Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 12 December 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Update on Rebuilding Ireland: Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government
That is a very important point to make. The number of homes built in the State in 2013 was just over 4,000. The construction sector was decimated in the crash. We had to get to increase the number of homes being built to meet the demand that was already there, but during that time demand has been increasing because of net immigration due to the economy doing well. This has created an additional pressure that was not there before. The population will continue to grow. We have hardwired a further increase in the annual output of homes into the national development plan that will come into force after Rebuilding Ireland to be more in line with the projections the Central Bank was talking about the other day. It is important that we recognise that demand will increase, and we have to continue to drive an increase in the delivery of new homes.
We have regular Cabinet sub-committee meetings where we discuss people who are in direct provision, have been granted leave to remain and need a home. We discuss ways to get them into homes and out of direct provision through things like the housing assistance payment, HAP. I refer also to the refugee programme. The really good work done by the State in helping almost 2,000 refugees into homes and communities throughout Ireland seems to go under the radar. It is different from direct provision, because those people have been identified through a process outside of the State. They do not come into the country through the direct provision system. They go into homes. That programme has been very successful and we are going to do more.
I thank the Senator for the support. Like him, I am not here for the credit. None of us is. We are here to do the job because we believe we have a responsibility to do it, but I thank him for his words of support.
People are sometimes very quick to criticise local authorities. I have defended them since day one and said they would be the primary vehicle for the delivery of social housing. So they are, and we have hardwired that into our delivery of housing. However, some have more challenges than others. Slightly more than 400 social housing homes were built in the State in 2014. This year we will build more than 6,000. That is because of Rebuilding Ireland. Again, people say Rebuilding Ireland is not working, but this is a fact that shows it has increased delivery. It is not enough yet, but next year we will build more social housing homes than were built in any of the boom years, when the economy was said to be fine and houses were flying up. Some 90,000 were built in one year. Next year we will build more social housing than was built in any of those years. That says something about the priority this Government places on social housing. That does not get reported either, but that is what happens in political debate. Some of the facts get crowded out.
Local authorities are sometime too quick to blame the Department. One of the process changes we have implemented involves the publication of annual targets that they have to meet. There are two areas where I believe new measures can help local authorities be more accountable and do more. One of these is the task force approach. We brought this to Cork, where it has been very successful. I cannot remember the numbers off the top of my head, but the two Cork local authorities were building almost nothing as recently as 2014.
This year, there are approximately 1,000 homes in its pipeline, which is very impressive. That shows how the task force model can work. We have now deployed it to Galway as the two councils in the county have really struggled. That will help drive delivery in Galway.
The big issue is the movement of the housing delivery office into the local authority sector. The local authorities will be responsible for driving delivery, while the Department will continue to have oversight and will continue to publish national targets. They have an impressive digital tool which can show in each local authority which projects are at stage 1, 2, 3 or 4, which are on site and which are at pre-planning stage. It can give a very detailed understanding of exactly where we are to date in each public authority and where we will be in the next three to four years. As that tool is delivered in the housing delivery office within the Local Government Management Agency, every local authority and councillor will be able to ask for the update live on screen and interrogate the numbers. There will, therefore, be more accountability at local authority level for councillors. That is also needed. Councillors need to recognise the important role they have in ensuring that their respective local authority is meeting its targets for housebuilding and in respect of families in emergency accommodation. When I look at the record of debate in some local authorities, I am not sure they are giving the time they should be giving to issues such as housing and people in emergency accommodation. Hopefully, these new tools will give councillors more power to demand more of their respective executive.