Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Social and Affordable Housing Funding
69. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government when he will fund the roll-out of a social and affordable housing building programme on the 50 acres of council-owned landbanks in County Louth in view of the housing emergency. [47155/18]
I ask the Minister when he will fund the roll-out of a social and affordable housing building programme on the 50 acres of council-owned landbanks in County Louth in view of the fact that we are in a housing emergency.
The development of publicly-owned lands for housing is a key Government priority. In 2019, the Government will provide over €2.4 billion for housing. All local authorities are encouraged to bring forward viable and appropriate development proposals that can be funded through the range of schemes and programmes which have been put in place.
The Department, the Minister and I are in regular contact with the local authority in County Louth regarding the accelerated delivery of social, affordable and private housing. On social housing delivery under the Government's Rebuilding Ireland action plan, 194 homes have been completed and 740 further homes are currently at various stages of progress in the social housing construction programme across Louth, which is being added to on an ongoing basis. Furthermore, a site at Mount Avenue, Dundalk, is approved under the local infrastructure housing activation fund for funding of over €3.3 million for an access road which will support 200 homes initially and potentially up to 1,200 on associated wider lands.
In budget 2019, under the serviced sites fund, SSF, the Government is providing €310 million to enable the provision of infrastructure on council lands in order to facilitate affordable housing. The first call issued to local authorities, including Louth County Council, in June. While Louth did not make an application, further calls will be made and the council will have further opportunities to submit applications. My Department also hosted an affordable housing workshop for local authorities last week at which site development and affordable housing were discussed. Further bilateral engagement between local authorities and my Department will now follow, with a view to progressing further social and affordable housing projects on council lands.
I wish to be very clear, as far as we are concerned as Ministers, we want more progress. I have met officials from Louth County Council. I have also met its housing team and the county manager. I have asked them to put in place a pipeline of projects to increase the number of houses it will provide in the coming years. We are committed to that as well. The council has a landbank, which means it has enough land. It has more than 68 ha and it could bring forward proposals for up to 1,700 houses. The Minister made the point earlier that we want to make sure local authorities bring forward proposals not just for social housing but also for affordable housing and also to work with the private sector as well.
No, it was not. It is the same old spiel every time. The reply referred to the 50 acres of council-owned land that are lying barren of houses. A speaker earlier referred to the fact that the Government is eight years in government. Is the Minister of State aware that Louth County Council has been paying millions out of its budget every year in interest on the landbanks? Is he also aware that the council has consistently asked the Department for funding for the roll-out of social and affordable housing? What is the point in having landbanks or the Minister collating the location of landbanks if after eight years funding has not been released? One could build upwards of 800 houses on those landbanks if the political will was there. However, the reality is the political will is not there and the Government does not believe in social housing. The Minister talked about the Land Development Agency. That is the biggest farce he ever came up with, out of all the spiel he has given in the midst of the housing emergency. It is an insult.
There is one particular family of four or five sharing one room in emergency accommodation and they have been there for months.
I will again be very clear, as I was in my initial reply. There are 68 ha of land, not 50 acres, available to the local authority in Louth to develop housing. That land could accommodate 1,700 houses. I say it again for the record, we are very clear that funding is available to develop more schemes on lands owned by Louth County Council. I cannot make it any clearer than that. We have engaged with the council and I have met with officials so I am aware that the council is paying interest on debts associated with the purchase of land. I made it very clear to the council that the best way to solve that problem is to bring forward proposals to develop the land. The most recent opportunity was under the SSF but Louth County Council did not make an application in that regard. I wish to be very clear. A second call will be issued to local authorities very soon and we will work with the council to bring forward proposals under the fund. We want the landbank to be developed. We also made it very clear a number of months ago that we will fund some feasibility works on all the sites to enable the council to bring forward proposals. We want the lands to be developed. That is black and white.
I am sure the Minister of State is aware that Louth County Council had an overspend of several million euro this year, which resulted in it not being able to provide housing adaptation grants or carry out repairs. People in Drogheda and Dundalk and elsewhere in County Louth have broken heating systems but the council cannot send anyone to fix them because it is in dire financial straits. Is the Minister of State saying that the CEO of Louth County Council and the director of services for housing have refused point-blank to contact the Department about funding for the roll-out of projects? I want the Minister of State to clarify the position. Have they said point-blank that they do not want housing on the land? Has the Minister offered them money for the roll-out of social and affordable housing and they have refused it? I want to clarify the position on the record.
I hope the Minister of State does not even hallucinate about targeting the council-owned lands for the farce of the Land Development Agency because only 10% of the 800 houses would be social and only 30% would be affordable. In the Minister of State's thinking, €320,000 is affordable. This would mean that a person would have to have to have a deposit of €32,000, get a mortgage for €288,000 and be earning a salary of €82,000. Will the Minister of State get real?
I did not mention the Land Development Agency. I am very clear that we have met with Louth County Council. It has a pipeline of projects to deliver more than 740 houses in the coming year or two. We have been very clear that we would like more projects to be in the pipeline. There are schemes to do that and we are very happy to engage with the council in this regard. We are funding projects. We are very clear as a Government that our job is to make sure social housing and affordable housing are delivered and also to increase the number of private housing development, which thankfully is happening as well. Local authorities are involved in that. Where landbanks can deliver all three categories of housing and help recoup some of the costs the council has expended the landbanks should be used for that as well where it is suitable. Some of the sites are large and it would not be suitable to only bring forward social housing on them. The local authority in Louth is very aware of that and it has engaged on the sites as well. We will engage with the council and make available our technical teams to help it develop those sites. There is more opportunity for more projects and for more sites to be developed.