Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government

Estimates for Public Services 2020
Vote 16 - Valuation Office (Revised)
Vote 23 - Property Registration Authority (Revised)
Vote 34 - Housing, Planning and Local Government (Revised)

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I welcome the Minister and the departmental officials from the Department. The Minister's statement on the Revised Estimates for public serviceshas been circulated to members. I ask the Minister to provide the committee with a brief introduction to his statement, following which there will be questions from members. We are limited to a 1 p.m. finish so I ask members to be brief.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta Matthews as ucht an chuiridh. Déanaim comhghairdeas leis as a phost nua mar Chathaoirleach an choiste. Tá áthas orm a bheith ar ais anseo leis an gcoiste mar Aire ar a bhfuil freagracht as tithíocht, rialtas áitiúil agus oidhreacht. Is mór an onóir dom é. Tá a lán obair thábhachtach á déanamh againn. Táim ag tnúth leis an obair sin a dhéanamh ar mhaithe ár muintir.

I would like to thank the Cathaoirleach for the invitation to appear before the committee today. Having served on this committee, it is a great honour to return as Minister for this important portfolio. I look forward to working with all members of the committee in a constructive way. We face big challenges in the area of housing and we may have differences of opinion from time to time, which I think is healthy. I do not have all the answers, nor does anyone here, but we are charged with working together for the good of the people, and I am committed to doing so.

As the Cathaoirleach previously mentioned, my statement has been circulated to members. It would take longer than five minutes for me to deliver the statement, so I will not go through it now. However, if there are elements within the statement or questions that we do not get to today, members should submit them to my office or approach me directly.

I will now outline some of the main points of the statement. It concerns the Revised Estimates for public services for this full year 2020. Obviously, having taken over at the end of June, there are elements within it which were not under my immediate control for the early part of the year. Once the committee has agreed its work programme, there will be another opportunity for me to advise members of the Government priorities in line with the programme of Government, which I am sure all members have read cover to cover. If they have not they have an opportunity to do so in the meantime. Perhaps Deputy Ó Broin got somebody else to read it for him, or he might have done it himself, particularly the Housing for All section.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I have read it twice, the Minister will be happy to know.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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That is excellent. Perhaps the Deputy will get it right the next time.

On a serious note, we are facing some significant challenges. A priority for all of us is to eradicate homelessness, and we must drive down the numbers of homeless. We need to deliver social and public housing on public land; ensure that there is affordable housing, both for purchase and rental; and also make changes in planning and in local government. Reforms in local government are significant and concern the workings of how councils and local democracy.

Investment in water is a big issue. If we are going to grow our housing stock and house our people, we need to deal with the deficit in capital infrastructure and in capital funding in the area of water, both for fresh water and waste water.

Heritage is also something which comes under my portfolio. It is an important part of the role for which I and Minister of State, Deputy Malcolm Noonan, will be responsible. I will be working very closely with him on this. The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, will be responsible for the planning and local government side. Fire and emergency services and various other elements are also included in this diverse and important portfolio.

I would like to highlight a few points from my statement. This year the Department will spend more than €5 billion. That is a significant spend. Additional funding amounting to €691.5 million has been included in the Revised Estimates for public services and flows directly from the jobs stimulus programme announced by the coalition Government, comprising Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party, in July. A significant portion of that is the €600 million to fund the commercial rates waiver, which business across the Twenty-six Counties badly needed. It is a waiver that ran from March to September 2020. Following the noting and passing of the Revised Estimates in the Dáil tomorrow, the disbursal of this €600 million to all of our local authorities will then take place, which explains the urgency of the matter.

On top of that, I have announced a €43 million Irish Water leakage reduction programme, which has benefited all 31 local authorities within the State. This important work will be completed this year.

We have also allocated €40 million for every local authority as part of the largest voids programme. As most of the members will know, voids are the vacant social housing stock that have remained for longer than 12 months - a matter that has been discussed in this committee a number of times.

Some of it has been vacant for more than 12 months. That matter has been discussed by the committee on several occasions. We allocated €40 million for every local authority, targeted to bring in 2,500 local authority homes back into stock. Those homes will be occupied, or at the very least allocated, this year. Those will be back in stock this year and it is very important that that happens.

The Estimate includes €95 million which has come with the transfer of responsibility for heritage to my Department.

A critical focus this year must be and is the area of preventing homelessness and helping our homeless community. It is envisaged that approximately 5,500 adults will exit from homelessness and into homes in 2020, utilising the various social housing supports. There is an allocation of €196 million in that regard in the Estimate, an increase of €50 million on 2019. This will allow the continued provision of emergency accommodation and supports to individuals and households experiencing homelessness, while also allowing for the very important continued expansion of the Housing First strategy for rough sleepers. There is a firm commitment in the programme for Government to expand that service. What I have done is establish the homelessness task force, which I chair. It is made up of the chief executives of many of the housing charities with which members will be familiar, along with my officials. It meets every week to focus directly on how we can drive down homeless numbers, clear blockages in the system and ensure bureaucracy does not get in the way of helping people to get back into a home.

Other elements relate to the planning side. I have instructed all approved housing bodies and local authorities that estates and new developments should be designed for community and to ensure that we do not have a dearth of one-bedroom and two-bedroom properties. That is why earlier this year, within four weeks of taking over this portfolio, I announced the call for housing initiative, which has a particular focus on one-bedroom units. Frankly, we do not have enough of them. Some 73% of homeless adults are single people, but there is not enough appropriate accommodation for them. I will address that issue. In the short term, we are seeking to purchase those homes through the Housing Agency. Another element is the issue of larger families. Approximately 50 of the families who have been homeless for a sustained period are larger families. We do not have the requisite appropriate accommodation to house those families. I have asked the housing associations, in conjunction with my Department and local authorities, to purchase homes where they can to ensure that these families are housed.

How long do I have left?

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Another two minutes, approximately.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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That is not bad. I have covered a lot of ground.

On energy efficiency and the health and well-being of those who live in social homes, it is very important that we seek to upgrade older social homes in particular. The Estimate provides €10 million for 400 social homes under the energy efficiency programme, which is a good start. More significantly, in conjunction with the Minister for Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Ryan, my Department has announced the midlands retrofit programme which is part of the Just Transition. It will cover eight counties and 750 homes. It involves an investment of €20 million and work has already commenced in areas such as County Longford. An investment of €20 million has been made to upgrade those homes and make them healthier and safer and more energy efficient places for people to live in. It is a pilot programme. Many members have interacted with me on it. It may involve action by their local authorities. I am anxious for the pilot scheme to be concluded by the end of quarter 1 of 2021 such that we can look at how it has worked. NUI Galway is carrying out a longer-term study on it to ascertain its effects on the people and families living in those homes. This is a really important piece of work that we are undertaking and will go some way towards meeting our just transition commitments.

The Estimate provides €59 million for home adaptations to be undertaken, an increase of €2 million on 2019. On the issue of remediation works, I have allocated €40 million in the Estimate to remediation works, which include the mica and defective blocks scheme which I, along with colleagues, launched in Donegal in July. That scheme is now up and running and open for adaptation. It is a matter into which this committee and some members of previous committees had a significant input.

I refer to the continuation of the pyrite remediation scheme, which I extended into the city and county of Limerick last week. Deputy O'Donoghue will be aware of that, and we will keep that programme under review.

While €6 million might seem a small amount in the overall scheme of €5 billion, that has been allocated to increase the number of home and rental inspections that local authorities undertake. It has been a regular concern for this committee, and for me, when we are bringing in additional regulations and giving new responsibilities to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, to ensure that the private rental stock is also up to scratch, and that is why we must also invest in those homes.

Many other items are covered, and I turn briefly to Irish Water. This Estimate is more than €1.2 billion, with just short of €600 million going to current spending and €635 million to capital spending. Those seem like significant amounts, but there is a challenge regarding capital funding for Irish Water. We want to improve our wastewater infrastructure, reduce leakages, improve our drinking water and ensure it is up to standard. We also want to expand the network so we can build more homes. To do all of that, we will have to make some serious decisions regarding the funding of Irish Water.

I conclude by stating that this meeting is timely. We are coming toward the conclusion of budget negotiations. The country is in the grip of a global pandemic, and that has had a significant effect on output in our construction sector, public and private. We must keep the pandemic under observation as we move into next year if we are dealing with second and third waves regarding the impact on the sector and what are considered essential services. I am committed, however, as the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, to delivering on the ambitious programme for Government negotiated between Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.

As I stated at the outset, however, I have experience of this committee. It is an important committee and, generally speaking, while we may have had disagreements in the past it has worked very well together. I intend to engage proactively with members of the committee to try to assist in making real strides in tackling our housing crisis by providing public homes on public land, providing affordable housing, driving down numbers of homeless and investing in our wastewater infrastructure, while also driving forward the significant local government reform programme detailed in the Programme for Government - Our Shared Future.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank the Minister for his statement and for his detailed written submission. I open the meeting to Members now and we will follow the order that we had previously agreed. We have about 30 minutes, and that will mean approximately one five-minute slot for each party, and party colleagues can share time, with agreement. I start with the Fianna Fáil Party, and I call Deputy McAuliffe, who had indicated. Is the Deputy sharing time?

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I am going to share two and a half minutes with Deputy Murnane O'Connor.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I am going to time these contributions because I am going to be strict on time.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Will it be possible to come back in at the end?

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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The five minutes will include the questions and answers, as has been the case previously.

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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This is the rapid-fire round for the Minister. I thank him for covering several of the topics and I look forward to working with him, especially when he responds in respect of the work programme. Turning to the Estimates, will the Minister remind us how many boarded-up voids he thinks will come back into stock?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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In the July stimulus, we had a target for 2,500 and, so far, we have had submissions from local authorities of about 2,410 properties. That involved spending slightly less than €40 million, and that was in the July stimulus. An overall figure regarding some previous voids, dating from before I took over, is included. The full figure, therefore, is about 4,000 voids but, focusing specifically on the July stimulus, the number is 2,500. There is a condition imposed, however. Every local authority has a target and every authority will know what it needs to do, but those voids must be back in stock this year. We are reviewing that situation weekly. If one local authority is not meeting that condition, we will take the money back from it and transfer it elsewhere-----

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister. There is major frustration when people see boarded-up homes. Regarding the mortgage-to-rent scheme, and given what is going on with the banks, the programme for Government referred to expanding it. If payment breaks stop, what else is in place in that regard?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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The report from the fourth quarter of last year showed that a significant number of mortgages were in distress due to mortgage arrears.

There is an issue with the mortgage to rent scheme that concerns both my Department and the Department of Finance. We are committed to expanding the scheme and there is money in the Estimate for this year for that purpose. However, we can do a lot better. We need to simplify the scheme and we know that a number of local authorities do not engage with it. There are people like David Hall at iCare Housing who have been doing a super job in this regard, as well as the Housing Agency, which is under the remit of my Department. The scheme offers a solution for people in systemic mortgage arrears failure, which is, in effect, the transfer of ownership to a local authority. We need to do a lot better in this area.

In regard to mortgage payment breaks, I have provided for an additional three months for local authority loans. Fewer than 500 people have availed of that facility or are still availing of it. More than half of those who availed of it in the first three months of the Covid-19 crisis have gone back to full payment. That is a good development but we need to work with those people who are still having difficulties paying their mortgages due to losing their jobs or having a serious reduction in their salary as a consequence of the pandemic.

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Will the Chairman indicate whether I have any time remaining?

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I am afraid Deputy McAuliffe is over time but he can come back with written questions.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I have three questions for the Minister. If he does not have enough time to respond now, he might come back to me in writing or at the end of the meeting. First, I welcome the provision for adaptation grants. That is an issue on which all of us have been working with the local authorities. From what I have seen myself and also what I hear from colleagues, the local authorities are experiencing difficulties in this regard because of the Covid-19 restrictions. Are their staff able to make house calls and undertake assessments of grant applications? If not, what will be the implications of that for the scheme in the long term?

Second, capital funding for Carlow County Council is one of the lowest in the country. I have spoken to both Mary Hurley, assistant secretary at the Department, and the Minister about this matter. Is there any update in that regard?

Third, the Minister knows I am adamant about the need to address the threshold to qualify for local authority housing. Again, Carlow County Council has one of the lowest provisions in this regard. We need to look at the threshold for qualification because some people are becoming homeless.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for her questions and will try to answer all three points. I am glad she raised the first issue because it has been brought to my attention that house calls are not happening in some local authority areas. That should not be the case. Adaptation work is deemed to be essential work and the workers carrying it out are essential workers. It goes without saying that it should always be done with the permission of the residents. We have provided additional funding this year in the area of housing adaptation grants and what was known before as the disabled persons grant, DPG. It is not acceptable for local authorities to say that they are not carrying out inspections. It is really important that they are undertaken, particularly given that a lot of the adaptations are for health reasons. Adaptations mean that people getting out of hospital will not need to go into step-down care and can go straight back home. The Deputy's intervention on this matter follows other feedback I have had in the past few days, in consequence of which I am writing to the chief executives of all the local authorities. This issue is arising in some but not all of them. Where they have concerns, they can engage with us. This is essential work and it needs to be carried out. The Covid restrictions do not prevent it provided the recognised safety measures are taken.

I take the Deputy' point in regard to Carlow County Council. I knew there was no way I would come here today without Carlow being mentioned. Maybe one day it will happen that there is no mention of it, but I doubt it. In regard to the qualification threshold, the previous Government commissioned a report on the whole area of social housing and what reforms are needed. This was something I had also sought. Thresholds need to be looked at and I will do so. The report is there and I will implement its recommendations in this regard.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We will move on now to the Sinn Féin members. Is Deputy Ó Broin sharing time with Deputy Gould?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Yes. I welcome the Minister. I have a series of very practical questions to put to him. On the Estimates for local authority funding, the rates funding is hugely welcome but there is a significant volume of funding at issue in regard to the loss of non-rates revenue, particularly for some western seaboard counties, as well as other Covid-19 factors. I understand it was €10 million plus at the last count. Will the Minister indicate whether there will be any movement or discussion in that regard?

Will the Minister indicate when the social housing output pipeline report will be published? We are all keen to see how that is working. Is he willing to give a commitment to providing pipeline reports in respect of housing delivered through both the serviced sites fund and the Traveller accommodation budget? We have spoken previously about the need for the Traveller accommodation programme to be pipelined so that it can be tracked properly. The underspend this year so far is worse than it was last year. It is likewise in the case of the serviced sites fund, under which only 50 units are under construction thus far. The Minister's frustration on this matter, as well as my own, was well expressed at a previous committee meeting. A pipeline report would be really helpful.

I will not get into a row with the Minister today about voids.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy can do that later.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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We can do that later.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister and I were both critical of his predecessor for presenting information in a way that was less than clear. It would be helpful if the Minister were to provide a report on voids, broken down between long-term voids and casual vacancies. Some 1,200 properties were funded through a similar programme last year. Only 300 of those were long-term voids. The rest were casual vacancies. Likewise with homelessness, inside the 5,000 exits figure are preventions. We need to separate those two.

Regarding pyrite, is the Limerick funding coming from the old pyrite fund or the new €40 million for pyrite and mica? Is the Minister actively considering County Clare for inclusion in that?

Regarding the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, some 20,000 units were to be funded by 2019, with 8,000 at a discount. Only 925 of the discounted units, or 8%, have been delivered to date. The Minister's frustration and mine was well expressed before. What is the Minister's plan for that?

On legislation, while it does not strictly relate to the Estimates, it would be helpful to the committee if the Minister could indicate when he hopes to bring legislation forward, particularly relating to the marine development plan and the Land Development Agency.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Will I come back in now or take Deputy Gould's questions?

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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It is up to-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I can come straight back in because Deputy Ó Broin asked a few quick questions. With regard to underfunding and Covid losses not related to rates, we are working on that right now. We are in detailed negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I recognise that local authorities will have spent more because of bringing in Covid measures relating to the public realm, open spaces and various amendments. We will look for more money this year. Those negotiations have not concluded yet but as soon as they do, I assure the Deputy that the Dáil and this committee will know. It is an issue.

With regard to long-term voids, we are concluding a report which breaks down the voids by different categories and county by county, as well as what they submitted for. One will be able to know whether it is in Wexford or Wicklow, how many voids the local authority said it would deal with and how many it has actually done. I will not count voids as new builds or new accommodation. It is reported separately, and rightly so. They are part of our existing stock and should be seen as such. We need to get better at how we de-tenant and re-tenant properties.

I am awaiting a submission about County Clare. I have extended the scheme into County Limerick and the funding for it is in place. It is not a significant number of homes. It is important to those people whose homes are affected by pyrite. I have not yet received a formal submission from County Clare but when I do, I will look at it with the Pyrite Resolution Board. The board makes a recommendation to me on whether it is appropriate to extend the scheme. Regarding the marine planning and development management Bill, the programme for Government gives a commitment of nine months from the establishment of the Government. Work has been ongoing for some time. It is pretty detailed. It is the first time that a marine planning and development Bill has been done where the mapping has been done around the country, so we are looking to obtain that mapping.

On the Land Development Agency, we are in weekly discussions with the Office of the Attorney General. The Deputy will see in the programme for Government that the heads of Bill that we looked at before in this committee contain feedback from that committee, which I have put in in preparation for the revised heads of Bill. I hope that the heads of Bill will be published this year and that in the next couple of weeks, we will be able to circulate them to other Government Departments for observations. It is October. There are complications relating to many issues that the Deputy and I raised in the last Dáil and they need to be ironed out. We fundamentally all agree that we need a land management agency in the State. I hope we will be able, at the very least, to have published legislation this year. If I have missed anything, we have taken notes and I will come back to Deputy Ó Broin.

I am sorry, Deputy Gould-----

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I am sorry, we have run out of time, and I have to be strict. If a member of the Deputy's group asks so many questions-----

Thomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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Deputy Ó Broin took two minutes and 40 seconds and the Minister took-----

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I am timing the shares, and-----

Thomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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So am I.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I need to let other members-----

Thomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister took two and a half minutes.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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There are groups here that only have one member, which are Fine Gael, an Independent and the Social Democrats. If they reduce their time, I can come back to Deputy Gould. I have to be fair to each group.

Thomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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In my first meeting of this committee, I have three points. I kept my submission to two and a half minutes. I am 35 seconds into it now. The Minister took over two and a half minutes to make a response. If that was the case, then I should have got my contribution in and then the Minister could either have responded or replied in writing.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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It is a difficulty in the Dáil Chamber and everywhere but we must stick to time because we must leave the room by 1 p.m.

Thomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I will not allow this happen again.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I am doing my best to have everyone heard.

Thomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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Housing is the number one issue on which I was elected in Cork North-Central.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I must move to the Fine Gael representatives. If Deputy Higgins could shave some time off the five minutes, we might be able to get Deputy Gould back in. I will try to be fair.

Emer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I have five questions and I thank the Minister for the very comprehensive overview. I have a question on the homelessness task force, although it may not be strictly relevant to the Estimates. How will the metrics for that be set and how will progress be reported to this committee?

There is the €600 million fund for the rates waivers being given to local authorities. How quickly will that happen? The Minister spoke about a pilot programme regarding energy efficiency and its inclusion in the Estimates. Is there any scope for rolling out the process included in the 2021 programme?

Will the Minister explain in a little more detail how the money will be utilised by Irish Water for fixing leaks? For example, in my area of Lucan, we have felt the effects of the need for investment in the Leixlip water treatment plant.

My last question is on affordable housing. There is much funding baked into the serviced sites fund from an affordable housing perspective. Will the Minister talk us through that? I have been as quick as I can.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I will be very quick as well because I was not trying to exclude Deputy Gould in any way. The homelessness task force has been very useful. I will report to the committee and we publish minutes of those meetings as well. We are tracking those numbers but we know that behind each number is a person and family. We are tracking it weekly and there is a monthly report. It has been very useful to focus minds and it is the first meeting we do every Monday.

The matter of the €600 million fund goes to the Dáil tomorrow, and if it passes, which it should, we will start the dispersal of those funds pretty much straight away. There will be no delay on our side. It will be a matter of days.

The pilot scheme related to energy efficiency is up, and running and other work has also been done on social homes. We will expand it further but I want to see how the pilot scheme works. The programme for Government commits to a significant retrofit scheme, and I want to show that our State can lead with our social housing stock, which is under my control, in that.

There is a detailed report on where the €43 million for Irish Water is being spent, and specifically the leak reduction projects. This is small money in the grand scheme of things. The works in Leixlip have nearly concluded. This committee investigated the matter and I intend to visit Leixlip in the next couple of weeks. I was in Blanchardstown on Friday looking at significant capital investment, with €88 million being spent on new wastewater treatment and attenuation measures there. We are now negotiating our capital funding for next year, and I hope there will be an increase.

There has been a slow initial delivery with the serviced sites fund and I have been critical of that before. There is funding for approximately 3,200 homes and, of that, approximately €127 million has already been allocated. There is more there and I am looking at how we might be able to speed up the process or change the serviced sites fund to deliver more, and particularly affordable homes on State-owned land. We are looking at other affordability measures, including affordable rent and affordable purchase, which I am currently negotiating. We got approval at Cabinet last Monday to move that through to the detailed preparatory stage. That is good. If the Deputy has anything else, we can come back to her.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank the Minister and Deputy for keeping to the time.

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I thank the Minister for his comprehensive report. One-bedroom homes are absolutely a waste of time and a two-bedroom home could be built for an extra 13% or 14% on the cost of a one-bedroom property. Some people in one-bedroom homes have been separated but others have partners and children, so this demographic could be covered with an extra 13% cost. Two-bedroom homes would work out cheaper if a property has to be extended as set-up costs would be huge. Build two-bedroom homes.

We cannot build houses in rural Limerick because we do not have the infrastructure. Oola is full and Askeaton has been promised a sewerage system for 30 years. We have heard the promises of previous governments going back 30 years but it has not yet been upgraded. It is the same in Abbeyfeale and Oola. They are full to capacity and no planning permission can be sought because of that. The infrastructure issue is huge.

Conservation is holding up the conversion of voids in towns and villages around Ireland.

Iconic buildings should be saved but there are other buildings whose facades and roof scapes could be retained but which could be modernised at the back and put back into use. So many towns and villages have been desecrated by voids because conservationists are preventing them from being developed.

Another issue for the Minister relates to a ten acre site which was purchased from Limerick City and County Council by the Limerick 2030 development group. An application for funding under the Department's urban generation scheme was lodged in July. The group applied initially for €6 million to get the site through the planning and detailed design stages. The design team planners-----

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Can we stick to the Estimates please rather than getting into individual cases-----

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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This is part of my estimates for Limerick-----

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We are here to discuss the Estimates and are under time pressure.

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I have five minutes and have only used two-----

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I know but I ask the Deputy to stick to the Estimates.

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I have only used two minutes. This is huge for Limerick and we need the funding, which is in the Estimates that I am looking for. This project includes education, offices, residential and tourism development. It covers all of these areas. Finally, when are we going to get funding for infrastructure for rural Limerick and rural Ireland? It has not happened for years but it needs to happen. In the context of the pandemic, people want to move out of our cities and get space so infrastructure is hugely significant.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy and accept the point he makes on one-bedroom units but some of our focus in that context relates to homeless individuals who want single person accommodation. He has a point with regard to family breakdown where people might need extra space. The provision of one and two-bedroom units as well as larger homes is a big problem. I have already said to our partners, including the approved housing bodies and local authorities, that when they are designing schemes they must design for communities, meaning that there should be a mix of unit types.

On voids in town and village centres in particular, I have spoken previously about how our planning guidelines are holding back development in some instances. We want to see people back living on our main streets. One really good scheme in regional towns and villages that has worked well so far and in which the Peter McVerry Trust has been involved is the repair and lease scheme. The buy and renew scheme also has a lot of potential. A number of units have been brought back into use in Fermoy and several other regional towns.

Applications under the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund, URDF, including from Limerick, are being assessed at the moment. The assessments are being done by an independent team and will come to me for final approval. I expect to be making an announcement at the end of October or in early November in that regard. Funding of €2 billion will be provided out to 2027, which is significant. I have figures here on the draw down so far. Call one funding, a lot of which was for the planning stages, was €16.7 million. As I said, call two funding decisions will be made before the end of the year. I am aware that some really good applications have been submitted and they are being assessed right now. Those assessments will then come to me but I note the points made by the Deputy on the importance of funding for Limerick.

Infrastructure is crucial, as I said at the start. We have to bite the bullet on water infrastructure at some stage. I hope that we will be able to make some progress in the forthcoming budget on further investment in capital infrastructure for water in both rural and urban areas.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank the Minister and also thank Deputy O'Donoghue for sticking to the time limit. Deputy Duffy is next.

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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I wish to share my time with Deputy Gould, if that is okay. I seek a Yes or No answer from the Minister. It appears that An Bord Pleanála is not complying with the local, regional and national development plans being created by public representatives, planners of local authorities, regional assemblies and Government Departments. Local authorities are objecting to An Bord Pleanála's decisions on applications but their objections are falling on deaf ears. One example of An Bord Pleanála contravening a development plan is in Kill in County Kildare, where a 400 to 500 apartment complex was granted permission in a village of just 1,200 homes. This is bad planning and is not sustainable. Is it possible for the Minister to oblige the board to comply with our statutory development plans?

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I ask the Deputy to stick to the Estimates, which is what we are supposed to be discussing here. The Deputy could write to the Minister about that matter and he could respond in writing-----

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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I seek a Yes or No answer.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I need to be fair to everyone. We are supposed to be speaking to the Estimates and we are under time constraints. I said the same to Deputy O'Donoghue. The Deputy said that he was sharing some of his time with Deputy Gould.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I will answer very quickly on the national planning framework. Obviously we have to look at how it is being implemented on the ground. I have written to the local authorities and the planning authority about that. I have no oversight over the granting of permission for specific planning applications but if the Deputy writes to me-----

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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I have done so.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Perhaps he could write again or I will seek out his letter. I get a few letters every day but I will track his down.

Thomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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This is my first time attending a meeting of this committee. I want to be positive and constructive. We want to work together. The single biggest issue people come to me for is housing - social, affordable and affordable private rented. People want leadership and are looking to us to provide solutions. During the pandemic, my office was inundated with people on housing. I thought housing was a problem before the election but it is much worse now.

The Minister's Estimates include extra investment into vacant properties for local authorities. Cork City Council almost got down to 100 vacant properties approximately 18 months ago but that has increased to over 300. Why not just give it the money to do the work without having to apply to draw down funds? Cork city and county councils have really good housing departments, as the last Minister noted. There are hundreds of derelict properties in Cork city and county but the local authorities do not have the money to compulsory purchase the sites. I ask the Minister to give the local authorities funds to do this. There is a property, an old butcher shop in Blarney Street in Cork city, which has lain empty for about 30 years. How can that be right? They are in Blackpool, Barrack Street, and right across the city and county. I come here with solutions. These are properties that could be turned around quickly to get people housed.

Finally, there is positive news on the disabled people's grants but it is still taking too long. Many people have issues, especially local authority tenants, having funding turned around as quickly as possible. We must protect people with disabilities, especially during the pandemic. I will continue to be positive and look for solutions. That is what we are here for.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome that and that it is put forward in a constructive way. I will respond to each item. On voids, I have been around a while, including on local authorities, and have found that having a specific target for each local authority and allowing them make submissions has really focused delivery on that. I take the point and will respond to the other items, including dereliction.

Thomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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The Minister referred to €196 million being spent on emergency accommodation and expanding Housing First. That is almost €4 million a week primarily spent on emergency accommodation. How much of that figure will be spent on prevention? How much is on expanding Housing First? The national strategy on Housing First identified 1,346 people with high support needs and it is planned to meet only half of those. Is there funding in the Estimates figure to meet the supports of all with high support needs?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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In the small bit of spare time I have I chair a regional drugs and alcohol task force in north Dublin. I have seen the benefits of the Housing First approach, particularly for many homeless people who have addiction and also mental health issues. Housing First gives the wraparound supports to help people through homelessness. The programme for Government commits to a housing-led health interaction, with health and housing working together, to ensure that supports follow the person and stay with them. I have had a bilateral meeting with the Minister for Health, Deputy Donnelly, on that. The HSE's winter plan includes direct funding from the HSE towards housing and health solutions. I will give the example from the Dublin Simon Community at Usher's Quay. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is funding €30 million to what is effectively a 100-bed treatment facility. We are paying for the capital expenditure and the Department of Health will pay for its day-to-day running. Housing First needs to be expanded and we are looking to increase its funding in next year's budget. It is crucially important, especially for those who have been homeless for a very long time, a sizeable proportion of whom fall into the remit of Housing First.

I will make sure they are not forgotten. I know the Deputies will do the same. There will be a particular focus on this. That is very much the focus of the homelessness taskforce which meets every week. Groups like the Society of St. Vincent De Paul, the Simon Communities and the Peter McVerry Trust are briefing me on it directly every week. We will not be found wanting in that regard, but we need to do better and we need to focus on it. I am hoping that when we see the detail of the housing budget next week a continued focus on the expansion of Housing First will be evident.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank the Minister. In the last 30 seconds I would like to ask about the funding for local government generally. Some local authorities have historically had a low baseline figure. An assessment must be carried out on those figures. Many of those counties have grown hugely in population and business activity. I have spoken to the Minister about this previously.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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That is true.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We are out of time now.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I agree that it is an issue.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We will raise it again. I thank the Minister for his time and for his submission. I thank the officials for attending.

In accordance with Standing Order 101, the following message will be sent to the Dáil:

The Select Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage has completed its consideration of the following Revised Estimates for public services for the year ending 31 December 2020: Vote 34 - Housing, Planning and Local Government, Vote 23 - Property Registration Authority and Vote 16 - Valuation Office.

I thank the Minister and his officials for this constructive meeting.

The select committee adjourned at 1 p.m. sine die.