Thursday, 25 November 2021
Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage
That is no problem.
I ask the Minister and Minister of State to look at the issue of adequate and proper funding of Irish Water. It is a significant disruption at present to the development of housing in this country, particularly to smaller scale rural developments.
Another area that others have touched on is the availability of skills, particularly the wet skills such as blocklaying and plastering. I am a member of the Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment and we have been discussing the possibility of extending work permits for people with these trades from Europe despite the fact that, Covid restrictions aside, we nearly have full employment in the construction sector. We cannot get people into these skills who have left the sector and gone back to work. We do not seem to have an avenue on which to coax them other than talking about apprenticeships. The problem with apprenticeships is that there is no good message about them in the construction sector, despite the fact that an experienced blocklayer today could earn up to €2 per block in a day in which he or she might lay between 200, 300 or 400 blocks. There is a good income to be had and yet parents are telling their children to go to college and get a low-level degree that will qualify them for what? Further low-level employment into the future. We must recognise and start a communications programme about how construction is a valid employment sector in this country. Throughout Europe and the United States, construction has always been a really good sector to work in. However, for some reason in Ireland in recent years, we have failed to convince the youth that this is an area of opportunity they should explore.
The Department also needs to consider a formula to get all the utilities and regulators together to streamline the combined activities in home delivery. A builder at present has to engage with Irish Water, ESB, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, HomeBond and a whole plethora of other agencies and professionals, from each of which the builder is depending on a licence application or a regulation approval before he or she can go on to the next one, and this is extending the whole delivery timeline.
It also adds costs for the developer, which he or she subsequently passes on to the buyer of the home. The requirement for one certificate to come before another is absolutely throttling the provision of housing. Something has to be done in this regard. These are simple processes. As usual, we in this country are killing ourselves with regulation. Builders are inundated with problems such as all of this regulation, the lack of finance and the amount of time things take. I spoke to a property developer today who told me that he has to purchase land four years in advance for future housing schemes he wants to develop. He has to get the purchase and the legalities out of the way before dealing with the financing and making the planning application. When he has the finance in place, he can build the houses and get them sold. It is a pretty easy process to understand but the timeline is the problem and we are doing nothing to refine it to any degree. I broadly welcome what the Minister has announced with respect to these large-scale residential developments but there are other things we could be doing to try to help the smaller builders in particular.
I will say one final thing, which has been touched on in the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach. We have to find a way to stop a certain activity. The word "stop" is not the right word because it is a free market but I am aware of investment firms buying houses in Waterford as they come up on the second-hand market. People are being priced out of the market. They have no way to compete with that kind of money. I do not know how to solve that problem but we must solve it. Some 150 years ago, we were a nation of people who paid to be tenants all our lives. All our ancestors did so. We never owned our own property. In the last 50 years we came to have ownership of property but we are now again going to have absentee landlords throughout the EU and the US. We must do something to stop this. At the end of the day, people's homes are their castles. I believe it is people's right to own property in this country. We need to do more to see to it that happens.