Seanad debates

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

10:30 am

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I thank Senator Lombard for raising a very important issue for Kinsale as well as the wider issue of the affordability of housing and the Government's plans to deliver affordable housing. The Senator is correct in saying that I have connections in Kinsale and I am always glad to discuss it and to visit it because it is a fabulous part of the country. It is an area that is doing very well in the context of job creation, business and tourism. It is a very self sufficient town for which housing is very important. I have family who are very happy living in Kinsale. The town is well served with schools and other education facilities but it is important that we deliver the necessary housing there too. I am glad to say that 40 social housing units are being built on a site in the town. Work on that site began just before Christmas and it is great to see construction activity there. I hope to visit it soon.

While the issue raised by Senator Lombard this morning is affordable housing, when it comes to social housing it must be said that there is a lot happening in Cork. Cork County Council is probably one of the leading local authorities when it comes to the delivery of social housing under the direction of Mr. Tim Lucey, the county manager, and Mr. Maurice Manning, director of service for housing and his team. I have met them on numerous occasions to discuss social housing projects as well as affordable housing schemes. They are very interested in driving on with the development of affordable housing. The Senator is on the nail in terms of the importance of affordable housing and Cork County Council understands that too and has been doing good work in that area. I am happy to work with the local authorities in Cork to bring forward more proposals.

In fairness to all local authorities, they have been doing good work over the last year or two in rebuilding their housing teams, putting in serious effort and concentrating on the delivery of housing. That is now paying off. The delivery of social housing has increased a lot and we now have a healthy pipeline of projects. In Cork, the pipeline contains more than 1,700 units over the next few years. We want to double that again and keep going. There is good pressure there in terms of social housing and now that we have the social housing delivery back on track, we want to move on to a key phase, which is the delivery of affordable housing for those who are at work but who are unable to afford a mortgage on the open market. Affordable housing is for those people earning less than approximately €75,000 jointly who would not be in a position to buy a house at full market value but who, with some help from local authorities in terms of providing sites, would be able to access an affordable home. In this context, the State's land bank has an important role to play.

Senator Lombard has asked whether land in Kinsale which is owned by Cork County Council can be used for affordable housing and the short answer is "Yes". It can be used and it will be used if all the plans for it come together. I will outline the position in that regard shortly. More generally, the State land bank plays a vital role in delivering housing. Increasing and accelerating housing delivery, particularly for social and affordable purposes, is at the heart of Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's action plan for housing and homelessness. The Minister has made it clear that the focus will be on affordable housing going forward. The plan places a particular focus on maximising the output of housing from the land banks of housing authorities, the Housing Agency and the broader public sector. Thankfully, there is a large State-owned land bank in Cork. There is enough land to deliver more than 3,500 houses. There is also land in Cork in the ownership of the Housing Agency that can be used for housing. There are many sites available, amounting to 160 ha, in State ownership that can be developed for social, affordable and private housing.

On the site in Kinsale, to which Senator Lombard refers, I understand that Cork County Council has conducted an economic assessment and concluded that it would qualify for affordable housing. The site was not put forward in the first round of affordable housing projects announced in June of last year. We have now set aside €310 million for the serviced sites fund which will service land belonging to local authorities and a second round will open in the coming weeks. The local authority in Cork has assessed four or five different sites for affordable housing, and the site at Glanmire qualified for funding in the first round. When the next round opens, I imagine it will put forward the site at Kinsale as well as others located in Mallow, Midleton, Carrigaline and Clonakilty, all of which would pass the test for affordable housing. I hope that we will see a number of applications submitted by the local authority in Cork. I see no reason for Kinsale not being successful. Indeed, development of that site would compliment the work that is going on there already to provide social housing. If everything goes to plan, 40 affordable housing units could be delivered in Kinsale. There may even be some space to deliver more.

We are trying to use State owned land throughout the country. We know that there are approximately 1,700 ha of land in the ownership of local authorities and we want to see a lot of it used for housing. While it will not all be suitable for housing, the majority of it can be utilised for a blend of social, affordable and private housing. Cork is leading the way in that regard.


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