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Gnáthamharc

Tuesday, 1 Jun 2021

Written Answers Nos. 313-337

Local Authorities

Ceisteanna (313)

John Brady

Ceist:

313. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the position in relation to procurement for local authorities; if they have discretion in relation to using their own suppliers for stationery supplies and other such services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29167/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

My Department does not have direct involvement in executive functions such as procurement, carried out by a local authority.  Under Section 149 of the Local Government Act 2001, the Chief Executive of a local authority is responsible for the executive functions of the local authority, and for that purpose to manage and control generally, the administration and business of the authority, subject to law.

The Office of Government Procurement (OGP), an office within the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform, was established for the purpose of centralising procurement arrangements for common goods and services right across the public sector, including local authorities.  The OGP has established a number of Framework Agreements and Contracts for goods and general services.   The Local Government Operational Procurement Centre (LGOPC) based in Kerry County Council has responsibility for the operation of certain procurement categories.  The LGOPC operates the SupplyGov frameworks website, acting as a central procurement authority for those categories, on behalf of the Public Sector.

If the supplies, general services, works or works related services required are not included in any of the established Framework Agreements, local authorities proceed to conduct an appropriate competitive process under EU and National rules.  Prescribed procedures governing public procurement are set out in EU Directives, which apply only to contracts that are above the relevant EU advertising thresholds. Public procurement below the relevant EU threshold is subject to National procurement rules that are set out in National Guidelines (Public Procurement Guidelines – Competitive Process published by the Department of Finance in 2004) and subsequent Circulars, the most recent being Circular 10/14 issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in April 2014. Circular 10/14 replaced the Department of Finance Circular 10/10 issued in August 2010.

My Department works closely with the Local Government Strategic Procurement Centre (LGSPC), which acts as a conduit between the Department, the Local Government Sector and the OGP, and is represented on the LGSPC Programme Board. The LGSPC provides additional supports to local authorities to ensure compliance by the sector in the use of all national frameworks and application of all relevant legislation and circulars relating to procurement.  The LGSPC also supports training for SMEs and small/micro business suppliers to improve their engagement with the public procurement process. 

Notwithstanding the above, procurement and tendering processes carried out by each local authority, and compliance with procurement rules in relation to the same, are directly a matter for the relevant Chief Executive.

Housing Provision

Ceisteanna (314)

Sorca Clarke

Ceist:

314. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the circumstances under which a person can access HAP in cases in which they are not on a local authority housing list. [29194/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is a social housing support under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014. In order to be eligible for HAP support, a household must first qualify for social housing support through 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.

Once a household is deemed eligible for social housing support, it is a matter for the local authority to examine the suite of social housing supports available, including the HAP scheme, to determine the most appropriate form of social housing support for that household in the administrative area of that local authority.  

Housing Policy

Ceisteanna (315)

John Paul Phelan

Ceist:

315. Deputy John Paul Phelan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if there is a national policy to support downsizing domestic residences as family size decreases once children have left the family home; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29197/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Firstly, it is settled Government policy to support older people to live in their own homes and communities with dignity and independence for as long as possible, as this has the best outcomes both for the individual and for society as a whole.

My Department, in conjunction with the Department of Health, is developing policy options for supported housing/housing with care in accordance with the principles of the joint policy statement, "Housing Options for Our Ageing Population". This policy statement was published by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Department of Health in 2019. The policy statement is available on my Department's website at:

www.housing.gov.ie/housing/special-housing-needs/older-people/housing-options-our-ageing-population-policy-statement.

A number of the 40 Actions in the Joint Statement consider the issue of rightsizing within the context of providing a variety of housing options for older people depending on their circumstances.   Many local authorities already provide for such a scheme for their tenants.

My Department and the Policy Implementation Group are examining such options and a number of research projects are informing this work.  It is intended that the Implementation Group will provide its final report addressing each of the 40 actions, including those relating to rightsizing, by the end of 2021. Consideration of ageing in place and rightsizing is also taking place as we prepare the Government's new Housing Strategy - Housing for All.

Housing Policy

Ceisteanna (316)

John Paul Phelan

Ceist:

316. Deputy John Paul Phelan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if consideration has been given to devising new guidelines for the construction of structures in the back gardens of residences for the purpose of home offices in view of the changes that have already happened and are likely to occur in the development of home working options; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29198/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

A wide range of exemptions from planning permission are already provided for under Section 4 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, (the Act) and Schedule 2 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended, (the Regulations). Such exemptions are provided for when they are considered to be consistent with proper planning and sustainable development.

Under Class 1 of Schedule 2 of the Regulations, an extension to an existing house up to a limit of 40 square metres is exempted development, with additional conditions and limitations set out in the Regulations.

Class 3 of Schedule 2 of the Regulations provides for a further exemption in respect of the construction, erection or placing within the curtilage of a house of any tent, awning, shade or other object, greenhouse, garage, store, shed or other similar structure. Similarly, this exemption is also subject to conditions and limitations as set out in the Regulations, including that it should be for the sole purpose of being incidental to the enjoyment of the house.

It should be noted that the exemptions outlined are for the sole use of the home owner and not, for example, for the purpose of facilitating the establishment of a commercial enterprise. Such development would be classed as a material change of use - i.e. a change of use of a property from residential use to commercial use - and would therefore require planning permission. An application for such permission provides an opportunity for members of the public to make submissions or observations in respect of the proposed development while also providing the planning authority with the opportunity to consider a range of potential impacts, such as increased traffic, in the area that may result from any such proposed change of use.

If a person wishes to establish whether or not planning permission is required for a specific development proposal, they can seek a declaration from their local authority under Section 5 of the Act.

As outlined, the current legislation provides for the construction of certain structures in the back gardens of residences, including for the purpose of home offices.  Accordingly, I do not have any plans for the making of further legislative changes or the issuing of new guidelines in this regard at this time.

Wastewater Treatment

Ceisteanna (317)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

317. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if legislation will be amended to allow Irish Water to take over estates with builder-built wastewater treatment systems; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29245/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, and the Water Services Acts 2007 to 2018 set out the statutory provisions which allow local authorities and Irish Water to take control of water and waste water services infrastructure, including developer provided wastewater treatment systems, where it is appropriate to do so.

Section 180 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 (the Act) provides for the taking in charge of housing developments by planning authorities.  The legislation sets out the process to be followed when a development is considered to have been satisfactorily completed, as well as where it has not been completed to the satisfaction of the planning authority.

While Irish Water is not a planning authority, it is a prescribed body under the Act for applications for planning permission where it appears to the authority that the development might impact on the provision of public water services. The obligation to take in charge wastewater infrastructure for developments which are completed satisfactorily remains with planning authorities, unless such infrastructure has already been vested in Irish Water through a Connection Agreement pursuant to the Water Services Acts.

When taking an estate in charge under section 180 of the Act, the local authority shall take in charge “any sewers, water mains or service connections within the attendant grounds of the development” which must then be transferred to Irish Water by Ministerial Order pursuant to section 12 of the Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013.

I have no plans at this time to amend the arrangements by which wastewater infrastructure may be taken in charge.  

Traveller Community

Ceisteanna (318)

Holly Cairns

Ceist:

318. Deputy Holly Cairns asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage his views on the No End in Sight report from the Ombudsman for Children; the recommendations he will be making to all local authorities based on its findings and recommendations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29256/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

In accordance with the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, housing authorities have a statutory responsibility for the assessment of the accommodation needs of Travellers and the preparation, adoption and implementation of multi-annual Traveller Accommodation Programmes (TAPs) in their areas.

My Department’s role is to ensure that there are adequate structures and supports in place to assist local authorities in providing such accommodation, including a national framework of policy, legislation and funding.

 In response to the Report of the Expert Group on Traveller Accommodation, the Minister has established a Programme Board to oversee implementation of recommendations from the Report. The Programme Board has adopted a work programme for 2021 a number of which relate to the design, management and maintenance of Traveller-specific accommodation.

In relation to the No End in Sight report just published by the Ombudsmans for Children's Office, my Department are in ongoing communication with the relevant local authority to provide the necessary supports so as to ensure that the recommendations made are implemented in a timely manner.

Over the course of the past year, and despite the on-going pandemic, my Department has progressed the rollout of a number of iniatives to improve the standard of accommodation on Traveller-specific sites.  These include:

- A revised, preferential and affordable Caravan Loan Scheme for Traveller families which is being introduced on a 6 month pilot basis across four local authorities from May 2021 with the objective of rolling it out nationally if the pilot proves successful. This scheme, which has the support of Traveller representatives on the National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee, has the potential to make an immediate and hugely significant improvement to living conditions on sites.

- The management and maintenance allowance payable per annum to local authorities by my Department for each halting site bay has just been increased by 50%. This will have an immediate and noticeable positive impact on halting site conditions.

- In 2020, just over 250 halting sites were audited for Covid preparedness and a list of deficiencies and checklist of works was prepared for each site. This resulted in an investment of over €4m in improvements to site conditions last year.

Funding remains available from my Department to local authorities to carry out improvements works on existing sites and for new traveller specific accommdation proposals put forward by local authorities and this will continue.  

Local Authorities

Ceisteanna (319)

Claire Kerrane

Ceist:

319. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he plans to provide additional funding to local authorities under the housing adaption grants in order to support older persons and persons with a disability remaining at home; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29284/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Funding of €75 million is available nationally in 2021 for the Housing Adaptation Grants for Older People and People with a Disability Scheme. This funding has increased year on year since 2014.  As part of the annual budgetary process, consideration will be given to this funding in future years in line with the Programme for Government commitments and the Policy Statement on Housing Options for Our Ageing Population, which is available on my Department's website at the following link:

www.gov.ie/en/publication/ea33c1-housing-options-for-our-ageing-population-policy-statement/

Data Protection

Ceisteanna (320)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

320. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the nature of the data breaches experienced by his Department since 2018. [29311/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force on 25th May 2018. The nature of the data breaches identified by my Department since 25th May 2018 fall into three broad categories:  personal data being shared accidentally with unintended recipients; the loss or theft of equipment (phones/laptops); or the accidental exposure of personal data to unauthorised persons.

All breaches were dealt with in line with the Department’s Data Breach Management Policy, and as required under Articles 33-34 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).  All breaches have been closed/resolved.

Departmental Schemes

Ceisteanna (321)

Michael Ring

Ceist:

321. Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the details of statistical information in relation to a scheme (details supplied) will be provided in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29325/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Repair and Leasing Scheme (RLS) was developed to assist private property owners and local authorities or approved housing bodies (AHBs) to harness the accommodation potential that exists in vacant dwellings across Ireland. Subject to the suitability of the dwelling for social housing, the cost of the necessary repairs will be met upfront by the local authority or an AHB with the cost of the repairs being recovered from the property owner by offsetting it against the lease payment.

At end Q1 2021, a total of 247 dwellings had been brought back into use under the scheme across a range of dwelling types, including over the shop properties, former bedsits, city centre terraced houses, and one off rural dwellings.  The capital budget allocation for RLS in 2021 is €11 million, targeting the delivery of 170 homes.  

Data to end Q1 2021 in relation to dwellings delivered by each local authority is available on my Department's website at the following link:

www.gov.ie/en/collection/6060e-overall-social-housing-provision/#repair-and-leasing-scheme-rls

Total funding drawn down under RLS for years 2017 to 2021, broken down by local authority is set out at the tables 1 and 2 below;

Table 1 - Repair and Leasing Scheme (RLS) - Capital Spend 2017 – Q1 2021

LA

Spend - 2017

Spend - 2018

Spend - 2019

Spend - 2020

Spend Q1 2021

Carlow

€0

€67,983

€68,267

€1,433

0

Cork   County

€0

€0

€40,000

€80,000

0

DLR

€4,987

€0

€0

€0

0

Dublin   City

€0 

€39,044

€0

€0

0

Fingal

€0

€0

€40,000

€146,315

0

Kerry

€0

€0

€0

€120,000

€40,000

Kildare

€0

€0

€36,008

€0

0

Kilkenny

€0

€24,000

€0

€0

0

Laois

€0

€0

€0

€7,753

0

Limerick

€0

€207,174

€80,000

€221,800

€40,000

Longford

€0

€0

€28,768

€0

0

Louth

€0

€0

€0

€40,000

€80,000

Mayo

€0

€0

€62,076

€280,000

0

Meath

€0

€8,698

€0

€0

€19,034

Monaghan

€0

€25,000

€20,000

€54,414

0

Roscommon

€0

€27,222

€0

€40,000

0

Tipperary

€0

€33,789

€0

€0

0

Waterford

€191,398

€1,106,739

€1,183,054

€1,199,054

€87,407

Westmeath

€0

€35,000

€0

€0

0

Wexford

€0

€38,458

€278,948

€234,513

€40,000

 

€196,385

€1,613,107

€1,837,121

€2,425,282

€306,441

 Table 2 - Repair and Leasing Scheme (RLS) Current spend 2017 -Q1 2021.

LA

Spend -   2017

Spend -   2018

Spend -   2019

Spend -   2020

Spend Q1 2021

Carlow

€0

€2,270

€11,764

€14,255

€3,554

Cork County

€0

€0

€426

€9,962

€4,503

DLR

€8,809

€21,582

€21,642

€21,582

€5,381

Dublin City

€0

€0

€22,851

€35,446

0

Kildare

€0

€0

€8,159

€23,687

€1,436

Kilkenny

€0

€5,761

€19,050

€9,919

€2,473

Laois

0

0

0

0

€9,254

Limerick

€0

€39,167

€78,027

€126,241

€39,261

Longford

€0

€0

€34,473

€26,886

€6,703

Louth

€0

€0

€3,773

€9,304

0

Mayo

€0

€0

€4,658

€13,831

 €24,573

Meath

€0

€18,940

€15,754

€15,711

0

Monaghan

€0

€12,174

€25,679

€27,934

€11,224

Roscommon

€0

€7,145

€6,708

€24,290

€4,580

Tipperary

€0

€0

€9,544

€4,468

0

Waterford

€17,371

€103,150

€338,544

€426,511

0

Westmeath

€0

€2,115

€4,276

€10,906

€1,132

Wexford

€4,009

€67,641

€87,524

€82,225

€91,274

 

€30,189

€279,945

€692,852

€883,158

€205,348

 

Homeless Accommodation

Ceisteanna (322)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

322. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the backlog in homeless HAP payments is causing warnings and threats of eviction to tenants from landlords and causing anxiety to those who already have experience of homelessness and do not wish to return to that scenario again as in the case of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29326/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Despite the challenges faced throughout 2020 due to the Covid 19 emergency measures, local authorities and the Housing Assistance Payment Shared Service Centre (HAP SSC) have continued to provide a critical service to all HAP customers. This is evident in the high number of HAP tenancies that continued to be set-up this year. The 2021 HAP target is for 15,000 additional tenancies and, at the end of Q1 2021, 3,914 HAP tenancies (26% of target) had been established.

Measures that were required to be taken in the context of Covid-19, however, have had an impact on processing times for HAP applications, including Homeless HAP Applications. The average processing time at end Q4, 2020 was 38 days.  An analysis of more recent data from the HAP SSC indicates a reduction on that average processing time at end Q1, 2021 to 35 days.

My Department and local authorities are keenly aware of the importance of minimising HAP processing times and the critical need to keep this under review at a local level. My Department has communicated this to local authority management through the County and City Management Association.

It should be acknowledged that any delay in tenants and landlords supplying relevant information, or inaccuracies or missing information, will impact on the processing time of the HAP application. However, in instances where there are delays at the processing stage within a local authority, payment to the landlord will be backdated to the date on which a complete and valid application form was received by the local authority. The landlord is, therefore, not penalised for any delay.

Through our ongoing engagement with local authorities my Department has stressed the need to minimise delays in processing these vital applications to ensure the social housing needs of tenants can be met through the HAP scheme where required. My Department is closely monitoring this situation and will continue to do so over the coming months.

Additionally, as you are aware, under HAP, households at risk of homelessness may be eligible for additional supports.  To qualify for specific additional supports available to homeless households, a household must have been determined by the relevant local authority to be homeless within the meaning of section 2 of the Housing Act 1988. 

The operation of local homeless services, including the Place Finder Service, is a matter for each local authority.

Local Authorities

Ceisteanna (323)

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

323. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the amount provided by his Department to Tipperary Council in 2020 in respect of housing supports (details supplied). [29352/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is a flexible and immediate housing support that is available to all eligible households throughout the State. At end Q1 2021, there were over 61,300 households in receipt of HAP and nearly 34,000 separate landlords and agents providing accommodation to households supported by the scheme.

In respect of the provision of HAP funding, Limerick City and County Council provides a highly effective HAP transactional shared service on behalf of all local authorities.  This HAP Shared Services Centre (SSC) manages all HAP related rental transactions for the tenant, local authority and landlord.  Accordingly, my Department does not recoup individual local authorities in respect of HAP rental payments in their administrative areas but, rather, recoups all landlord costs via the HAP SSC.

Data in relation to the funding for HAP provided by the State in 2020, broken down by local authority area, can be found on my Department's website at this link:

www.gov.ie/en/collection/6060e-overall-social-housing-provision/#housing-assistance-payment

This funding represents the portion paid by my Department after receipt of the differential rent which is paid by the tenant to the local authority. It does not include administration costs related to the Scheme.

The overall cost of supporting the HAP Scheme to the Exchequer for 2020 was €464.6 representing 59,821 active tenancies.

The Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) has been an important contributor to social housing supply since its introduction on a pilot basis in 2005 and has placed responsibility on local authorities to meet the accommodation needs of people in receipt of Rent Supplement for 18 months or longer, and who are assessed as having a long-term housing need.

The scheme is delivered by local authorities who source accommodation from the private market and Approved Housing Bodies. Expenditure under the scheme covers recoupment made to local authorities for contracted rents due to private landlords and Approved Housing Bodies, administration costs and a damages contingency fund for newly acquired accommodation.

Details for the number and cost to the exchequer of tenancies funded under the RAS scheme in County Tipperary in 2020, is available on my Department's website, titled ‘RAS Current Expenditure Housing Programmes 2011 to 2020’, at the following link: gov.ie - Overall social housing provision (www.gov.ie)  

Funding for leasing projects is provided for under the Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme (SHCEP). This Programme supports the delivery of social housing by providing financial support to local authorities for the long term leasing of houses and apartments from private owners and Approved Housing Bodies. 

At end 2020, a total of 374 leased properties were supported under SHCEP across all leasing delivery programmes in Tipperary County Council. The total Leasing spend under SHCEP in 2020 was €2,547,845, of which €1,002,904 was spent on long-term leases secured by both Local Authorities and Approved Housing Bodies.

All data is based on local authority claims for operational agreements recorded on the Department's SHCEP financial management system. Any variations in data between operational figures and total output under leasing delivery streams may be due to the time lag in the submission of claims to my Department in respect of new claims after delivery.  

The Leasing, RAS and HAP schemes continue to be effective and secure forms of social housing support and remain a significant part of the suite of social housing options currently available across the country.

Regeneration Projects

Ceisteanna (324)

Patricia Ryan

Ceist:

324. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the status of the regeneration plan for St. Patrick's Park, Rathangan, County Kildare; the timeline for completion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29439/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

My Department is supporting Kildare County Council in the major refurbishment and new build social housing scheme at St. Patrick's Park, Rathangan. Kildare County Council has advised that Phase 1, involving the refurbishment of 34 homes, was completed in October 2019 and that Phases 2 and 3 of the programme have been developed following public consultation workshops with the residents.  This next work involves the demolition of 15 existing homes, construction of 7 new homes, refurbishment of 25 homes and a range of site and landscaping works. This will be carried out on a phased basis to minimise disruption to existing residents.

Phases 2 and 3 are currently progressing through design stage, with the intention to consult further with the residents and seek Part 8 approval by the end of this year. This will enable Kildare County Council to complete the tendering process in 2022 with works to begin subsequently and completion expected in 2024.

While this is a complex project, it is being advanced by Kildare County Council so that improved conditions are delivered for the residents.  Further information should be available directly from Kildare County Council which is managing the implemention of the programme.

Housing Provision

Ceisteanna (325)

Patricia Ryan

Ceist:

325. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the number of persons on the housing list in each local authority area; the expected wait time for new entrants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29441/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Details on the number of households qualified for social housing support in each local authority area is provided in the annual statutory Summary of Social Housing Assessments (SSHA).

The most recent summary, conducted in November 2020, shows that 61,880 households were assessed as qualified for, and being in need of, social housing support. This represents a decrease of 6,813 households or 9.9% on the last assessment in June 2019. Since 2016, the numbers have decreased from 91,600 to 61,880, a reduction of 32.4%.

Below is the link to the summary report for 2020 which includes breakdowns by each local authority across a range of categories.

With respect to the expected wait time on the housing lists for new entrants, my Department does not hold that information. However, Figure 2.8 and Table A1.8 provide details on the length of time households have been on the record of qualified households (the Waiting List).

It should be noted that if a household meets the eligibility and need criteria, it qualifies for the suite of social housing supports, including HAP, and is placed on the housing list to be considered for the allocation of suitable tenancies in accordance with the authority’s allocation scheme. HAP is a flexible and immediate support which is available to all eligible households in all local authority areas across the State. 

It should also be noted that the SSHA is a point in time snapshot of the demand for social housing support in each local authority area and does not necessarily reflect the dynamic nature of entry to and exit from the housing waiting lists.

2020 Report

www.gov.ie/en/publication/970ea-summary-of-social-housing-assessments-2020-key-findings/

Fire Service

Ceisteanna (326)

Patricia Ryan

Ceist:

326. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage further to Parliamentary Question No. 408 of 29 September 2020, if the external validation group process relating to the fire service has begun; when it is expected to report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29442/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The provision of a fire service in its functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs and the provision of fire station premises, is a statutory function of individual fire authorities under the Fire Services Acts, 1981 and 2003.  My Department, primarily through the National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (NDFEM) supports the fire authorities through setting general policy,  issuing national standards and guidance on operational and other related matters, providing a central training programme and providing capital funding for equipment and priority infrastructural projects. 

Fire services are provided in Ireland by local authorities in accordance with the provisions of the Fire Services Acts, 1981 and 2003. There are 31 fire authorities which provide fire prevention and fire protection services for communities through 27 service delivery structures. Local authority fire services are delivered by approximately 3,300 local authority staff engaged at 218 fire stations nationwide.

Over the course of 2014/ 2015, an External Validation Group (EVG), commissioned by the Management Board of the NDFEM, visited every fire service in the country as part of a new external validation process arising from implementation of the 2013 "Keeping Communities Safe" national policy document. In April 2016, the Management Board published the first EVG Report titled “Local Delivery - National Consistency”.  The Report, which sets out details of the process as well as findings is available on my Department's website at the following link:

http://www.housing.gov.ie/local-government/fire-and-emergency-management/fire-services-ireland-local-delivery-national

This first EVG report was welcomed as a benchmark of local authority provision of fire services in Ireland, and reviewed a number of themes. For the first time, it reported on the matching of provision of fire services with assessed fire risk. It reviewed fire safety work and undertook an assessment of the impact of national guidance on safety, health and welfare of staff in fire services. The Report concluded that the public are served well by the locally authority provided fire service arrangements and can retain confidence in the integrity and professionalism of those with responsibility for managing and delivering fire safety and fire services in Ireland.

In May 2019, the Management Board of NDFEM considered a proposal for a second round of external validation, or EVG II. Stakeholder engagement was undertaken in preparation for a thematic review process, which was scheduled to commence in Q1 2020. However, due to Covid-19, the Board made a decision to postpone this process.

As an alternative, in May 2020, the Board mandated staff in the NDFEM to undertake a review of the impact of Covid-19 on local authority fire service resilience and response, as well as on fire safety work and to look at fire services roles in supporting Covid-related emergency management. The objective was to capture  issues arising, lessons to be learned and good practice which worked during the first phase of Covid-19 response, so that essential services could continue to be maintained in case of further surges.

This review was undertaken by means of ‘virtual visits’ (i.e. by Webex link) to each of the 27 fire services and three Regional Communications Centres. This ‘virtual’ process was undertaken by an NDFEM team, working in association with Chief Fire Officers and their staff and local authority executives. These visits were undertaken between the 24th of June and the 22nd of September 2020.  A composite report on themes related to the impact of Covid-19 on fire services, titled 'Response and Resilience' was compiled and presented to the NDFEM Management Board in October 2020. While this is an internal report to facilitate sharing of good practice and has not been published, a copy can be made available if required. 

The position in relation to undertaking another round of External Validation will be kept under review by the NDFEM Management Board, taking account of the experience of the virtual approch in 2020 and in light of the evolving Covid-19 situation.

Constitutional Convention

Ceisteanna (327)

Patricia Ryan

Ceist:

327. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will establish a constitutional convention to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution. [29443/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

A Convention on the Constitution was established in 2012 to discuss proposed amendments to the Constitution.  The Eighth Report issued by the Convention dealt with the matter of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and was published in March 2014. The most popular option for reform was the insertion of a provision into the Constitution that "the State shall progressively realise economic, social and cultural rights, subject to maximum available resources and that this duty is cognisable by the Courts". In relation to which specific rights should be enumerated in the Constitution, these included rights to housing, social security, essential health care, rights of people with disabilities, linguistic and cultural rights and the rights covered in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The commitments in relation to constitutional reform in the Programme for Government provide for the holding of a referendum on housing. The Programme for Government also commits to establishing a Commission on Housing to examine issues such as tenure, standards, sustainability, and quality-of-life issues in the provision of housing.  It is planned that the Commission on Housing will review the commitment to hold a referendum on housing, once it has been formally established in September this year, and the Terms of Reference and Membership of the Commission have been finalised. The Report of the Convention on the Constitution will be available for consideration by the Commission.

Housing Provision

Ceisteanna (328)

Patricia Ryan

Ceist:

328. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the number of sites that have been provided under the serviced sites scheme in each county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29453/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

To date, my Department has issued two broad-based Serviced Sites Fund (SSF) calls for proposals to local authorities. Funding of almost €200 million has been approved in principle in support of 40 infrastructure projects in 14 local authority areas across 9 counties, which will assist in the delivery of almost 4,200 affordable homes for purchase or for rent.

Details of 35 SSF projects which received approval in principle under the two SSF calls to date are available on the Rebuilding Ireland's website as follows.  In advance of making an SSF funding submission, local authorities were issued with full details, briefing material and application forms which outlined the information required and assessment criteria upon which applications are assessed.

Call 1 rebuildingireland.ie/news/minister-murphy-gives-the-go-ahead-for-ten-local-authority-sites-for-affordable-housing-under-the-serviced-sites-fund/.

 Call 2 rebuildingireland.ie/news/minister-murphy-approves-funding-of-e84m-to-support-delivery-of-1770-affordable-homes-under-the-ssf/.

In addition to these projects, approval in principle has also been given to five further applications for SSF funding, namely, Dublin City Council’s projects in Emmet Road and Oscar Traynor Road, Fingal County Council’s projects in Ballymastone, Donabate, and Hayestown, Rush and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council’s project in Shanganagh.

In making an application for SSF, each local authority must demonstrate that an affordability issue exists in the area in question and that it is viable to deliver homes, for purchase or rent, with a price reduction of at least 10% below open market values.

In accordance with a Programme for Government commitment to extend the SSF, a review of the Fund is currently ongoing. 

Tax Code

Ceisteanna (329)

Gerald Nash

Ceist:

329. Deputy Ged Nash asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if his attention has been drawn to the impact of the recently announced changes to stamp duty in respect of the bulk buying by investment funds of houses, on organisations active in the mortgage to rent sector (details supplied) and that are in the process of purchasing homes under the mortgage to rent scheme in order to lease back to distressed homeowners; if he has been in contact with the Minister for Finance with regard to identifying a way in which such organisations may be exempted from the new stamp duty regime under certain circumstances and informed by the way in which approved housing bodies have been exempted under the new system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29478/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Mortgage to Rent (MTR) scheme provides for an Approved Housing Body (AHB) or since 2018 a private funder to acquire ownership of a property with an unsustainable private mortgage from a lender, which also enables the household to remain in their home as a social housing tenant.  The scheme is an established part of the overall suite of social housing options and an important part of the mortgage arrears resolution process.  The household must be eligible for social housing and the property must meet the appropriate standards for social housing.

To the end of March 2021, 1179 households with unsustainable private mortgages have completed the MTR scheme since its introduction nationally in 2013.  The 1179 households in the scheme represent 1970 adults and 1699 children who have remained living in their homes and communities.  There are currently 1079 active cases being progressed under the scheme.  

The Dáil approved, by way of a Financial Resolution, on 19 May 2021 a new higher stamp duty rate of 10% that will apply to the multiple purchase of houses.  This measure was introduced in response to the multiple purchase of residential units by certain institutional investors in the Irish property market.  Disincentivising the bulk buying of homes will enable these homes to be made available for purchase by owner occupiers, particularly first time buyers.

As some multiple purchases of property are undertaken by bodies specifically for the purpose of providing social or affordable housing, the higher stamp duty rate will not apply in such instances e.g. Local Authorities, AHBs and the Housing Agency.  The Minister for Finance also indicated when bringing in the Financial Resolution, and after consultation with me, that in addition to the exemptions provided for Local Authorities, AHBs and the Housing Agency from the 10% stamp duty rate, exemptions for other social and affordable housing arrangements would also be considered.

It is my intention that exemptions from the higher stamp duty rate in respect of homes acquired for social and affordable housing, including homes acquired under the MTR scheme, will be included in the legislation that will come before the Oireachtas in the next few weeks to permanently underpin this Financial Resolution.  Addressing this matter through legislation over the next number of weeks should ensure that MTR transactions in progress by Home For Life are concluded.  Those MTR cases being progressed by iCare will proceed as normal.  

Fire Service

Ceisteanna (330)

Johnny Mythen

Ceist:

330. Deputy Johnny Mythen asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the number of station officer positions in the retained fire service that are vacant by county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29502/21]

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 local government sector employment levels. To this end, my Department gathers aggregate quarterly data on staff numbers in each local authority on a whole time equivalent basis.

However, granular data, in terms of the detailed breakdown of the local authorities which might have vacancies at these grades is not collected and consequently is not available in my Department. The relevant information would be available from individual local authorities.

Fire Service

Ceisteanna (331)

Johnny Mythen

Ceist:

331. Deputy Johnny Mythen asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the number of junior officer rank of driver or mechanic positions that are vacant in the retained fire service by county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29503/21]

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 local government sector employment levels. To this end, my Department gathers aggregate quarterly data on staff numbers in each local authority on a whole time equivalent basis.

However, granular data, in terms of the detailed breakdown of the local authorities which might have vacancies at these grades is not collected and consequently is not available in my Department. The relevant information would be available from individual local authorities.

National Parks

Ceisteanna (332)

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

332. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if his Department is currently considering applications or initiatives to develop new national parks; the process in place to support and facilitate such initiatives; the criteria that exists for being designated a national park; and his policy on developing new national parks. [29542/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Through the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS), my Department manages an extensive network of natural heritage sites of some 87,000 hectares. The 6 existing National Parks of Ireland account for circa 65,000 hectares of this network with a further 22,000 hectares comprising  nature reserves and other heritage sites. 

Our National Parks are managed as Category II National Parks under the criteria set out by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). Under this Category, ownership and management should normally be by the highest competent authority of the State. Accordingly, all National Parks in Ireland are fully owned and managed by the State through the NPWS Division of my Department. It is the policy of my Department to abide by the criteria and standards for the National Parks laid down by the IUCN which can be found at www.iucn.org/theme/protected-areas/about/protected-areas-categories/category-ii-national-park  

The 6 existing National Parks are managed from a conservation perspective, and attract in excess of 4 million visitors annually. Given the resources available for capital investment within our National Parks and Nature Reserves, I am ever mindful of the need to focus on the core responsibilities relating to the management of the existing Parks and Reserves lands and have no plans at present to increase the number of National Parks in the country. 

In line with the Programme for Government - Our Shared Future, the NPWS is actively looking at Biosphere designation nationwide, and is currently working on an application for submission to UNESCO for the Lough Ree Area. The Programme for Government also contains a commitment to realise our outstanding target of 10% marine protected area (MPA) coverage in Ireland's waters as soon as is practicable, aiming for 30% by 2030. In this regard we have committed to deliver comprehensive legislation for the identification, designation and management of MPAs in Ireland. It is within the framework of such legislation that the Government will deliver the establishment of clearly defined marine protected areas, including processes for their identification, designation and management.  

The NPWS is continually implementing "Experiencing the Wild Heart of Ireland", its tourism interpretative plan for our National Parks and National Reserves. This document sets out a road map for investment at these important nature conservation, public amenity and tourism sites and underpins the objectives of Project 2040. While my Department has no specific plans to expand the park network at present it is actively ensuring the preservation, protection and presentation of the assets it already owns.  Recent land acquisitions in this regard underpin the Government’s on-going commitment to the preservation of our natural heritage for future generations of citizens and visitors alike to enjoy. These include the extension of Wicklow Mountains National Park through purchasing almost 4,900 acres of Dublin Uplands at Glenasmole in 2016 and a further 79.08 hectares at Carrigcurra in 2020 ; the 2018 expansion of Wild Nephin National Park to create a State – owned wilderness project of over 11,000 hectares; and in 2021, the acquisition of 21.96 hectares at Knockauns adjacent to the Burren National Park.  

Waterways Issues

Ceisteanna (333)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

333. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage further to Parliamentary Question No. 62 of 4 November 2020, the number of sluice gates open and closed by the ESB and Waterways Ireland; and the number of boards removed at Meelick Weir and Athlone for May 2021 and the corresponding water level reference point north of each location, in tabular form. [29549/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Waterways Ireland have provided my Department with the attached table showing the number of sluice gates open and closed by the agency and the ESB and the number of boards removed (there were no boards in place) up to 27 May 2021.

data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/debates/questions/supportingDocumentation/2021-06-01_pq333-01-06-2021_en.xlsx

Rental Sector

Ceisteanna (334)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

334. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will increase the housing assistance payment caps in County Kerry given the significant increase in rents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29553/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Increased rent limits for the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and the Rent Supplement Scheme were introduced in 2016. These limits were agreed in conjunction with the Department of Social Protection (DSP).  In reviewing the rent limits, my Department worked closely with DSP and monitored data gathered from the Residential Tenancies Board and the HAP Shared Services Centre.  The HAP rent limits were increased significantly, in the order of 60% in some cases.

Maximum rent limits for the HAP scheme are set out for each housing authority area by the Housing Assistance Payment (Amendment) Regulations 2017.  The current maximum HAP rent limits are available on the Irish Statute Book website at the following link:

http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2017/si/56/made/en/print?q=housing&years=2017. 

Local authorities also have discretion, because of local rental market conditions, to exceed the maximum rent limit by up to 20%, or up to 50% in the Dublin region for those households either in, or at immediate risk of homelessness. It is a matter for the local authority to determine whether the application of the flexibility is warranted on a case by case basis and also the level of additional discretion applied in each case.  

In considering this issue, I am conscious that increasing the current HAP rent limits could have negative inflationary impacts, leading to a detrimental impact on the wider rental market, including for those households who are not receiving HAP support.

My Department closely monitors the level of discretion being used by local authorities, taking into account other sources of data, including Residential Tenancies Board rent data published on a quarterly basis. I am satisfied that the current maximum rent limits, together with the additional flexibility available to local authorities, are generally adequate to support the effective operation of the HAP scheme. However, I will continue to keep the matter under review.

Local Authorities

Ceisteanna (335)

Duncan Smith

Ceist:

335. Deputy Duncan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the local authorities that have a social inclusion unit or officer; the social inclusion training that is provided by his Department to local authorities to meet the aims and objectives of the Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29593/21]

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 local government sector employment levels. To this end, my Department gathers aggregate quarterly data on staff numbers in each local authority on a whole time equivalent basis.

However, granular data, in terms of the detailed breakdown of the local authorities which might have vacancies at these grades is not collected and consequently is not available in my Department. The relevant information would be available from individual local authorities.

The Housing Agency provides training to local authorities to support them in providing housing for people with disabilities under the National Housing Strategy for People with a Disability.  Each local authority has a Housing and Disability Steering Group the function of which is to plan for the housing of people with disabilities over a 5 year period within the development planning process. The Groups, which are led by the local authority Director of Housing Services are made up of local authority housing officials, HSE officals and members of disability organisations.  The Housing Agency provides training to these Groups to enable them to understand and fulfil their role under the Strategy.  It also provides training to local authorities in the management of persons with mental health disabilities who are seeking housing supports and has published a manual for use by local authorities.

Age Friendly Ireland, the Shared Service that is tasked with implementing the UN Age Friendly Programme in Ireland, (which my Department funds jointly with the Department of Health) provides training to local authorities in relation to housing for older persons within the context of the Joint Policy Statement Housing Options for our Ageing Population. The training covers many aspects of housing for older people including site selection, optimal design for older persons, assistive technology and crime prevention through environmental design. Each local authority has appointed a ‘technical adviser’ as an Action under the Joint Policy Statement of Housing Options for our Ageing Population. These advisers have undertaken comprehensive training provided by Age Friendly Ireland and are now involved in a wide range of housing activity within local authorities. Their role is to be a resource for older people, for the local authorities, and indeed for anyone who wants to access information about age friendly housing. 

Protected Disclosures

Ceisteanna (336)

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

336. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the number of protected disclosures made to his Department in each of the past five years and to date in 2021. [29637/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Section 22 of the Protected Disclosures Act 2014 requires each public body to publish an

annual report setting out the number of protected disclosures received in the preceding year and the action taken.  The annual reports for my Department are available on the Department's website at the following link: www.gov.ie/en/collection/20f06-protected-disclosures-annual-reports/

My Department received fifteen protected disclosures between 2016 and to date in 2021, all but one of them from workers of other bodies in relation to which I have legislative functions, as provided for under Section 8 of the Act. 

A breakdown of receipt by year is set out in the table below.

Year 

Number of Protected Disclosures

 2016

1

 2017

2

 2018

4

 2019

4

 2020

3

 2021 to date

1

In addition to the above, one case purporting to be a protected disclosure was recently forwarded to my Department.  That case is currently under consideration.

Planning Issues

Ceisteanna (337)

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

337. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if the construction of an access roadway to a telecommunications antennae which is exempted development requires planning permission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29645/21]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended (the Act), all development, unless specifically exempted under the Act or associated Regulations, requires planning permission.

Section 4 of the Act and Schedule 2 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended (the Regulations), set out various exemptions from the requirement to obtain planning permission. In this regard, Class 31 of Schedule 2 of the Regulations provides that certain classes of development carried out by a statutory undertaker authorised to provide a telecommunications service are, subject to specified conditions, exempted development from the requirement to obtain planning permission. Where the conditions and size thresholds specified in the exemption class are not complied with or are exceeded, planning permission is required.

Exemptions from the requirement to obtain planning permission in respect of specific forms of development are provided for when they are considered to be consistent with proper planning and sustainable development.

While access roads are not listed under Class 31 of the Regulations, article 9(1)(ii) of the Regulations states that any development that would:

"consist of or comprise the formation, laying out or material widening of a means of access to a public road the surfaced carriageway of which exceeds 4 metres in width"

shall not be exempted development.  

In addition, article 9(1)(iii) of the Regulations provides that where a development would endanger public safety of road users by reason of traffic hazard or obstruction, planning permission is required.

The Telecommunications Antennae and Support Structures Guidelines, issued under section 28 of the Act by my Department to Planning Authorities in 1996, state that:

"access roads should be permitted only where they are absolutely necessary and great care should be taken that they will not appear as a scar on a hillside. It should normally be a condition of permission that such roads are grubbed up at the end of the construction period". 

Where a question arises on whether development is or is not development, or is or is not exempted development, any person may seek a declaration from the relevant planning authority under section 5 of the Act. A planning authority that is in receipt of a section 5 application is required to make its decision in respect of the application within four weeks of the date of receipt of the application.  A decision made by a planning authority in respect of such an application may be appealed to An Bord Pleanála.

Under section 152 of the Act, it is obligatory for the planning authority to follow up substantive written complaints of breaches of the planning code, unless it considers the complaint to be trivial or vexatious, or without substance or foundation.

Once a planning authority has received a written complaint and forms the view that unauthorised development may have been, is being or may be carried out, it must issue a warning letter to the owner or person carrying out the development unless the development in question is of a trivial or minor nature.

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