Dáil debates

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Other Questions

Local Authority Housing

3:00 pm

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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Question 38: To ask the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government if he will consider using ghost housing estates held by the National Assets Management Agency for social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11502/11]

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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Two of the key challenges for the housing sector at present are the oversupply of housing in certain areas, including in respect of unfinished estates, and the need sustainably to meet the increasing demand for social housing in the context of a severely restricted resource environment.

In terms of unfinished housing estates, my Department established a high-level expert group in October 2010, following the publication of the National Housing Development Survey database. This group, which included representation from the National Asset Management Agency, has outlined a range of actions on unfinished housing estates, including requiring a collaborative approach from all stakeholders to resolve unfinished developments, a focus on public safety, a structured and prioritised approach from local authorities, the use of site resolution plans, and national co-ordination and monitoring of regional and local efforts to tackle the problems. This group has now presented me with a final report which I will consider before bringing proposed actions and recommendations to Government for approval.

There are clear linkages between the roles of my Department and the National Asset Management Agency in addressing the challenges involved and there is significant potential to align the objectives of the two organisations.

My Department has engaged extensively with representatives of NAMA and I have also met with the chairman and CEO of NAMA to discuss means of securing a social dividend through the acquisition of suitable residential units for social housing purposes, while providing a return in line with NAMA's mandate. I hope that this engagement will see the delivery of increased social housing provision in the short term.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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As the Minister of State will be aware, there is a massive demand for social housing. It is estimated there are approximately 55,000 applicants waiting for local authority housing. We need to avoid the boom-bust property model of previous Governments and reorientate how we provide housing towards the public provision of social housing.

NAMA holds much of the property.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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I invite Deputy Stanley to ask a question. Time is running out.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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My concern is this: if the taxpayer is footing the bill for NAMA, where is the dividend for the people? I note that the Minister of State is raising the issue but this needs to be pursued vigorously by Government. The public is bankrolling NAMA. We are bankrolling the banks.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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A question please.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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There must be a public dividend here. What steps will be taken over the next number of months?

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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The Deputy's time is up.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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Local authorities are renting houses left, right and centre for social housing purposes. We need to move away from this towards providing rent allowance, long-term leases and the rental accommodation scheme.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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I call on the Minister of State to reply.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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There are many empty houses which should be used for this purpose. Will the Minister of State outline the steps that will be taken to do this?

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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Approximately 180 category 4 unfinished housing developments have been identified and we are exploring with NAMA how many are under its control. Two issues arise - loans and property. Loans are under NAMA's control. However, properties are under NAMA's control only when parties fail to agree a plan, as we have seen happen in recent weeks. NAMA is accelerating this process and we can work only where we have the legal power to do so. We should not have the view that NAMA is the panacea to all of our social housing problems; that would be very foolish and I will not give any hostages to fortune, or mislead people who come from the same environment as I did, having been born and reared in a social house provided by Westmeath County Council.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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The Minister of State's time is up.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I have met Mr. McDonagh and the chairperson and they know my views on the social dividend. However, if one reads the legislation carefully, one will see that the first priority of NAMA is to have a commercial remit, after which the social dividend comes.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I thought we had more time. I would like to have a discussion on these issues.

Deputies:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We agree with the Minister of State.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister of State is a great man for the filibuster.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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These are the rules of the House.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I know what the rules are.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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These are ordinary questions, to which timeframes apply.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Minister of State is dead right.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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Two questions remain. I call on Deputy Paudie Coffey to ask a question.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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What the Minister of State has said is fine, but I ask him to exercise caution in taking over NAMA estates for social housing purposes.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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A question, please.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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Is it essential that from these houses there is access to social services such as schools? The question on bonds discussed earlier is very important because throughout the country it has been found that bonds are totally inadequate to fix estates.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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Time is up.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister of State revise the bond system and instruct local authorities accordingly?

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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The Minister of State has a full minute to reply.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I had better obey this time.

I will examine the bonds issue because there is a recommendation on unfinished housing developments. Deputy Brian Stanley was concerned that this issue would be put on the long finger. I will chair the co-ordinating group charged with overseeing the implementation of the objectives set. That is how seriously the Government takes the matter. It is correct that the objectives should be to maximise the delivery of social housing to cater for the greatest level of need while achieving good value. However, we cannot create a situation where every estate under NAMA's control will be taken for social housing purposes. That would be the wrong direction to take and I will not go down that road. Another consideration is that social housing must be well located. It is of no use having social housing in the middle of the countryside with no access to services.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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The cure could be worse than the disease. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett has raised this matter and asked me about assessment requirements which in response I have loosened.

The reference made to 50,000 applicants by Deputy Brian Stanley is very generous. I can see the number being much greater because many more people will be on social housing lists. I do not see anything wrong with this because I want to have an integrated social housing list, where some people will have incomes, others will be in receipt of social welfare payments and others will have other means.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I will take cognisance of this because, if possible, I want social housing to be provided adjacent to schools and other services.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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Question 39: To ask the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government his plans to tackle sewerage and damp problems in social housing estates in which regeneration projects and the detenanting scheme have stalled in recent years; and his priorities for urban regeneration as committed to in the Programme for Government. [11532/11]

Photo of Pádraig MacLochlainnPádraig MacLochlainn (Donegal North East, Sinn Fein)
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Question 40: To ask the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the recent experience of regeneration projects (details supplied); and his position on the use of public private partnerships in view of this. [11520/11]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Question 53: To ask the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to a recent episode of a television programme which portrayed the unhealthy and inhumane conditions that many Dublin City Council tenants reside in, notably in an estate (details supplied) and other stalled regeneration projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11514/11]

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Question 59: To ask the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the action he will take regarding the reports from a programme (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11380/11]

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 39, 40, 53 and 59 together.

My Department currently supports an ambitious programme to deliver integrated physical, social and economic regeneration, ranging from large-scale urban regeneration projects like Ballymun and Limerick city to smaller estate-wide regeneration projects in Dublin city and in a number of towns around the country. This year my Department is providing €124.6 million to support the national regeneration programme. This represents almost 25% of the overall 2011 budget for the social housing investment programme.

The regeneration projects currently being progressed are almost entirely Exchequer funded. Public private partnerships, PPPs, have played an important role in regenerating social housing estates and in providing social, private and affordable housing in a number of areas. That said, such developments are only possible when market conditions permit.

In response to the downturn in the housing market and the prevailing economic climate in 2008, the private investment envisaged for a number regeneration projects has not materialised. As a result Dublin City Council suspended its PPP programme for St. Michael's Estate, O'Devaney Gardens, Dominick Street, Croke Villas, St. Teresa's Gardens and Dolphin House.

In the absence of PPP alternatives and with the support of my Department, the city council established a multi-disciplinary special housing taskforce to examine all options with regard to the future regeneration of the areas concerned.

The taskforce prioritised three areas for regeneration – St. Michael's Estate, O'Devaney Gardens and Dominick Street. Last autumn, my Department approved the city council's first phase of redevelopment in St. Michael's Estate, with Exchequer funding of €5.8 million being provided for the social housing element. Outline proposals for O'Devaney Gardens and Dominick Street have also been agreed with my Department and the Council has indicated that it will be presenting detailed plans for funding in the course of 2011.

My Department continues to support the city council's de-tenanting strategy to facilitate the ultimate regeneration of all the flat complexes concerned. Exchequer funding of €7 million has been set aside in 2011 to support this programme of works, including €2.625 million specifically for the relocation of tenants.

With regard to the specific issues raised in relation to Dolphin House, I emphasise that ongoing management and maintenance of this flat complex is a matter for Dublin City Council. It is incumbent on the city council to put forward a clear vision for the ongoing management and future regeneration of the complex and to develop strategies and work programmes, in collaboration with my Department, which will give practical effect to this vision. For my part I will support to the fullest possible extent any agreed strategy which will have an immediate as well as a long-term impact on the standard of the accommodation and living conditions in Dolphin House as well as in the other areas of the city.

Last week I met the city manager, the assistant city manager with responsibility for housing and their technical and administrative team to ascertain the position in relation to management and maintenance issues in Dolphin House and elsewhere and to hear the council's plans for their future regeneration. I am assured that the council is taking a proactive approach to resolving issues in relation to ingress of damp, drainage and ventilation in Dolphin House. I accept that accommodation which was designed and built more than 50 years ago has not kept pace with modern lifestyles. However, retrofitting and refurbishment can overcome this in most circumstances. As an immediate first step in establishing what works are necessary to improve living conditions in the complex, the city council, in consultation with tenants, will now commence a condition survey of all these housing units. This survey will inform a programme of maintenance works to be carried out at Dolphin House by Dublin City Council.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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Before I call Deputy Kitt, I remind Deputies that under the rules, each Deputy has one minute to ask a supplementary question and the Minister has one minute to reply. They are the rules and I will enforce them accordingly.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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On "Prime Time" on 3 May, on which the Minister of State was interviewed, very disturbing facts emerged about dampness, sewage and children with health problems. What is the situation in regard to funding? Is the Minister of State considering other public private partnership funding or other funding? What are the proposals from Dublin City Council in regard to the three estates mentioned in the television programme?

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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Dublin City Council has prioritised the programme of regeneration and is making submissions to us in that regard. In regard to the public private partnerships, the market conditions are not there, except in exceptional circumstances where local authorities' land or sites would command a high value or price. They fell away in 2008. One of the problems was putting all the eggs in one basket in terms of relying on public private partnerships as a way to deal with this issue.

Dublin City Council is very much engaged with the residents. It has discussed details of the conditions with the residents and agreed with them that it will have further discussions with them after the first 20 properties have been surveyed to see what emerges and how it will progress. It is important that this process continues without let-up. I am pleased the local authority has engaged with the tenants directly. The conditions survey is being carried out and must be completed quickly. I assure the Deputy that my Department will work with Dublin City Council, which is the responsible authority. Funds are limited but we have secured 25% of the available capital funding for regeneration projects.

Deputy Kitt must realise that the Ballymun regeneration is proceeding apace. Some €700 million has already been spent on this, which is the biggest regeneration project in Europe. Some €53 million has been allocated towards it, with €35 million allocated to Limerick. The Limerick project will cost €346 million, to be completed in 2015 or thereabouts. Money is extremely limited and I do not want to give false hope to people. I will work with local authorities to ensure there is necessary additional funding. I will engage in this regard to ensure that, as a first step, appropriate remedial and refurbishment works take place.

Photo of Brian StanleyBrian Stanley (Laois-Offaly, Sinn Fein)
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I am concerned about the failure of previous PPP housing regeneration projects. Residents of St.. Michael's Estate, Inchicore, have endured many broken promises and delays. The residents of Dolphin House endure inhumane conditions that are difficult to imagine, let alone live in. The regeneration projects are long overdue and people are living in these complexes as a result of failed PPPs. If Members or Ministers had to live in these complexes, we would all be hopping mad about this. Does the Department have an action plan to deal with the outstanding projects in the State?

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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It is not the Department but Dublin City Council that brings forward proposals and prioritises. The council has set up a housing task force since the collapse of the PPPs in 2008. Phase 1 of St. Michael's Estate, consisting of 75 new units of accommodation, is under way. Demolitions are planned for this summer and the family resource centre will be moved. Funding has been agreed to undertake this work. In Dominick Street, 65 of the units are still occupied and demolition work will commence later this year. A statutory planning application was lodged at the end of 2010. Subject to confirmation of planning and detailed proposals from the council, the Department will consider the project for pre-tender approval.

At O'Devaney Gardens, some 88 units are occupied. A planning application was lodged in December 2010 and approval has already been secured in respect of demolition. Detailed funding proposals are awaited from Dublin City Council. The council has set out its prioritisation list in this context. I must act in the context of what comes forward. In straitened economic circumstances, with limited resources, people are entitled to live in decent accommodation. The conditions illustrated are unacceptable and deplorable.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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I call Deputy Boyd Barrett. I ask him to put a question.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Given the disastrous failure of PPPs to deliver for St. Michael's Estate and Dominick St., has the Government decided to abandon that model when trying to progress regeneration? I hope it has. Will the Government consider moving to a direct labour approach to the regeneration of estates, refurbishment works for council estates and the construction of social housing? This is a quicker way of doing it and is not vulnerable to the ups and downs demonstrated by PPPs that are dependent on private developers involved to make a quick buck. Even with the tendering process, where it is outsourced, there are major delays. There is a regeneration project in Dun Laoghaire, which took ten years because private developers-----

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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The Deputy's time is up.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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-----kept going out of business. Why do we not employ some of the unemployed construction workers directly to do this regeneration work?

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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The Minister of State has one minute.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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The good news is that Dun Laoghaire is finishing this year. It has been finalised at long last.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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It took this long.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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The model of delivering regeneration through PPPs had merit, as evidenced by the successful regeneration of Fatima Mansions. The project was widely acclaimed as a regeneration success and was delivered at no net cost to the city council. It is also beneficial to meeting the objectives of sustainable communities, as these usually involve a mixture of private and social housing and community and commercial development. The Fatima development is an example of the mixed use and mixed tenure approach. Regarding the future relevance of PPPs in regeneration, the market conditions are not there at present except in circumstances where local authorities' land or sites command high prices.

One remaining PPP project is under consideration, at Charlemont Street, and it was granted planning permission on 5 May 2011. The city council is in the process of commencing consultation with local residents and their representatives. That will be overseen by the NTMA and the procurement process will commence shortly. Some 180 units will be used for social housing purposes, with a significant number of them set aside as replacement units for current residents.

Deputy Boyd Barrett's point about employment is well made and I am not averse to it in respect of getting the maximum number of people in employment.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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Deputy Wallace has one minute.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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Will the Minister of State consider examining the manner in which PPPs are appointed and their structure? The structure is flawed and there is good reason the estates that were not developed were held by the same builder-developer. The manner in which the selection process works has major problems. Most builders could not possibly get on the list. Only a handful of builders in Ireland could tick all the boxes and I question the way the council is operating it.

I ask the Minister to seriously consider how work is assessed and controlled and the quality of workmanship.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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Deputy Wallace's time is up.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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This may apply to private or social housing. There is no proper control of workmanship. In the private sector, engineers and architects sign off on the work but the builder-developer pays the architect and engineer so they have no choice but to go along with him.

Photo of Michael McCarthyMichael McCarthy (Cork South West, Labour)
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The Deputy's time is up. Thank you, Deputy Wallace.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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We did away with the clerk of works years ago. Fianna Fáil got rid of them when it suited the party and its friends and we need to introduce a system for controlling workmanship.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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Deputy Wallace has a head start on me on this, notwithstanding the fact that I come from a family involved in building at a very low level. Deputy Wallace indicates that it was extremely difficult for small firms to engage in PPPs. Standards were so rigid and forms were so detailed-----

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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It was not related to standards.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I was not aware of that. I will be here ten weeks tomorrow. It is something I may well explore, particularly in the context where proposals emerge from Dublin City Council for other areas. In the context of limited resources, there may be a new way of evaluating PPPs. I will ask that this be examined.

I support the old clerk of works system, which worked extremely well. Generally, these people had detailed knowledge and attended at 8 a.m and were the last to leave in the evening. I was a junior in these matters when I was working as a student but I saw that system at work. Deputy Wallace is an advocate of the return of something of that nature and says workmanship now is not as good as it should be. These are issues I am eager to explore to ensure projects let slip in 2008 can be brought back from the back burner to ensure ordinary people can live in decent, habitable accommodation. That is the least we owe them. A number of steps are required to ensure the process is accelerated and front loaded. I will pursue this and Deputy Wallace, who has experience in this area, may have details to furnish. I will examine them in that context.

Photo of Tony McLoughlinTony McLoughlin (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the allocation of €2 million in the current year for regeneration in Sligo. It has been brought to my attention that a commitment was given by a former Minister of State regarding house repairs within the catchment area. I request that the current Minister of State place a portion of this €2 million, perhaps in the region of €200,000, in an allocation for house repairs within that catchment area. The building programme will commence in Sligo within the regeneration area.

I am concerned because many builders in my area are quoting but are not in a position to get any of these contracts. These builders are being undercut by builders from elsewhere. In areas around the Border in particular, such as my constituency of Sligo and north Leitrim, it is vital for us to give priority to people living in the area. They have given service and worked extremely hard over the years in the building trade.

The Minister of State should consider the allocation for house repairs. A commitment was given by a former Minister of State and Deputy, Mr. Finneran, to those in Sligo in the past. We should consider giving builders from the region the opportunity to carry out this work.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I have heard Deputy McLoughlin's suggestion that €200,000 be ring-fenced for the repair of housing within the Sligo Borough Council area. That is from the €2 million being allocated to the Cranmore development. As I understand it, that has been delayed for a considerable period but has now been given the green light. I will ascertain if commitments were given in that regard and I anticipate that if they were, Sligo Borough Council would furnish full and comprehensive detail in respect thereof. I am not in a position to give a commitment standing here without examining the file on the matter for Sligo and the Cranmore area. I will have the matter reviewed in that context.

On the question of contracts, Deputy McLoughlin is well aware that once the project values exceed €1 million, they must be advertised in the Official Journal so everybody has the opportunity to participate in the process. Deputy McLoughlin may be alluding to the fact that tendering procedures should be looked at so that contracts can be broken down. The Deputy has alluded to people trying to secure some valuable work in order to provide very important employment to some of the 440,000 unemployed people. There may be a way to ensure the people referred to by the Deputy have a chance to secure some of those contracts in order to provide much-needed employment. Perhaps that is the way forward.

Photo of Michael ColreavyMichael Colreavy (Sligo-North Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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Question 41: To ask the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government if he will provide a breakdown of the average turn-around time for void houses in each local authority area across the State. [11523/11]

Photo of Michael ColreavyMichael Colreavy (Sligo-North Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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Question 49: To ask the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the amount of Exchequer funding available to local authorities to assist them in maintaining an active voids reletting programme; and the amount of this funding that has been drawn down by each local authority area since it has been established. [11524/11]

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 41 and 49 together.

The sixth annual report of the Local Government Management Services Board, published in February 2011, which details service indicators in local authorities in 2009, shows the average time taken, from the date of vacating of a unit to the date when all necessary repairs are carried out, to re-let a unit in each authority. The figures show that some 4,286 dwellings were vacant, accounting for 3.4% of the total national social housing stock of around 126,000 units.

The length of time taken to re-let units varies considerably between authorities and ranges from as little as one week in Limerick City Council to as high as 45 weeks in South Tipperary County Council. I propose to circulate with the Official Report a tabular statement, based on the information set out in the report, outlining the time taken to re-let dwellings in all local authority areas.

It is a matter for each local authority, as an integral part of the management and maintenance of the social housing stock, to carry out any necessary pre-letting repairs and maintenance works to dwellings which are vacated by tenants in order to re-let the units to new tenants within the shortest possible timeframe. Under my Department's social housing investment programme, local authorities are allocated capital funding each year in respect of a range of measures to improve the standard and overall quality of the social housing stock. This includes the carrying out of repairs and refurbishment works on both occupied and vacant dwellings. It is a matter for each local authority to determine the level of resources to be directed towards refurbishing vacant properties from within the allocations notified to them.

The overall capital provision from my Department in respect of improvement works to the national housing stock for 2011 is €31 million. This does not include funding for large-scale regeneration projects and estate-wide remedial works projects which also include retrofitting and refurbishment works on vacant dwellings, for which a further provision of €172 million is being made this year. My Department's improvement works programme is specifically targeting vacant dwellings in 2011 with the objective of returning the maximum number of vacant units to productive use at reasonable cost. In the case of casual or short-term vacancies, a grant of up to €18,000 or 90% of cost, whichever is the lesser, is recouped to the local authority in respect of works to improve the standard and the energy efficiency of a dwelling.

In the case of properties which have remained vacant for a protracted period or properties which have fallen into a state of serious disrepair, a special measure is being introduced this year which will allow local authorities to claim up to €35,000 for each unit returned to productive use. Authorities are required to prepare an Improvement plan for vacant properties for 2011, outlining the number of vacant properties on hands and setting out the proposed measures to improve these properties.

My Department's records show that over the period 2004 to 2010 some €52 million was recouped to local authorities in respect of improvements works on vacant properties. I will also circulate with the Official Report a tabular statement setting out details in this regard.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

Average time taken (in weeks) from the date of vacation of dwelling to the date when all necessary repairs are carried out and which are deemed necessary to re-let the dwelling
Carlow County Council17.7
Cavan County Council13.0
Clare County Council18.2
Cork City Council17.9
Cork County Council11.1
Donegal County Council24
Dublin City Council19.5
Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council15.9
Fingal! County Council18
Galway City Council7
Galway County Council30.1
Kerry County Council24.1
Kildare County Council6.9
Kilkenny County Council19.7
Laois County Council18
Leitrim County Council15.1
Limerick City Council1
Limerick County Council40.2
Longford County Council7
Louth County Council8
Mayo County Council18.5
Meath County Council11
Monaghan County Council14.8
North Tipperary County Council12.5
Offaly County Council8.8
Roscommon County Council21.3
Sligo County Council18.6
South Dublin County Council18.7
South Tipperary County Council45.8
Waterford City Council9
Waterford County Council19.5
Westmeath County Council5.2
Wexford County Council9.2
Wicklow County Council25.6

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

RECOUPMENT IN RESPECT OF IMPROVEMENT WORKS TO VOID PROPERTIES 2004 - 2010
€
Cavan County Council451,395.00
Clare County Council793,307.00
Cork City Council2,853,410.00
Cork County Council2,108,482.00
Donegal County Council377,536.00
Dublin City Council31,021,448.63
Fingal County Council430,965.00
Galway City Council209,752.00
Galway County Council356,277.00
Kerry County Council2,645,289.00
Kildare County Council134,194.00
Leitrim County Council223,454.00
Limerick City Council1,181,503.00
Limerick County Council547,564.00
Longford County Council762,839.00
Louth County Council702,664.00
Mayo County Council1,371,463.00
Meath County Council1,514,163.00
Monaghan County Council211,002.00
Offaly County Council272,705.00
Roscommon County Council379,677.00
Sligo Borough Council357,555.00
Sligo County Council165,181.00
North Tipperary County Council664,857.00
South Tipperary County Council27,611.00
Waterford City Council1,588,878.00
Wexford County Council712,730.00
Wicklow County Council821,583.00
Total52,887,484.63

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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This is a big issue across most local authorities, with the scale of the problem differing across areas and particularly in some of the very large working class areas in Limerick or Ballymun. I heard the Minister of State's comments about Limerick's turnover but in south Tipperary, the turnover time is unacceptable. The Minister of State should address the problem as it is scandalous for the process to take so long. In many working class areas in Finglas, Ballymun and other parts of the city, the turnover can be anything from two or three months. There are even cases where properties have been tied up for a year or more.

Will the Minister of State consider whether local authorities need more money? He has outlined some of the issue but there is a question about delivering the properties much more quickly. We cannot afford to have them lying empty as that can lead to anti-social behaviour. Properties are boarded up and left sitting without being let. We must turn them over more quickly. The Minister of State mentioned a figure of €31 million but certain local authorities need an extra bit of help.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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I agree with the Deputy. Our focus is on vacant properties and each local authority is required to prepare an improvement plan for such properties. Better and more flexible grants are available this year and the €35,000 measure is available to deal with vacant properties which require a different level of work in order to return them to productive use.

This is a time when we are strapped for cash and there are clear difficulties so it is important that all our household units are in service and being allocated. In capital funding, the priority is focusing on the regeneration and remedial works discussed earlier and remedial works within reduced resources. With local authorities we are focusing on using funding to maximise the number of units in service at any time. That is critical. I spent almost 19 years in local government and we did not get money from the Exchequer to effect repairs. The Deputy may also have spent some time in that area. We are providing €18,000 per unit to improve standards and energy efficiency and up to €35,000 for units which are in poor condition. In exceptional circumstances, such as where a property has suffered fire damage, the local authority may claim up to a maximum of 60% of the costs of demolition and rebuilding. In the context of straitened economic circumstances, the Department has focused on this area as a priority because of the huge social housing list. It is contrary to our policy objectives to allow local authority housing to remain boarded up. Such units attract unwanted elements and give rise to all sorts of issues for those who live in the same estate. Boarded up houses can become a magnet for problems that affect good people who are trying to pay their way and repair their own houses.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I acknowledge that the Minister of State has introduced flexibility to the measures for remediating houses but the large number of void houses is nonetheless an issue. While he stated that the percentage is small relative to the overall housing stock, it is a large number. He hit the nail on the head when he referred to the visual impact of boarded up houses, which is what hits people. As constituency representatives, all of us receive telephone calls on a weekly basis in regard to boarded up houses. Is it within his wherewithal to introduce an order or regulation to oblige local authorities to refurbish houses within a specified period of time?

I do not know what figures my local authority, Limerick County Council, provided in respect of the tabular statement circulated in the Minister of State's reply but I am sure the Deputies from Limerick City would dispute the claim of a turnaround time of one week. I am not calling anyone a liar but I do not believe units can be turned around in as short a time as one week because the evidence suggests otherwise. Can a regulation or order be introduced to require local authorities to turn around these vacant properties within a specified period?

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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Deputy Niall Collins put forward a fair suggestion. Unless significant damage has been done to a vacated house, it should be possible to re-allocate it within six weeks. I speak as somebody who lived all my life in a local authority house. While local authorities may not have adequate maintenance staff to do the necessary work, where minor repairs or repainting are required I am eager to see them being proactive in providing funds so that people can complete the work themselves in order to move in. That would obviously be subject to examination by a clerk of works so that the repairs are done to a proper standard. Any work that takes more than four or five weeks is getting into the "unacceptable" zone. I have no doubt that the housing needs assessment, which was undertaken on 31 March and will be available within the next three to five months, will show a significant increase and I will buy Deputy Boyd Barrett a pint if I am wrong. That is why we must get this issue right as part of the overall social housing programme. I am prepared to take any suggestions as to what Deputies regard as a reasonable time period. I am considering a period of six to eight weeks but that may be too short.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I welcome the seriousness with which the Minister of State is addressing this issue. Houses that are boarded up for long periods represent a running sore in estates. It is frustrating for unemployed construction workers to see these boarded up properties given that they are capable of making the necessary repairs. Even some of the people on the housing lists would prefer to refit the houses themselves rather than let them rot. If the figures about Limerick are accurate, can the Minister of State find out how houses are turned around in one week? What is being done there that is different from the rest of the country?

One of the reasons for the slow turnaround may be the requirement to tender for work. It often takes forever simply to hire a builder. If we gave local unemployed construction workers or even the people on the housing lists the opportunity, they could turn the houses around much faster. Obviously proper standards must be applied but we should consider this alternative because the cumbersome tendering process is causing lengthy and unnecessary delays in many cases.

Photo of Sandra McLellanSandra McLellan (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I will be brief because my points have been addressed by others. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to investigate the work practices of those who turn around properties quickly.

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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Following on from Deputy Boyd Barrett's question, will the Minister of State consider some kind of community employment scheme whereby redundant apprentices and crafts people could be employed by local authorities to refurbish houses that have been sitting vacant for long periods? Such a scheme would produce a win-win result because it would tackle the housing list while creating employment and saving the Exchequer on rent allowance in the private sector. We need to think outside the box because it is a problem that is experienced nationwide.

Photo of Tony McLoughlinTony McLoughlin (Sligo-North Leitrim, Fine Gael)
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Will the Minister of State consider providing details on turnaround times among the various local authorities? I am interested in finding out the figures for Sligo Borough Council and Sligo County Council. I also ask for details on the number of houses boarded up in recent months. Can figures be supplied in respect to the houses in my electoral area that have been in a deplorable state for a long period? I support the proposal by Deputy Coffey. There are a large number of local builders who would love to be involved in this work and they have a role to play in enhancing our housing estates. It is important that we set up schemes that ensure these houses are refurbished as quickly as possible.

Photo of Willie PenroseWillie Penrose (Minister of State with special responsibility for Housing and Planning, Department of Environment, Community and Local Government; Longford-Westmeath, Labour)
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The management and maintenance of local authority housing stock is a matter for individual authorities under section 58 of the Housing Act 1966 and I do not want to trespass into that area. I am allocating resources, but the utilisation of such resources in terms of value for money and improvement work plans for vacant properties is a matter for the local authorities concerned. Local authority members do not want the Minister to think he or she knows all or to be dictated to by the Custom House. I will not be a dictator to local authorities and will work with them to ensure they achieve their objectives. As somebody who came through it, I am a great believer in the local authority system.

The figures provided relate to 2009 but I do not doubt many of the figures for vacant stock have improved since then. Individual housing authorities and the County and City Managers' Association are actively pursuing measures to increase efficiency and reduce turnaround times for refurbishing and re-letting vacant stock. The local government value for money audit also provided information in this regard. Local authorities may be constrained by the moratorium and other factors but I am sure they are aware of the need to reduce turnaround times to maximise the number of units available for allocation. They should be innovative and think outside the box in terms of incorporating some of the solutions proposed today in their strategies. It is important to work with trade unions within the local authorities to ensure everybody is singing from the same hymn sheet. The last thing I want to see, as the son of a former local authority worker, is displacement of local authority employees. I am stating this vested interest so that people cannot say that I argued for this without saying where I came from. Local authority employees have done exceptional work over the years.

It is important to discuss with the unions ways in which some of the schemes that were advocated today may be incorporated as part of the solution. If there are almost 4,300 houses, that means there are potentially 4,300 households which could be paying money into the local authorities. In other words, although it may be somewhat circular, it is a way of getting money in. This, in turn, would increase the money available for further housing maintenance programmes, perhaps allowing local authorities to replace staff who have retired in order to carry out the necessary remedial works. It is a win-win situation and I am open to suggestions. However, I will not dictate to local authorities on how they should do their work.