Thursday, 2 March 2017
Social and Affordable Housing
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, for coming into the House to take this matter. I will talk about Poolbeg West and the 3,000 homes that will I hope be built there in the coming years. For young people, like those in the Visitors Gallery, we are talking about building a sustainable city with a properly integrated social mix.
I will give some of the history of the area. People living in the Ringsend, Sandymount and Pearse Street area have a history of providing homes for themselves. Way back in the 1980s we started to build affordable housing through co-operative movements. When the docklands were developed, the community devised a scheme that provided for 20% social and affordable housing. It was taken on board by the then Minister for the Environment and Local Government, Noel Dempsey, and developed as Part V housing. In the Ringsend area alone about 150 affordable housing units have been generated. They are very different. Because there is such a strong tradition of providing affordable homes in the area, very few people are in arrears. Many people living in affordable and council housing fell into arrears during the recession, but that has not happened in our community because of that strong tradition. In many ways, we would not have a housing crisis if the former Minister, Martin Cullen, had not undermined the very good legislation brought forward by his predecessor, Noel Dempsey.
There were no social or affordable units provided during the boom because the legislation had been watered down to such an extent that very few social or affordable homes were provided during that period. Now that we are starting to see new homes being built, there is the possibility to make sure we will have sustainable integrated communities. The pilot scheme can start in Poolbeg West, on the old Irish Glass Bottle site, on which it is proposed to provide 3,000 new homes. I ask the Minister of State to look seriously at the options for developing affordable housing, including for renting, on that site. There are many working people living on Pearse Street and in Ringsend and Sandymount who cannot afford to meet the huge market costs. We want to have a sustainable city and sustainable communities. There is a pilot scheme taking place on Dublin City Council land. The housing action group that has emerged from the community is made up of very reasonable people who want to develop a model that will work. They have engaged positively with the receiver because we understand the land is not owned by the State. They have met most of the voluntary housing bodies. We can develop the model of affordable homes, including for renting, and establish how they would be managed into the future because sustainability is important. It has been gotten wrong in cases before. The people concerned met department officials this week. The meeting was supposed to last for only about half an hour or 45 minutes, but it went on for nearly two hours at the officials' request because they were interested in hearing about the new developments and the thought process involved.
What do I want from the Minister of State today? Affordable homes, including for renting, which the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, want to see provided, can be developed. The legislation in place only specifies a figure of 10% for social housing. To have sustainable communities, we need a mix.
I will take some time off at the end because this element is important.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue and giving me the chance to talk about it. He is absolutely right about the development and construction of sustainable housing at an affordable price to give people options. The Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, the Department and I are working very closely on the different models and ways of doing this because we want to achieve it. I am glad that the group had a chance to meet the officials last week, although, knowing some of the officials involved, housing was probably not the only issue they discussed. I am sure the Dublin football team came into the conversation at some stage, which is why the meeting took two hours. I am glad that they had a chance to meet and have that engagement. We want to engage with communities that have ideas and solutions and are prepared to work with all involved, including the receivers. We want to make that connection through the action plan for housing with local authorities in working with communities and through the Department. We are all on the same page in trying to achieve the best results on these sites and we will use taxpayers' money where we can on site.
The Senator mentioned sustainable cities and sustainable housing. That is what we are trying to achieve. Housing is the number one priority for the Government, the Department and the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney. We are trying to drive towards having sustainable communities and affordable housing. Taxpayers' money will be used to activate sites and help with the provision of infrastructure.There has to be a return on that. We have to make sure that we are getting a kick-back on the price.
Delivering extra supply across all tenures is agreed by all as the key to addressing our shared housing challenges. We have ample land and planning permission to secure the sustainable development of Dublin and at more affordable prices. Last May the Government took the decision to designate Poolbeg west as a strategic development zone, SDZ, because of its potential to deliver a big element of the extra homes we need right in the centre of our capital and on a superb site. The process has moved forward with Dublin City Council’s publication, for public consultation, of a detailed planning scheme for the area under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. Comments and observations on the scheme must be submitted to Dublin City Council by 8 March 2017. The Minister is a statutory consultee under the aforementioned Act and he intends to indicate that, in broad terms, the draft planning scheme outlines a rational and reasonable approach to the development of this strategic site.
The Minister will also be emphasising that a key requirement of Rebuilding Ireland is the promotion of sustainable and mixed communities, which is exactly what the Senator is seeking. In this regard, he has asked the Department to explore new models for the maximisation of a mixed tenure approach on this site. In particular, we want to secure additional social housing well in excess of the 10% social housing requirement guaranteed under Part V. We believe it is crucial that people who need social housing and key workers who cannot afford high-end rents can also live in the city centre and in areas like Poolbeg.
I am glad to report that my Department is engaged with this issue and is working with all the relevant interests including NAMA, Dublin City Council and, as the Senator mentioned, the local community. It is essential that this communication continues. Therefore, rather than a pilot scheme per se, we are determined to progress on an agreed basis with an approach to a mixed tenure model that would deliver for the owners of the lands covered by the draft planning scheme and also for those communities who want and need to see homes delivered in the area that meet their aspirations.
I know that the issue of a pilot scheme has been discussed here previously. As I understand it, the Senator will be happy once this scheme actually happens. We hope that this scheme will be a top-class model that can be rolled out at other sites. This is a key site, as Senator Humphreys said, and we must get this right. All involved want to see what Senator Humphreys has outlined and hopefully that can be achieved.
I thank the Minister for State for his reply. I also want to thank the departmental officials who engaged with me on this issue prior to me submitting it as a Commencement matter. However, we cannot talk about this scheme forever. There are closing dates associated with the SDZ designation. The Minister of State is aware of what is involved in the SDZ process. I want to see, as does the Minister of State and anyone else in politics who is progressive, the supply issue resolved. We need these 3,000 homes to be built in order to start addressing that supply issue. We need action.
I was not trying to pin the Minister of State down with regard to a pilot scheme because it is very difficult to develop a national scheme when the clock is ticking. I am delighted that the Department is determined to progress, on an agreed basis, a mixed tenure development but the clock is ticking. Can we expect, before there is a vote at Dublin City Council, agreement on how to progress a mixed tenure development on the site that includes social, affordable and affordable rental housing? This must be passed by Dublin City Council before going to An Bord Pleanála. We cannot let it get bogged down at any stage in the process. It is too important for Dublin and for the country. We must see these 3,000 units built.
If the Minister of State cannot give me an answer today, I ask him to respond to me later. I want to know how we can progress this, when the consultation process will be complete and when it is likely to go before Dublin City Council for a vote.
The Senator will appreciate that I do not have timeline details with me today but that is something in which we are all interested. We have seen how SDZs can work but we have also seen how they cannot work. I am very familiar with an SDZ in my own constituency which has not delivered, which is a shame. We want this site to be activated quickly. That is the desire of all involved and that has been stressed by departmental officials at all relevant meetings. The aim is to find the magic formula as quickly as we can and to do it right. The Minister, myself and all departmental officials want mixed tenure developments and this is the perfect site in that context. As Senator Humphreys said, we need to see a lot more than 10% social housing on that site and everyone understands that. If we can get agreement, things will move faster and that is what we are going to try to do.