgetary process, having regard to both locally identified needs and available resources.
Section 106 of the Act also provides that local authorities must obtain the consent of the appropriate Minister to undertake borrowing. In this regard, sanction to borrow for housing land acquisition is submitted by the local authority to my Department, who provide an assessment of the financial viability of potential loans insofar as individual local authorities are concerned, and an assessment as to whether the borrowing can be accommodated within the context of the fiscal rules. My Department is currently reviewing that loan approval process.
Finally, as regards housing delivery more broadly, the Residential Land Availability Survey 2014, published in February 2015, determined the location and quantity of lands that may be regarded as being undeveloped and available for residential development purposes at 31 March 2014 in each local authority area. This survey measured the total amount of lands, whether owned privately or by the local authority, that have been identified for housing development in the various local authority development plans and that are the highest priority for development.
The area of such lands amounted to 17,434 hectares which, given a range of densities appropriate to whether the areas are in small villages or larger towns and cities and as determined by the relevant local authorities, could support the construction of over 414,000 dwellings. On that basis, I am satisfied that adequate lands are available to facilitate residential development in line with Rebuilding Ireland. The Residential Land Availability Survey 2014 is available on my Department’s website at: http://www.environ.ie/planning/residential-land-availability/residential-land-availability-survey.
A further Residential Land Availability Survey will be undertaken in due course.