Monday, 26 April 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Minister of State for taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. North Wexford is one of the fastest growing areas in the country outside of the main urban centres. Gorey town grew from about 4,500 to 11,000 in the 1996-2016 intercensus period. We have continued to see rapid growth since. Many people from Dublin know Courtown as a small seaside village but the Courtown-Riverchapel area has exploded to become the fifth largest urban centre in the county. In the education field, I was glad that, in spite of the fact that we got a 1,000-pupil school a decade ago, an additional second level school for the area was approved by the Government earlier this year. Part of that is due to the Dublin commuter effect, but it is also because of the quality of life we offer in north Wexford.
The challenge, which is no different from the rest of the country, has been around housing. Gorey was declared a rent pressure zone in 2019, which reflected much of the pressures with regard to housing. Even though the Gorey-Kilmuckridge municipal area represents almost one third of the population of County Wexford, less than a sixth of the council's housing stock is in that geographic area. Over the last decade, less than one fifth of new housing acquisition or build overseen by Wexford County Council was in the Gorey-Kilmuckridge area.
This has been a big problem but two years ago Wexford County Council acquired a 73-acre site at St. Waleran's in Gorey. It is north of Gorey town. The council trumpeted it as Gorey's future urban quarter. The problem is that in the two years since, we have not seen progress. In October last year I arranged a meeting of senior council officials with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the council committed to fast-tracking this, that we would see a master plan and there would be development by the end of the year but nothing happened. Then we were told it would be quarter 1 of this year but again nothing has happened. We still have not seen a master plan. Wexford County Council is sitting on 73 acres while there is a housing crisis.This frustration is shared cross-party by councillors in north Wexford, where people are crying out for social, and in particular affordable, housing, and we have not seen action. I ask that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage apply pressure on Wexford County Council regarding this site. If the council is unable or unwilling to provide a masterplan for the site, it may be possible for the Land Development Agency, provided there is clear input from local councillors, to provide the masterplan for the site.
There are other developments, such as the former St. Joseph's School site in Gorey town, which is also being held up by the Department. We all know that when we emerge from this pandemic, housing will continue to be one of the greatest challenges. Delivery on housing is crucial for the Government. Will the Department call Wexford County Council to account and ask why the masterplan for the development of the St. Waleran's House site has not been developed, and why the development of social and affordable housing in Gorey and north Wexford has not been prioritised by the council?
The planning and delivery of social and affordable housing at a local level is led by the relevant local authority. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has made record funding available to support the delivery of social and affordable housing by local authorities. Thanks to budget 2021, total funding provision of €3.3 billion was secured by the Minister for delivery of housing programmes.
As for affordable housing in particular, a total of €50 million will be made available to local authorities in 2021 for serviced sites infrastructure funding for new homes that will be made available for affordable purchase or cost rental, depending on the site and local requirements. This is part of a €310 million multi-annual fund. The Minister has submitted ambitious proposals for the expansion of affordable housing funding in the context of the review of the national development plan that is under way. One of the 38 serviced sites fund projects that has received approval in principle is situated in Ramsfort Park, Gorey. This funding of just over €250,000 will go towards the construction of a 150 m access road and associated development works and services and assist in the delivery of 23 affordable homes. As the Senator can appreciate, Covid-19 has had an adverse impact on the projected delivery of these homes, which Wexford County Council has advised will now be delivered in mid-2022. The Minister's Department keeps in close contact with the council on this important local project.
St. Waleran's is an adjacent 72 acre site where the council is proposing significant development for housing and other uses. It will also benefit from the aforementioned road. Wexford County Council has indicated there are other infrastructural requirements for the area including a bridge, so significant pre-planning is involved. The council has engaged the services of a consultant and the masterplan the Senator mentioned is being drafted. It is hoped to complete this within the next two months. At this point, the council has not settled on the precise number of housing units that will be delivered, including the tenure and mix, but the Minister is keen to see the fruits of the council's planning and to move as quickly as possible to housing and other developments for the area. Departmental funding for social and affordable housing is available. I ask all public representatives for the area to do what they can to ensure that the planning is completed and that the proposals emerge as soon as possible.
The St. Joseph's School site in Wexford Street, Gorey, a 20-unit social housing project, received funding approval in principle from the Department in March 2019, with an allocated budget of €4.8 million. Site surveys were due to commence early last year but had to be put on hold as a result of the Covid-19 restrictions. Wexford County Council has advised that these survey works have recommenced, a design team is in place and the local authority is working on its pre-planning proposal. I reiterate that the Minister is anxious for this important local housing project to be advanced and hopes that all local public representatives will support its advancement.
I note the Senator's comments that housing will be a very big issue post Covid. Given the Government’s level of ambition on housing delivery, all local authorities, including Wexford County Council, need to come forward with as many strong new proposals as possible.The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage continues to engage actively with all local authorities, including Wexford County Council, on the delivery of social and affordable housing wherever it is needed through all available avenues and with particular emphasis on new construction projects. These projects are badly needed by the people of Wexford and the Government wants to see them delivered without further delay.
I am glad that the Minister of State has reasserted that this is not a case of the Government failing to deliver resources. The Government is committing money towards these projects. However, I am disappointed that even though we have a commitment that by mid-2022 Wexford County Council will provide houses at Ramsfort Park, we are still awaiting the master plan for St. Waleran's. This is something we have been sitting on for two years. There is strong support from the elected representatives locally, but I ask the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to keep an eye on how quickly the council progresses these plans.
Ultimately, we want to see social and, in particular, affordable housing built in our communities. Individuals in Gorey, whether they be workers in Stafford's bakery, teachers, nurses, gardaí or local authority staff, should be able to aspire to own their own home. The Government is providing the resources. Wexford County Council should now finally prioritise the development of plans for those houses to be built.
I know the Senator has concerns about the master plan for St. Waleran's. As I said, it will be completed in two months. It has taken quite a significant amount of time, but it is good news that it will be completed in two months' time. Ramsfort Park will take until the middle of 2022 because of Covid. Funding of €4.8 million for a 20-unit social housing project at St. Joseph's has been approved in principle. It is important to bear in mind that €3.3 billion has been allocated for delivery of housing programmes this year. As the Senator mentioned earlier, the delivery of housing is crucial, and I sincerely echo those comments. We also want local authorities themselves to come forward with as many strong new proposals as possible. Some €50 million has been given to local authorities for serviced site infrastructure, which is part of the €310 million multi-annual funding. I thank the Senator for bringing his concerns to the Seanad today.