Thursday, 19 January 2017
Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions
Social and Affordable Housing Provision
1. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government his views on whether the number of social housing project approvals in 2016 was low and if new social housing construction targets are is wide of those set out in his Department's action plan. [2284/17]
On foot of a question I tabled recently to the Minister, Deputy Coveney, in regard to the number of approvals last year I was directed to refer to the Department's website, which I did. According to the information on the website there were 3,366 approvals, and since January 2015 there have been 2,700 approvals in respect of local authorities and 590 in respect of approved housing bodies. In regard to the commitment to construction this year, it is estimated that approximately 2,700 local authority units will be constructed this year, which means there is a gap of 600 given only 300 units were constructed last year. In terms of the ramping up of construction to meet demand and of allowing local authorities to be the main provider in terms of addressing the supply deficit, the aforementioned data does not indicate that this is happening. We would expect to see more units built this year. Perhaps the Minister would comment on why in terms of construction we are relying this year on approvals since 2015.
I thank the Deputy for the opportunity to clarify the situation. Social housing projects approved continued apace in 2016, adding to the sizeable pipeline in place to deliver significant additional social housing in support of the objectives set out in the Rebuilding Ireland action plan. Through major announcements in May 2015, July 2015 and January 2016 almost €680 million has allocated for over 3,900 social housing new builds, turn-key developments and acquisitions. These initial announcements under the social housing strategy provided the first significant impetus for reviving the social housing construction programme, the scale of which had declined significantly, as we all know, in preceding years.
Since I became Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government last May, approximately 200 further direct construction and turn-key projects, representing some 3,600 new units, supported by Exchequer investment of €500 million, have been added to the programme. Unlike previous approvals which were announced in a number of large batches, projects are now approved as they progress through the approval process in order to expedite delivery. In other words, approvals are not batched but approved as they come through. The effect of these approvals has been to build a strong pipeline of social housing build projects. Taking the main local authority housing construction programme as an example, there are approximately 255 projects, including 20 turn-key projects, at various stages in the programme, with capacity to deliver more than 4,000 new social homes. These range from large-scale new developments to smaller infill projects. On rapid-build projects, 350 units are now advancing through various stages of delivery, including construction, across a number of Dublin sites. This will be added to, with an additional 650 units this year and a further 500 units in 2018.
Under the capital assistance scheme, there are over 100 approved housing body projects in the pipeline which will deliver approximately 1,000 units. As a further example, under the PPP programme, almost 1,000 new social units are in planning with local authorities. The momentum of approvals will continue in 2017 in order to add to the pipeline and provide the basis for delivering on the increased Rebuilding Ireland targets. Data on the full pipeline of projects is currently being updated. The intention is that this will be finalised and published in conjunction with the next Rebuilding Ireland quarterly implementation report in the coming weeks.
I thank the Minister for his response. I wish to get to the nub of this. What is being constructed this year relates in the main to approvals of two years ago. In my constituency, for example, two sets of 30 units were approved two years ago in two locations but no ground has been cut yet. The public needs to see improvements. We are told the number of stages from approval to completion has been cut from eight to four. I accept that and hope we will see improvements because of it. They have yet to become crystal clear. I have asked departmental officials about this at the committee meeting this week. I hope the Minister will insist on making the information available as soon as possible in order for us to see examples of improvements. Can the Minister tell us in the coming weeks what new approvals were granted by the Department in 2016 alone? This knowledge would allow us to monitor the progress made from initial approval to construction and completion. There are many short-term measures that will not have the desired effect that have to be taken up, but those in question are medium-term to long-term measures that will help to address the supply issue. I accept that but the public has to see that there is progress and that improvements are being made. Fantastic plans and proposals were made by the previous Minister also but they did not come to fruition because of the logjams in the Department and local authorities. I ask the Minister to make the information available regularly.
I take the point. It takes time to proceed from approval to the delivery and occupation of a social house. Obviously, the rapid build projects are an effort to try to make this happen faster. Some of the preparation and approval times in terms of Part 8 requirements for rapid build projects have been problematic. Once such a project moves to site, it moves a lot faster than a conventional build. That is why we are pursuing this approach. It is only part of the social housing delivery programme.
We are happy to give as much detail as anybody wants on what has been approved. What I have not been doing is trying to put into one basket many different projects to try to launch them with a big splash every few months. Instead, we try to get every project that is ready for approval through the system as fast as we can. We are approving projects almost on a weekly basis. We were doing so towards the end of last year. We can give a list of all the approvals that have been made.
One reason we have committed to quarterly updates on the Rebuilding Ireland programme is so people can see whether we have fallen behind on targets. If so, it will become self-evident. If it is seen that we are ahead on targets, the appropriate momentum will be gathered.
I look forward to it. I simply want to be able to say to the public and those attending my constituency office, in addition to others, that progress is being made, that things are being done differently and that the Government is in a position to ensure that what is being put into the sector by way of providing public housing is delivered. I need to be able to track approvals to construction and not be dealing with circumstances such as those in which the ground has not yet been cut for a development approved in my constituency two years ago, despite the best intentions in the world, I am led to believe. This is replicated around the country. We do not want to see that repeated, especially at this time of crisis when there is an emergency. People need to see an urgent response giving the matter the attention it deserves in order for results to be forthcoming.
It is important to say we are ahead of target for 2016. The target for delivery across build, acquisition and long-term leasing for social housing in 2016 had been 4,240. The actual number was 1,000 more than that. This year, we obviously need to try to stay ahead of target as best we can. The Deputy, since he knows the local authority system, knows as well as I do that some local authorities are better than others at delivering with a sense of urgency. My job is to work in partnership with the local authorities to ensure the delays are not in my Department and to address in as timely a manner as possible any barriers, delays or issues slowing down approvals and the movement from approval and tendering to building. That will involve a combination of measures, from streamlining the planning system and new technologies for rapid-build solutions to getting approvals a lot faster in my Department through having face-to-face meetings rather than e-mails and letters. All this is happening but it takes a little time to build capacity in the system and essentially go from building virtually no local authority houses to building as many as we need to build annually. We are in the process of gearing up towards achieving a much more respectable figure.