Thursday, 9 November 2023
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
88. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if consideration can be given to extending the completion deadline for Croí Cónaithe grant applications from the current 13 months, to allow successful applicants the time to finish the refurbishment of the property; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49086/23]
154. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government if he will change the conditions of the vacant property refurbishment grant to extend the time a person has to complete the works once one’s application has been approved from 13 months to 24 months and allow for a drawdown of the grant in stages over the course of the build; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49082/23]
Will the Minister give consideration to extending the completion deadline for Croí Cónaithe grant applications, which is set at 13 months? It would allow successful applicants time to properly finish the property and draw down what is a very important support to tackle vacancy and dereliction.
I propose to take Questions Nos. 88 and 154 together.
In July 2022 we launched the vacant property refurbishment grant under the Croí Cónaithe towns fund. This supports bringing vacant and derelict properties back into use as homes. In May 2023 we announced a revised grant rate of up to a maximum of €50,000 available for the refurbishment of vacant properties for occupation as a principal private residence and for properties that may be available for rent, including the conversion of a property that had not previously been used as residential.
Where the refurbishment costs are expected to exceed the standard grant of up to €50,000 a further top-up grant to a maximum of €20,000 is available where the property is confirmed to be derelict or where the property is already on the local authority derelict sites register. This brings the total grant for a derelict property up to a maximum of €70,000. We have increased the amount of the grant by €20,000, from €30,000 to €50,000 and from €50,000 to €70,000 for derelict properties.
The grant is paid when works are completed following a final inspection by the local authority. Payment of the grant at the end of the process is to ensure the applicant has carried out the works applied for and approved, and to safeguard that the grant is related to the works that have been completed.
In order to support the timely delivery of properties back into use, from 1 May 2023 once a grant application receives approval the applicants must complete works applied for within a period of 13 months. On average, payment of grants issues 12 months from the date of approval, as works are completed. The time limit encourages the timely undertaking of the works applied for in order that grant approvals are not left extant indefinitely and the contingent liability is managed.
In exceptional circumstances, however, where an applicant experiences particular issues and cannot complete the works applied for under the grant within the 13-month period, the local authority may grant an extension of the approval period at its discretion.
We sent a reminder to them, with a departmental circular in October, that they had this level of discretion available to them.
Since the grant was launched in July 2022, just a little over a year ago, more than 5,000 applications have been made and 2,400 have been approved, which is nearly half. We regard this as a very successful scheme. When the Croí Cónaithe towns fund was launched, a commitment was given that the scheme funded by it would be kept under ongoing review. It is our intention that a comprehensive review and evaluation of the scheme in the context of the Croí Cónaithe towns fund will be undertaken by mid-2024. We will ensure that the question of how long grant approval should last will be considered in that too. However, it is important to be aware that the local authorities do have discretion to extend this time if they deem an applicant to be experiencing particular difficulties in completing the process within the given period.
I thank the Minister of State for outlining the circular issued to all local authorities. The Croí Cónaithe scheme has been invaluable. This has especially been the case in those areas where house prices are that bit lower than they might be elsewhere and additional works cannot be funded with borrowing because of the loan-to-value ratio and the cap the market places on homes in those areas. In areas, though, and I am thinking of parts of my constituency, this scheme enables people to go in and borrow money for their homes, and avail of this additional grant, which is not linked to the value of a property. This allows people to undertake this type of work. It enables work to be done that might otherwise have been only done by other people with higher incomes. This makes endeavours of this type more affordable to a broader range of people.
The problem is, and this is like anything we give to the local authorities, and I agree with things going to them, the local authorities do things differently in every local authority area. Dublin City Council is implementing the Croí Cónaithe scheme with far more rigidity than I would like it to. I would, therefore, welcome if the Minister of State could bring a little bit of standardisation to the 13-month period and an extension beyond that point.
Many people are considering this scheme positively, particularly since it was extended to people who live in rural areas. This is because those from rural areas who want to continue to live there are finding it very difficult to get planning permission. This scheme is an option if there is a derelict or vacant house in a locality, enabling people to bring such a building back into a liveable condition. However, the time scale from grant approval to having the grant-aided works completed is proving to be a problem in respect of being too short. This is especially the case when there is difficulty getting workers to do the work in the time allowed. This view is shared by those operating the scheme within the local authorities. They have requested an extension of the time allowed, but this has not been granted.
The Minister of State has said discretion is possible, but, again, as Deputy McAuliffe said, this will be operated differently in different local authorities. It needs to be standardised. One local authority could give discretion for one reason, but another might not grant it for the same reason. Do the local authorities have clear guidelines regarding which aspects they can exercise their discretion on or the conditions in which they can extend the time?
I thank the Deputies. Yes, we have given directions and guidelines to the local authorities. However, in the interests of absolute clarity, we will write to the local authorities again on this specific area of discretion. On a couple of points, if an application was approved prior to 1 May 2022, the Deputy will probably be aware that applicants have 18 months. We have now extended the scheme from 1 May to rental properties as well.
We want this scheme to be a very successful one. By way of providing information to the Deputies, Dublin City Council has received 240 applications to date, of which 44 have been approved. The average processing time overall is 81 days. I visited the offices of Dublin City Council on Tuesday specifically regarding this area. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has also spoken to the council. We want to see it progress this scheme. It has put additional staff in the area. We very much wish to see a refocusing on dereliction and the Croí Cónaithe scheme itself. It is, therefore, opportune that the Deputies have raised this question now, in that we have met and spoken with representatives of the council concerning this matter.
In terms of Cavan-Monaghan, a situation which will be of interest to Deputy Tully, there were 183 applications in County Cavan, of which 112 have been approved. The processing time is posting at 59 days, which is well below the average. Turning to County Monaghan, there were 111 applications, of which 59 have been processed. The processing time there is 56 days, which is doing very well in this context. I reassure the Deputies, though, that we will write to the local authorities - I will ask officials to do it - in terms of re-emphasising that discretion in this regard is available. We will look at this matter in terms of the overall context of the review.
We want this scheme to be an unqualified success. To date, there has been great interest. This has been the case in urban areas, and the point was well made concerning loan-to-value ratios in this regard. The scheme has been equally successful in rural areas. This is a very straightforward scheme. We want people to go back into homes that have been vacant for more than two years, those built prior to 2008, and we are very pleased with the success of this scheme to date.
I thank the Minister of State. I especially welcome the update concerning Dublin City Council and the interaction in this regard. We have been speaking with the Minister for some time. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan, who asked me to raise this parliamentary question on his behalf today, has also been working with Cork County Council, and perhaps the same interaction could be undertaken with that local authority.
This is an important scheme and it is having an impact. I always have a wry smile when Sinn Féin backbenchers are looking for better implementation of a scheme opposed by their frontbench, but we will let them off with that.
I ask the Minister and the Minister of State to do whatever they can to try to ensure this scheme is rolled out and that as much value as possible is derived for the money being put into it by the Minister, the Minister of State and the Government.
-----clarify again that we never opposed this scheme; we would just do it much better.
The scheme also requires that the work to be done must be paid for upfront, with the grant moneys being claimed back afterwards. Again, the cost of materials and of work is rising and doing so very quickly. This is also causing problems for some people as well. It has been brought to my attention that it would be beneficial if consideration were to be given to paying the grant in phases. I do not know if this is an option but it is something that even an organisation like Macra na Feirme raised in its pre-budget submission. In the context of the grant, it was seeking an extension of the time allowed for the work to be completed from 13 months to two years, and for the work to be paid for on a phased basis, if at all possible. As I said, we want to facilitate more young people interested in farming. They want to live on or close to their farms. This scheme is an option when they cannot get planning permission. We need more young people to go into farming, so we should explore anything we can do to support them.
I raised this point during the week, but I wish to do so again to see if I can get a commitment from the Minister. It concerns the vacancy requirement for this scheme. It is set at two years currently. Recently, my colleagues on Clare County Council passed a resolution in an effort to seek a reduction in this time from two years to six months. I support the councillors in this request.
I also understand that a review is to begin in the middle of next year. I would be grateful if consideration could be given to bringing this process forward to Christmas of this year.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. Like previous speakers, I compliment the Minister on this scheme. To the Opposition Deputies, I always say it is easy to be everything to everyone when they are in opposition and promising everyone everything that they know they cannot deliver on.
I know it is working in Carlow. I have been working with many families in this regard. Do the Deputies know where I feel the benefits of this scheme are being experienced? It is within the town centre. There are homes there that we are now bringing back into use and with them, increased footfall in the town. I refer to the great number of people who have come to me in the town centre of Carlow looking to avail of this grant. I am delighted we are extending it. Well done to the Minister and credit where credit is due. This is a really good scheme.
Maybe he has seen the light. In the interests of clarity, Deputy Tully asked about people being able to build in rural areas. I very much support that. We increased the grant from €30,000 to €50,000 and from €50,000 to €70,000 in terms of the costs involved. We extended it to rental properties. We brought the period of time back two years from pre-1993. We have made significant changes to the scheme. We will do a review of the scheme, as we are doing. We have overcome the issue of the second charge. The scheme is there. It is very much a fit-for-purpose scheme.
The point Deputy Wynne made will form part of the review. There were 248 applications in Clare and 119 of those have been approved. Regarding Carlow-Kilkenny, in Carlow there have been 59 applications and 20 approved and in Kilkenny, there were 110 applications and 43 approved. My colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, has brought through a very creative sister scheme with €7,500 available for farmhouses in rural areas in terms of bringing consultants in. In tandem, we want to preserve the old farmhouses but allow people to live in them. What the Minister of State has brought forward will ensure that area is assisted. Deputy McAuliffe made reference to urban areas as well. Overall, this scheme works because of its simplicity. Anyone can apply. We certainly want to see the processing times improving in certain local authorities but overall to date, this scheme is working.