Wednesday, 18 April 2018
Social and Affordable Housing
I thank the Leas-Chathaoirleach. I am sorry that I am slightly out of breath. I have just returned from An Bord Pleanála where I attended in respect of the 3,500 units being developed at Poolbeg west, which is in Ringsend. Last week, it came to public attention that the receiver was appealing the requirement for 900 social and affordable units. There was an agreement on 18 May 2017 that there would be 900 social and affordable units on that site. It was written into the special development zone, SDZ, terms. It then followed that there was to be negotiations between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Dublin City Council and the receiver in respect of the delivery of the 550 units which are not covered by legislation. Unfortunately, nothing happened for ten months. At five minutes to midnight yesterday, the assistant CEO of Dublin City Council, Mr. Shakespeare, issued a letter saying that negotiations commenced at the weekend. The inaction and inactivity by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, which says that social and affordable housing is a priority, is a joke. What is going on?
We are not only in a social housing crisis, but also an affordable housing crisis. The programme for Government states that an affordable housing scheme would be announced. There is an affordable loans scheme, but no affordable housing scheme. I have spent two days at An Bord Pleanála. I have raised this issue twice under Commencement matters in this House. The Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, told me 18 months ago that there was no need for a pilot scheme on affordable housing on the Poolbeg west or the old Irish Glass Bottle sites and that there would be a national programme. We have no national programme and we have no plans for affordable housing. We nearly lost, and may still lose, 550 units in a prime location 2 km from the city centre. We will have no integrated housing, rather we will have a dormant village in the heart of the city. That is poor planning.
This is at the Minister of State's door. I am sorry that neither the Minister of State, Deputy English, nor the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is here because I am angry, as is the local community, but this goes much further than just Ringsend, Sandymount and Pearse Street. Affordable housing is a national issue. All we have heard from this Government is talk, but we have seen no action. Negotiations only began at five minutes to midnight with the likelihood of losing 550 units. That is unacceptable to me. We want to see action. This is in the Minister, Deputy Murphy's own back garden, yet we have seen no action from him. Do we not care about affordable housing and social housing? Certainly in the community in which I live, my neighbours feel that the Government no longer has any focus and only worries about the next headcount, which is getting bigger. Urban villages in this city are being destroyed due to a lack of planning, a lack of commitment from this Government and a lack of policy.
I am sorry the Minister of State is here because it should be the Minister of State, Deputy English, or the Minister, Deputy Murphy, taking this debate. I know the Minister of State, Deputy English, has a pain in his head from listening to me talking about affordability in this city and I wonder if that is the reason he is not here today. We need action, not words.
I thank the Senator for raising this issue. First, it is encouraging to note recent media reports which suggest that the receiver has agreed to enter into negotiations with Dublin City Council on the provision of affordable housing on the site with the aim of entering into a binding agreement which will result in the provision of additional affordable units. I wish the parties well in their discussions and I know that the Minister, Deputy Murphy, and his Department are ready and available to support and encourage such engagement by providing the necessary policy clarity at the relevant and appropriate time.
It is worth clarifying that the Minister’s role in relation to the planning system is primarily to provide the policy and legislative framework to which planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála are obliged to have regard in the exercise of their statutory planning functions. Therefore, in respect of the appeal which has been made in relation to the planning scheme for the Poolbeg SDZ, it is ultimately a matter for An Bord Pleanála to determine this appeal and neither the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government nor his Department can be involved in the case.
It is very important for the public to know, however, that his Department has consistently supported engagement on the development of Poolbeg west in order to ensure the level of social housing delivered on this site is far in excess of the 350 or so homes that would be ordinarily delivered through Part V of the Planning Act. For example, the observations made by the Minister’s Department on the draft planning scheme are very clear on this point and also clearly signal that there could be no compulsion about such matters. Such arrangements would have to be progressed in the context of an agreement that would detail the various funding, delivery and value for money considerations that apply in the ordinary course of such matters parallel to, but separate from, the finalisation and consideration of the planning merits of the scheme. The negotiations currently under way and the appeal process to An Bord Pleanála do not alter this position.
The Minister, Deputy Murphy’s Department remains committed to working with the city council, any relevant approved housing bodies and either the receiver or developers of the SDZ area in securing additional social and affordable housing from this site over and above Part V obligations and at the scale proposed in the adopted planning scheme, but subject to agreement on all the normal relevant terms including value for money aspects. It is, therefore, for the relevant parties using the array of social housing delivery mechanisms supported by the Minister's Department, including capital and current funded programmes delivered through the local authorities and approved housing bodies, to realise the potential for this site including enhanced social housing delivery.
As I said at the outset, the Minister wishes all parties well in these discussions and he is hopeful that a resolution will be reached in the short term to pave the way for the development of the Poolbeg west SDZ, realising the much needed housing mix that it promises to deliver. Whatever the result of the hearing currently under way, the Minister would like to assure the local community of his continued commitment to ensuring that the commitments regarding social and affordable housing will be met.
I find the answer the Minister of State gave to be totally unacceptable. The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government was on the phone to Dublin City Council on 18 May 2017. It was party to the negotiations with the receiver and Dublin City Council. Those phone calls took place on 18 May 2017 and I challenge the Minister of State to say that they did not take place. Representatives of the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, were negotiating at the time. The Minister of State mentioned recent media reports which suggest that the receiver has agreed to enter into negotiations. The receiver has been ready to enter negotiations since 18 May 2017.The Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government has not stepped up to the plate over the past 11 months. I challenge the Minister of State to give us the details regarding the contact and information details between the receiver, Dublin City Council and the Department.
In the context of the Minister having no hand, act or part in this, the CEO of Dublin City Council is on public record as telling council meetings that he notified the Department a number of weeks ago when the appeal came in from the receiver. The receiver only put in the appeal because of the lack of negotiations about the additional 550 units. This matter has been laid at the door of the Department. Let us be very clear about that. In a letter yesterday, Richard Shakespeare, assistant chief executive, planning and property development, Dublin City Council clearly indicates that the negotiations are taking place between the Department, the council and the receiver. Therefore, the Minister of State has misled the House. I ask him to go back to the Department, seek clarification, come back to the House and correct the record. I find his answers to be totally unacceptable. I do not think there is an urgency in the Department regarding affordable housing. I do not want to further embarrass the Minister of State because I know he is only stepping in for the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, and the Minister and that he was given a prepared speech. I ask him to return speedily because his reputation is on the line and his remarks are on the record of this House. He should seek clarification on whether the Department is actively involved in negotiations. Is it playing an active role? The Minister of State indicated that it is not. He quoted recent media reports in which Mr. Richard Shakespeare stated that the Department is involved in negotiations. I really do not feel the need to embarrass the Minister of State but I believe the record of the House needs to be corrected.
I will seek clarification from the Department regarding its role and the negotiations. I will ensure that the relevant information is forwarded to the Senator directly. I will send him a transcript of the conversation here today and seek the clarifications he has sought from the Department.