Questions Nos. 45 to 47, inclusive, answered orally.

Urban Regeneration and Development Fund

Question No. 49 answered with Question No. 45.

Question No. 50 answered with Question No. 47.

Ceisteanna (48, 76)

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

48. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if housing schemes that were listed on the original local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, scheme and submitted by the local authority can be prioritised for funding under the urban regeneration fund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51875/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Aindrias Moynihan

Ceist:

76. Deputy Aindrias Moynihan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when the next opportunity for applications under the urban regeneration fund will open; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51876/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 48 and 76 together.

The Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) was designed to activate housing supply by putting in place the enabling public infrastructure necessary to ensure that large scale development could take place on key sites in urban areas of high housing demand. Funding of €200 million was originally made available under LIHAF, of which €150 million would be provided by the Exchequer with local authorities providing matching fund of €50 million. Approval was given for 30 projects under LIHAF in 2017 and these projects will stimulate the development of approximately 20,000 homes across 14 local authorities.

The LIHAF projects are progressing, with two projects completed and almost half of all projects at construction stage. My Department is currently reviewing progress on the remaining projects and will complete a LIHAF update by the end of the year. Over 1,800 homes associated with the infrastructure delivery have been delivered to date, with a further 4,000 homes expected to be delivered in 2020.

The Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF), announced in November 2018, is a flagship element of Project Ireland 2040 and is supported by funding of €2 billion over the period to 2027. The URDF was established to support more compact and sustainable development, through the regeneration and rejuvenation of Ireland’s five cities and other large towns, in line with the objectives of the National Planning Framework and National Development Plan. This will ensure that more parts of our urban areas can become attractive and vibrant places in which people choose to live and work, as well as to invest and to visit. While it is not intended that the URDF would provide direct support for particular housing projects, public infrastructure that might previously have been appropriate to a LIHAF application could be included in a URDF application in support of compact urban growth. Through the Fund, successful applicants are being offered targeted integrated support for applicant-led projects that will contribute to the regeneration and rejuvenation of our cities and towns.

Although submission of funding applications and the advancement of each project is, in the first instance, a matter for each applicant, my Department is working closely and actively with them to ensure that the projects receiving URDF support come to fruition as soon as possible. The 88 projects approved under the first call offer a good regional spread, and span a number of themes. I will be announcing a second call for proposals under the URDF shortly.

Question No. 49 answered with Question No. 45.
Question No. 50 answered with Question No. 47.

Vacant Properties

Questions Nos. 52 and 53 answered with Question No. 47.

Ceisteanna (51, 95)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

51. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the steps he is taking to encourage the use of vacant housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51107/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

95. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of vacant privately owned homes that have been brought back into use through programmes, including the repair and lease and the acquisition of vacant properties, through the Housing Agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51803/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 51 and 95 together.

Rebuilding Ireland sets out a range of measures to assist in meeting Ireland’s housing needs by ensuring that our existing housing stock is used to the greatest extent possible. A central action within it is a commitment to develop a National Vacant Housing Reuse Strategy. This Strategy, which I published July 2018, strives to provide a targeted, effective and co-ordinated approach to identifying and tackling vacancy across the country and draws together all of the strands of ongoing work into one document, with a clear vision for moving forward in the next few years. In addition, each local authority has established a Vacant Homes Office and prepared a Vacant Homes Action Plan, supported by dedicated funding provided by my Department.

This approach has allowed the development of innovative approaches, such as the website vacanthomes.ie developed by Mayo County Council in July 2017 on behalf of the local government sector. This site acts as a central portal for individuals to log possible vacant homes and is proving useful in supplementing the country-wide analysis on vacancy and in mobilising communities to assist local authorities in developing and implementing a targeted approach. Some 3,422 properties have been registered to date.

The website provides useful information for property owners on how to bring their vacant properties back into use and on available financial supports. This includes a number of schemes developed by my Department to incentivise reactivating suitable dwellings into the liveable housing stock. In that regard, by the end of Q3 2019:

- The Repair and Leasing initiative resulted in 1,510 applications;129 homes have been brought back into use and tenanted, with 155 agreements for lease signed.

- The Buy & Renew Scheme has facilitated local authority purchase 470 vacant properties for social housing purpose; - Through the revolving acquisitions fund of €70 million managed by the Housing Agency since January 2017, a total of 669 properties have been made available to Approved Housing Bodies and a further 116 properties are in the process of being secured; and

- The Housing Agency has also supported local authorities to acquire a further 374 vacant properties from financial institution for social housing purposes with a further 112 proceeding through to sale.

This effectively means that in addition to the 600 properties brought back into use to date under the Buy & Renew and Repair & Leasing Schemes, more than 1,200 other vacant properties held by financial institutions have been secured for social housing use since 2016. Local authorities are also bringing homes into use by acquiring dwellings in unfinished estates, liaising with financial institutions on their vacant property portfolios and utilising CPO powers to acquire empty properties. In overall terms, CSO data indicates that reconnections of properties vacant for at least 2 years and completions of homes in unfinished estates account for some 13,800 of the 70,800 new homes that have become available for use in the period 2016 to Q3 2019.

Tackling vacancy will continue to be the focus of targeted attention by my Department and local authorities over the remaining years of Rebuilding Ireland.

Questions Nos. 52 and 53 answered with Question No. 47.

Credit Union Lending

Ceisteanna (54)

Darragh O'Brien

Ceist:

54. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the review group of establishing a special purpose vehicle to enable credit union funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51866/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Programme for a Partnership Government recognises the potential role that Credit Unions can play in housing finance and supported the efforts of the Registrar of Credit Unions at the Central Bank to gradually lift current investment restrictions as appropriate, including for housing.

Credit Union bodies have set out proposed means by which funding could be provided by the sector to Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) for the development of social housing. This follows on from the amendments introduced by the Central Bank to the regulatory regime within which Credit Unions operate.

My Department referred the Credit Unions’ representative bodies to the Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH) with a view to both sectors sharing, as far as practical, the benefits of their respective work in this area, including the work undertaken by the ICSH on the development of special purpose vehicles for social housing financing purposes. The work of the ICSH was supported by grant funding from my Department. In addition, both my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, and I have met with the Credit Union movement and the AHB sector on this matter.

The ICSH, along with 6 Tier 3 AHBs, have worked with specialist financial advisers to establish a funding mechanism or vehicle which would source suitable sources of non-state finance to fund the delivery of social housing by AHBs, based on best value for money. Market testing undertaken revealed good interest in lending to the AHB sector from various lenders including banks, institutional investors and the Credit Union sector. So far, one AHB has set up an SPV, 2 AHBs have sourced private finance from a private institution and there are 2 AHBs looking at the next phase of establishing a structure to work collectively in securing private finance. As such, the work in this area is ongoing and has led to individual AHBs establishing SPVs for financing social housing.

The Credit Union sector is one potential funder whose terms are assessed as part of the process of market testing to establish best value for money and optimum terms and conditions from lenders. While my Department will continue to be available to provide any clarifications that may be required in relation to social housing delivery, it falls to the relevant parties, i.e. the AHBs, on the one hand, and potential investors on the other, to agree a workable and mutually acceptable approach in order to bring potential investment possibilities to a successful conclusion.

Building Regulations Compliance

Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 41.

Ceisteanna (55)

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

55. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will consider introducing a one stop shop for homeowners who discover latent defects that would provide information, advice, mediation and adjudication to ensure that, in the first instance, the developer responsible for the defects covers the remediation. [51758/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

I want to acknowledge the very stressful circumstances which owners and residents face when defects occur in their homes.

Building defects are matters for resolution between the contracting parties involved, that is the homeowner, the builder, the developer and/or their respective insurers, structural guarantee or warranty scheme. The statutory position is very clear in terms of where responsibilities lie under the Building Control Acts, the Fire Services Acts, the Housing Acts, the Planning and Development Acts and the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011, all or some of which may be relevant in individual cases of building defects. The Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014, in particular, have brought further clarity in relation to the respective roles and responsibilities of the parties involved in construction projects.

Local authorities have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under many of the legislative codes referred to in order to ensure that parties discharge their statutory responsibilities. But it would not be appropriate for local authorities to take on a role of the kind suggested in adjudicating or providing mediation on the matters involved, particularly when the issues arising when homeowners discover defects in their homes can involve complex legal matters, with potential implications also for insurance.

The State has no general statutory role in resolving defects in privately owned buildings, including dwellings. Nor could the taxpayer afford such a role. It is not possible for the State to take on responsibility/liability for all legacy issues nor would it send the right message to the industry regarding their responsibility for compliance.

Question No. 56 answered with Question No. 41.

Land Development Agency

Ceisteanna (57)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

57. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if the land and homes on a site (details supplied) will remain in public ownership into the future in view of the possible transfer of a site to the Land Development Agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51873/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Land Development Agency (LDA) is currently working with Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council on a delivery plan for the site referred to. This site can yield approximately 600 homes, which are likely to be primarily social and affordable housing. Ultimately, any decision regarding the ownership and development of the site will be a matter for the local authority.

As provided for under Section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001, any decision to dispose of local authority land, including to the LDA, is a reserved function of its elected members.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government recently carried out pre-legislative scrutiny of the General Scheme of the LDA Bill. It is important to note that the General Scheme provides that the shareholders (i.e. owners) of the LDA will be the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government.

Water Quality

Ceisteanna (58)

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

58. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the recent large-scale boil water notice that affected over 600,000 residents in counties Meath, Kildare and Dublin; the measures undertaken to prevent such an occurrence again; the steps taken to ensure that residents have a clean, safe and reliable water supply; and if the EPA recommendations have been acted upon. [51855/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Fingal County Council, on behalf of Irish Water, operates the Leixlip water treatment plant. Following the recent incidents, water provided by the Leixlip plant is currently safe, and is not subject to a restriction. However, the plant remains in need of improvement works that will make it resilient and prevent future issues.

I remain concerned about the vulnerability of this plant. My focus is firstly, to ensure that Irish Water continues to prioritise and progress the improvement works; and secondly, that appropriate protocols are in place to deal with any future issues at the plant while the works are underway.

Irish Water is undertaking improvements to the plant as recommended by EPA audits as quickly as is practical. While works are progressing on the plant, water production has been reduced by c30 million litres per day. Irish Water has increased water production from other plants, particularly Ballymore Eustace, to compensate. These are operational matters for Irish Water.

In relation to the recent boil water notices, I and my Department have engaged with all the organisations involved to review the response to the incidents. In addition, I have in recent days, received the EPA’s report on the two boil water notices which I requested from the Agency. I am meeting with the EPA, the HSE, Irish Water, Fingal County Council, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities and An Fóram Uisce today to agree actions following the EPA report.

While the water being produced at Leixlip is safe, the risk of further boil water notices continues until the upgrade works are finalised in the first half of next year.

The EPA will continue to provide regulatory oversight of Irish Water, and work closely with Irish Water and the HSE to ensure the protection of human health.

It should be noted that, overall, the additional water capacity available in the Greater Dublin Area is extremely low. Irish Water has medium and long term plans to increase the supply to the Greater Dublin Area and to improve the resilience of the existing infrastructure, in particular through the development of the proposed Midlands and Eastern Water Supply Project. In the meantime, Irish Water and the local authorities are monitoring demand and supply capacity on a daily basis and will continue to balance the network to minimise possible impacts on customers.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Ceisteanna (59, 84)

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

59. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of work within his Department and local authorities for the provision of serviced sites, particularly in rural areas, to assist with the delivery of affordable housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51859/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

84. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the provision of affordable housing schemes nationwide and particularly in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51860/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 59 and 84 together.

Land utilisation and activation, including the development of land for the delivery of more affordable private housing, is, in the first instance, a matter for the relevant local authority and its elected members. Moreover, local authorities are required to frame the planning policies in their development plans in a balanced and measured way to ensure that long-term strategic housing needs are met across all types and tenures within their functional area. This applies to both urban and rural locations.

In line with the commitments in Rebuilding Ireland to support the delivery of homes to buy or rent at prices which are discounted on market values, the Government has allocated €310 million under the Serviced Sites Fund (SSF) to provide infrastructure to support the delivery of some 6,200 more affordable homes on local authority lands. This funding is being made available in areas where local authorities have demonstrated a requirement for affordable housing and the viability to deliver such housing from their sites.

To date, I have allocated SSF funding of €127 million, in support of 35 projects in 14 local authority areas, for infrastructure works that will support the delivery of almost 3,200 affordable homes. This funding was awarded to local authorities on a competitive basis.

One of these projects includes a bid from Kildare County Council for the development of a site at Ardclough Road, Celbridge. This project received approval in principle in August 2019 and will facilitate the delivery of 10 affordable homes. The overall cost and the timing of delivery for this and other projects is contingent upon the completion of design, planning and procurement in the first instance, and Kildare County Council is working to achieve delivery as quickly as possible. I anticipate that a further call for proposals under the SSF will issue in 2020.

Another project at Maynooth in County Kildare is being funded under the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) at a cost of over €14.5m. This public infrastructure project will be key to the delivery of approximately 720 cost reduced homes.

These schemes complement some of the other key Government affordability initiatives, such as the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan, and the Help to Buy Scheme, which have supported over 16,500 households nationally.

In addition, the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund, which is administered by the Department of Rural and Community Development, seeks to support ambitious and strategic projects which have the potential to transform rural economies and communities. The Government has committed €1 billion over 10 years to the Fund and €315 million is allocated to the Fund for the period 2019-2022. In this area, my Department will also work with the local authorities and other infrastructure providers to develop a programme of serviced sites to attract people to build their own homes and live in smaller towns and villages as mandated by the National Planning Framework.

Local Authority Housing Data

Ceisteanna (60)

Bernard Durkan

Ceist:

60. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of direct build and new local authority houses rented to tenants in each of the past four years to date by county; the number of houses purchased by each local authority for allocation to tenants in the same period; the number of houses acquired by local authorities for such allocation under Part V; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51826/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Rebuilding Ireland will deliver over 50,000 new social homes by the end of 2021 through a combination of Build, Acquisition and Leasing. In 2019 alone, 10,000 new social homes will be delivered utilising these methods, including 6,545 build homes delivered by Local Authorities nationwide, in partnership with Approved Housing Bodies.

My Department publishes comprehensive quarterly statistics in a range of formats across multiple platforms. On the Department's website, comprehensive data on social housing delivery can be viewed and downloaded, including information on build by Local Authorities and Approved Housing Bodies, as well as information on social homes delivered through Part V and Acquisitions. This information can be accessed at https://www.housing.gov.ie/housing/social-housing/social-and-affordble/overall-social-housing-provision.

More granular detail on build activity is available on the Quarterly Social Housing Construction Status Report (CSR) which is available on the Rebuilding Ireland website and can be accessed at https://www.housing.gov.ie/housing/social-housing/social-and-affordble/overall-social-housing-provision.

It should be noted that the process for tenanting these homes, and the day to day re-tenanting of existing stock, is solely the responsibility of each local authority.

Pyrite Remediation Programme Implementation

Ceisteanna (61)

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

61. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the implementation of the mica redress scheme for affected homeowners in County Donegal; the progress made to date with regard to the implementation arrangements with Donegal County Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51221/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Last year, the Government agreed in principle to introduce a scheme to support affected homeowners in the counties of Donegal and Mayo to carry out the necessary remediation works to dwellings that have been significantly damaged due to defective concrete blocks.

Budget 2020 provides funding of €40 million to fund the operation of the pyrite remediation scheme and this new scheme to address the issues identified in Donegal and Mayo.

The full terms and conditions of the scheme are currently being finalised in consultation with the Attorney General's Office and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, including the development of the necessary regulations. This process takes account of the engagement that my Department is currently having with both Donegal and Mayo County Councils, who will operate and administer the scheme. In this regard, my Department continues to meet with both local authority teams to conclude implementation arrangements for the scheme. Final engagement will take place over the coming weeks.

The aim will be to complete the outstanding work without delay in order to ensure that the scheme can get underway, as early as possible.

Local Authority Housing Eligibility

Ceisteanna (62, 94)

Bríd Smith

Ceist:

62. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if income limits for access to the social housing waiting lists will be examined in view of recent reports that show the difficulty of persons accessing affordable housing and the inability of many to qualify for mortgages but who are above income limits for local authority housing waiting lists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51863/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

94. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to ensure that income eligibility for public housing is raised to ensure that those on middle incomes have access to safe and secure housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51872/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 62 and 94 together.

Applications for social housing support are assessed by the relevant local authority, in accordance with the eligibility and need criteria set down in section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011, as amended.

The 2011 Regulations prescribe maximum net income limits for each local authority, in different bands according to the area concerned, with income being defined and assessed according to a standard Household Means Policy. Under the Household Means Policy, which applies in all local authorities, net income for social housing assessment is defined as gross household income less income tax, PRSI and the universal social charge. The Policy provides for a range of income disregards, and local authorities also have discretion to decide to disregard income that is temporary, short-term or once off in nature.

The income bands and the authority area assigned to each band were based on an assessment of the income needed to provide for a household's basic needs, plus a comparative analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation across the country. It is important to note that the limits introduced at that time also reflected a blanket increase of €5,000 introduced prior to the new system coming into operation, in order to broaden the base from which social housing tenants are drawn, both promoting sustainable communities and also providing a degree of future-proofing.

Given the cost to the State of providing social housing, it is considered prudent and fair to direct resources to those most in need of social housing support. The current income eligibility requirements generally achieve this, providing for a fair and equitable system of identifying those households facing the greatest challenge in meeting their accommodation needs from their own resources.

However, as part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of income eligibility for social housing supports in each local authority area is under way. The review will also have regard to current initiatives being brought forward in terms of affordability and cost rental and will be completed when the impacts of these parallel initiatives have been considered.

The Government has introduced a number of affordability measures to support people who wish to purchase their own homes. In particular, following a review of the previous two existing local authority home loan schemes, the House Purchase Loan and the Home Choice Loan, a new loan offering, known as the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan, was introduced with effect from 1 February 2018. The loan enables credit worthy first time buyers to access sustainable mortgage lending to purchase new or second-hand properties in a suitable price range. The low rate of fixed interest associated with the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan provides first time buyers with access to mortgage finance that they may not have otherwise been able to afford at a higher interest rate.

As with previous local authority house purchase loan finance, the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan is available to first time buyers only. This is to ensure the effective targeting of limited resources.

My Department publishes information on the overall number and value of (i) local authority loan approvals and (ii) local authority loan drawdowns for the RIHL. Local authority approval means that an official letter of offer has been sent to a borrower (and therefore relates to a specific property and loan amount). Information on the RIHL up to Quarter 2 2019, including in relation to the number and value of mortgage approvals and drawdowns and also average loan amounts, is available on the Department's website at the following link:

http://www.housing.gov.ie/housing/statistics/house-prices-loans-and-profile-borrowers/local-authority-loan-activity .

Additionally, the Help To Buy (HTB) incentive, announced in Budget 2017, is designed to assist first-time buyers with the deposit required to purchase or self-build a new house or apartment to live in as their home. The incentive provides for a refund of Income Tax and DIRT paid over the previous four tax years, limited to a maximum of 5% of the purchase value. The HTB refund is capped at €20,000. As of 30 November 2019, 15,903 HTB claims had been approved, to a value of €236m.

The Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure extended the initiative in its current form in Budget 2020. This means that the HTB initiative will remain in place for another two years until 31 December 2021.

Local Authority Funding

Ceisteanna (63)

Shane Cassells

Ceist:

63. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to address the funding shortfall experienced by several city and county councils following the change in Irish Water rate funding; and the way in which he plans to tackle same on a long-term basis. [51858/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Since 2015, the revenue of local authorities has grown from approximately €4 billion to €5 billion. This mainly comprises income from goods and services, commercial rates, Government grants and Local Property Tax.

Between 2015 and 2019, Irish Water was not liable for commercial rates and approximately €47m p.a. was paid to local authorities to compensate them for the water services-related rates income they would have previously received. Having regard to a recommendation from the local government sector that this exemption from rates should be removed, Irish Water will become liable for commercial rates from 2020 and the compensation-related funding will cease. Irish Water will pay commercial rates directly to individual local authorities, following the global valuation process undertaken by the Commissioner for Valuation, in a similar arrangement as applies to other utilities. The majority of local authorities are expected to see an increase in their rates income arising from this process.

Of course, this is just one of a number of variables that feed into local authority budgets. For example, there have also been revaluations of other utilities and all of the local authorities likely to lose rates income from the Irish Water valuation would be likely to see their rates income increase from the ESB revaluation. In addition, there is funding made available from the Local Government Fund (LGF) and the Exchequer funding of €156m being made available through the Local Government Fund (LGF), on a like-for-like basis, will see local authorities receiving €23 million more in Exchequer funding when compared to 2019.

My Department has kept the anticipated financial impact of the changed approach to the rating of Irish Water under review, liaising directly with sectoral representatives and with the most impacted authorities, particularly in the case of the seven authorities who are expected to receive less in the resulting commercial rates than they received previously. Taking account of other expected changes in incomes and the financial positions of the authorities concerned, Waterford City and County Council and Wicklow County Council were identified as facing significant challenges to deliver balanced budgets in the first year of the changeover.

Therefore, Minister Murphy and I are providing a once-off special payment of €2 million to Waterford City and County Council and €300,000 to Wicklow County Council to assist them in 2020 and to allow more time for the necessary rebalancing of income and expenditure.

Income from commercial rates is for use by local authorities at their discretion and, owing to its nature, is subject to fluctuations from time to time. My Department will continue to monitor the financial impact of the transition of Irish Water to a global utility undertaking for rates purposes, as part of its wider role in supporting local authorities. It is also my intention to consider this issue and other relevant issues when the work of the Local Government Funding Baseline (Review) Group falls to be considered.

Vacant Sites Levy

Ceisteanna (64)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

64. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he is satisfied with the number of sites listed on the vacant site registers of local authorities; his views on whether each site that should be on the register has been listed and is subject to the levy; if he will consider putting the onus of such sites to self-declare with appropriate penalties on those that fail to do so; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51801/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Under the vacant site levy provisions in the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015, planning authorities are empowered to apply a vacant site levy of 3% of the market value of relevant vacant sites where a site exceeds 0.05 hectares in area, was in the planning authority’s opinion vacant or idle in 2018, and is in an area identified by the planning authority in its development plan or local area plan for residential or regeneration development. As signalled in Budget 2018, the rate of the levy has been increased to 7% for sites on a local authority vacant sites register from 2019 onwards, to which site owners will become liable with effect from January 2020.

My Department does not maintain a central register of vacant sites, as each local authority administers the vacant site register in respect of their functional area. As provided for under the Act, the register in respect of each local authority is available for inspection at its offices and online on its website. However, on foot of a recent review of the on-line vacant site registers across all local authority areas, I understand that there are collectively over 340 individual sites currently on the local registers. Over 80 of these sites were entered on registers on 1 January 2018 and are therefore subject to the levy in 2019, unless development works were activated in the interim.

While application of the levy provisions is a matter for individual local authorities, my Department continues to monitor implementation of the levy to ensure that it is being effectively applied, in line with its intended purpose of incentivising the development of vacant or under-utilised sites in urban areas. To support this work, progress reports were requested from local authorities and the responses received are currently being examined by my Department to see what further implementation supports may be required.

My Department will continue to engage proactively with local authorities to ensure the vacant site levy achieves its full potential. However, I have no plans to further amend the vacant site levy provisions at this time.

Water Abstraction Regulation

Ceisteanna (65)

Joan Collins

Ceist:

65. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the amount of water that private bottled water companies extract here; the locations in which they extract water; the amount they pay for extraction; the person or body they pay; if they are exempted from payment; if the information is not available, if a small scoping group will be set up to report to Dáil Éireann regarding same. [51798/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The abstraction of water is governed by the Water Supplies Act 1942, which deals with the abstraction of water for public drinking water supply purposes only. Under this Act, there are no requirements to be met in respect of licensing or charging for abstractions for bottled water, or indeed for other purposes.

However, the Water Framework Directive requires that abstractions of surface water or groundwater which are likely to have a significant effect on water status must be regulated. My Department has been examining how best to address this requirement in a proportionate and efficient way. After approval in 2018 of a General Scheme of a Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill which would introduce a control and registration system over the abstraction of water, my Department undertook a public consultation, which resulted in 28 submissions.

Following examination of those submissions and refinement of the policy approach, I will be returning to Government shortly with a revised General Scheme to give effect to our obligations under the Directive and to introduce a licensing and control system over the abstraction of water generally.

In advance of the primary legislation, and in order to build up a nationwide picture of abstractions, a requirement to register water abstractions in excess of 25 cubic metres per day with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has already been introduced by way of secondary legislation under the European Union (Water Policy) (Abstractions Registration) Regulations 2018. This has been put in place to enable the EPA to assess where particular water pressures as a result of abstraction might exist and, accordingly, better manage abstractions in areas of high risk in the future. The register is maintained by the EPA and I understand that it does not provide for the specific identification of abstractions for the purposes of bottled water.

There will be further opportunity to contribute to development of the provisions to be contained in the planned legislation when I submit the revised General Scheme of the Water Environment (Abstractions) Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny.

I expect that a proportionate abstraction control regime will effectively manage abstraction risks and pressures without imposing an unnecessary regulatory burden. Recognising the relatively low abstraction pressures in Ireland, the proposed regime will focus on the most significant volumes and pressures.

It should be noted that requirements in relation to the standards of bottled waters are laid out in the European Union (Natural Mineral Waters, Spring Waters and Other Waters in Bottles or Containers) Regulations 2016, which are a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Health.

Planning Guidelines

Ceisteanna (66, 83)

Darragh O'Brien

Ceist:

66. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when the new rural planning guidelines will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51868/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

83. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when he plans to introduce new rural housing guidelines in view of the Flemish Decree judgment of the European Court of Justice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51116/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 66 and 83 together.

Following engagement between the European Commission and my Department regarding 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.

In parallel, my Department is reviewing the Development Plan Guidelines for Planning Authorities, to update guidance in light of both legislative changes and the introduction of the National Planning Framework (NPF) and Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies. In line with the NPF objective 37, my Department is also working on guidance on preparation of Housing Need Demand Assessments, which will inform housing strategies and associated land use zoning policies.

Thereafter, I propose to finalise revisions to the 2005 Rural Housing Guidelines, taking account of the engagement with the European Commission, the relevant European Court of Justice rulings and the completion of the ongoing deliberations by the working group.

Departmental Offices

Ceisteanna (67, 306)

Darragh O'Brien

Ceist:

67. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the housing delivery office; the relationship of the office with the Land Development Agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51865/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Darragh O'Brien

Ceist:

306. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the housing delivery office; the relationship of the office with the Land Development Agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51988/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 67 and 306 together.

A dedicated Housing Delivery Office (HDO) was established within my Department to support the accelerated delivery of housing across the social and private sectors, in an integrated and timely manner.

Working with the broader Housing and Planning Divisions in the Department, other key agencies, local authorities and the construction sector, the HDO has supported the roll-out of complex projects, including identifying and resolving barriers to delivery, and monitors progress across key sites as they progress. The HDO has worked with all key stakeholders involved in the delivery of housing, including from key disciplines such as architecture, planning, engineering and building control, project and construction management, quantity surveying, capital programme delivery and administration.

In the context of the increased delivery ambition in terms of social and affordable homes, my Department has been working with the City and County Management Association (CCMA) in terms of reviewing the most effective future operating platform for the HDO. While the Department has a pivotal role in terms of policy, legislation and the finance to enable local authorities deliver, the day to day delivery is a matter for local government and, with increased targets and delivery accelerating, the clear demand for an enhanced support structure is recognised.

The CCMA recently submitted a proposal to my Department setting out the benefits that a revamped and reconfigured HDO more closely situated within the local government sector could have in terms of supporting increased delivery. This approach could have significant benefits in terms of addressing a number of delivery challenges including:

- Leasing;

- Social Housing Specification and Design;

- Procurement/ Contract Management/ Project Management; and

- Utilising Landbanks/ Achieving Mixed Tenure.

Given the similarities between these objectives and other established Project Management Offices, I have agreed with the CCMA that the HDO will therefore transition to the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA). The CCMA and LGMA are working to a Quarter 1 2020 initiation of the new office. We are fully agreed that the new unit will work closely, not only with my Department, but also with other key sectoral stakeholders, including the Land Development Agency and the Housing Agency, to align activity, share knowledge and expertise and drive efficiencies in the housing delivery process.

Local Authority Staff

Ceisteanna (68)

Niamh Smyth

Ceist:

68. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the role of his Department in the provision of a dangerous substance officer within county councils; the role of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51135/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Under section 159 of the Local Government Act 2001, each Chief Executive is responsible for the staffing and organisational arrangements necessary for carrying out the functions of the local authority for which he or she is responsible.

My Department oversees workforce planning for the local government sector, including the monitoring of employment levels. To this end, my Department gathers aggregate quarterly data on staff whole time equivalent numbers in each local authority. However, granular data, in terms of the specific role and function of each individual staff member, is not collected and consequently is not available in my Department.

This information should be available directly from local authorities themselves.

An Bord Pleanála

Ceisteanna (69)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

69. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on the fact that the quorum in An Bord Pleanála is only three members, which means that two members of the board are making decisions on major planning applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51870/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, in general, the quorum of the Board of An Bord Pleanála is three persons, with an option for a two-member meeting, subject to Board approval, in circumstances where the Chairperson considers it necessary to ensure the efficient discharge of duties of the Board.

Separate legislative provisions apply to the divisions of the Board dealing with planning applications for strategic infrastructure development (SID) and, more recently, strategic housing development (SHD). Section 112A of the 2000 Act provides that the quorum for a meeting of the Strategic Infrastructure Division shall be three members. Furthermore, section 11 of the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 also provides that the quorum for a meeting of the Strategic Housing Division is three members.

Both Acts provide that at any stage before a decision is made by either the Strategic Infrastructure Division or Strategic Housing Division, where a case is considered to be a matter of particular complexity or significance, it may be transferred for consideration to a meeting of all available members of the Board.

No changes to these arrangements were recommended by the organisational review of An Bord Pleanála carried out by an independent review group in 2016. I am satisfied with the existing arrangements and have no plans to amend them at this time.

Housing Policy

Ceisteanna (70)

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

70. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the findings of a report published by an organisation (details supplied); the way in which he plans to address the concerns; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51704/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Earlier this month, I received email correspondence from Social Justice Ireland which contained a link to the Videos and Papers from the 32nd Social Policy Conference - The Challenges of Success.

I note the papers included the Challenges of Success conference booklet, which contains a 'Review of the Government's Housing Strategy from the perspective of young and old'. My Department keeps its housing policies and programmes under regular review and I have asked that the Social Justice Ireland papers be considered in that context.