Thursday, 23 June 2022
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
As the Minister knows, two of the most important affordable housing development for the city of Dublin are the Dublin City Council led social and affordable cost-rental project in St. Michael's Estate in Inchicore and the requirement under the strategic development zone for Poolbeg to deliver an additional 15% affordable homes on top of the 10% Part 5 allocation. There is significant concern about the delivery of any genuine affordability, in particular in Poolbeg, and due to ongoing delays with St. Michael's Estate there is concern that prices might be pushed up further. Can the Minister give us an update on the efforts made by him and his Department to ensure the delivery of genuinely affordable homes on those two sires?
I agree with the Deputy that the Emmet Road scheme will be a flagship project for the Dublin City Council and will deliver social, cost-rental and community facilities to a very high standard, in full consultation with the local community. I have met the local community and intend to do so again very shortly.
In July 2020, as the Deputy will know, a serviced sites fund application was made and approved for 395 cost-rental units. On Friday, 17 June, the council submitted a revised application under the new affordable housing fund, which provides higher levels of subsidy. I welcome that, and we will consider the application positively in an expeditious fashion. As the Deputy knows, the affordable housing fund allows for a higher level of State subsidy towards each unit than the serviced sites fund.
As there will be in excess of 500 residential homes in total on the development, an environmental impact assessment is required. It is anticipated that a planning application will be lodged with An Bord Pleanála in the third quarter of this year and I want to see that happen.
We need to see progress on this.
As for the provision of housing on the former Irish Glass Bottle Company site, in the Poolbeg strategic development zone, SDZ, Deputy Ó Broin will know that a condition of planning requires the provision of 15% social and affordable homes on the site in addition to the 10% statutory requirement. On 24 March, DCC approved an application for the first 570 homes on the site. We are working in partnership with DCC, which I met last week specifically to discuss Poolbeg, and the developers to try to drive through affordability, which is challenging on the site. I met just yesterday evening, coincidentally, with residents and Deputy Jim O'Callaghan to discuss that. It is a very important site, not just for that part of Dublin but also for the region. I am more than happy to keep Deputy Ó Broin and other interested parties informed of the progress. We are working on this, and I am directly involved.
The concern with St. Michael's Estate is that, while the planning application will go in at the latter end of this year, and that will take time, there will be potential cost increases if the post-planning, pre-construction phase of that development is elongated. In some cases projects of this size can take up to two years to get to construction. I have said before that it would be sensible for the Minister to meet with Opposition spokespeople in advance of planning being granted, not to discuss the planning application but to look at phases 3 and 4 of the four-stage process in order to see if that can be reduced and accelerated to ensure that unnecessary cost inflation is designed out of the project. Otherwise, the rents there will be too high.
As for Poolbeg, I welcome the fact the Minister has been engaging with residents and the council. The difficulty is that the condition of the SDZ is subject to an agreement between the parties. If no agreement can be reached, all bets are off. We know that Ronan Group and Lioncor are quoting an all-in figure of about €640,000 for the development costs. Even if we get €100,000 from the serviced sites fund plus support from the National Transport Authority, NTA, and the Department's own funding, that will not drive affordability. The key is NAMA's 20% interest in the development. Has the Minister engaged with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and NAMA on this? If not, will he give a commitment to do so? I think transferring NAMA's stake to DCC is the key to unlocking affordability. Again, just like with St. Michael's, we would work constructively with the Minister to achieve that end if he were to engage with us on it.
Thankfully, we see more and more affordable housing sites open up right across the country now. We have our advance purchase schemes. We approved five more last week. That is good. That is moving.
As for St. Michael's Estate specifically, I know the Deputy raised that a number of weeks ago during Question Time. I am more than happy to sit down at the appropriate time with Opposition spokespeople and others who are interested in this. It might be appropriate to wait until we process the affordable housing fund application because then we will know the costings within it, but I will do that. We will take it that that will be done.
As for Poolbeg, and I wish to be very clear on this because I have said this publicly, €640,000 is not affordable. Obviously, I have to protect the taxpayer and the Exchequer. We have to drive affordability. We have to get a good social mix there too. There is no way I will enter into any agreement for affordable homes for €640,000. That will not happen. We have been engaging with NAMA and we have not at this stage concluded those engagements. NAMA has a role in this, but the conditions of the SDZ and the planning require an agreement to be done before any work can proceed, and there is no agreement currently.
I have two specific propositions. As for St. Michael's Estate, I think the development could be greatly progressed if the Department were to firm up the commitment to have a single point of approval within the Department for mixed-tenure projects. That was one of the considerations to come out of the review. This is the ideal project on which to test that. There needs to be a senior official who has the ability to drive the decisions rather than waiting for others. Also, we need to look at the cost appraisal and the detailed design appraisal, given the level of public consultation on this, not in any way to ease up on public accountability of public funds but, rather, to accelerate that process, as is hoped, from planning approval to construction.
I welcome the fact the Minister has engaged with NAMA. As he will know, his predecessor turned down an offer for the purchase of NAMA's interest at a 60% discount, a scandalous decision, in my view, and I am sure the Minister agrees with me. That needs to be revisited. Unless NAMA's interest, in either land or a commercial stake in the development, is transferred to DCC, there will be no affordable homes on that site. I urge the Minister to secure that outcome. We will support him on that if he does so.
Last year, when Poolbeg had run into the sand and there was nothing happening with the site, I held a round-table meeting in the Custom House with all interested parties, including residents and local representatives. I want to see the site move forward, but it will move forward only if a reasonable deal can be done. I want that to happen. As I said, I briefed residents just yesterday evening. It is a very important site, and I want to see it progressed, but we will not see it progressed at all costs to the Exchequer. I think, however, that there is a landing zone there such that we can move forward to get an agreement.
As for Emmet Road, we have established a multi-tenure unit within the Department because we have a lot of multi-tenure, affordable and social schemes coming in. Rather than being approved separately, they come in together now. We have a very senior official, the gentleman who constructed many of our cost-rental schemes and our affordable housing legislation - the Deputy will know who he is - who has his eyes directly on Emmet Road and is working directly with me. We will have a single unit in that regard. I want to get the application from DCC done. It came in only last Friday. I want to get that processed very quickly. We will do so and we will meet to discuss it.