Seanad debates

Thursday, 22 September 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Housing Policy

10:30 am

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the Minister to the House. The matter I raise is a continuation of a similar theme. Getting the maximum number of people housed is the issue.

Housing for All, the Government's multi-annual, multi-euro programme, is aimed at improving Ireland's housing system and delivering more homes for all types of people with all types of housing needs. We are all aware in this House that housing policy is undergoing a period of immense reform. We are also in agreement that such reform is necessary to prevent the housing crisis from being exacerbated in the years ahead.

Few would disagree that Ireland's planning system is excessively complicated and burdensome. In fact, it is for that very reason that my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is setting out to reduce the legal red tape that is hindering the construction industry's ability to accelerate the development of thousands of new homes. I call on him to continue the acceleration of that process, which I know he will do. One must condemn nimbyism in these Chambers. Everyone must see the bigger picture in these times of difficulty.

To develop more much-needed housing, it is essential that our planning system is aligned with the Government's housing delivery objectives. It is imperative that we get this right. We can have the best intentions, but if the practical implementation of current planning guidelines make certain developments unviable, that needs to be examined. A key goal in both the national planning framework and the national development plan is the compact growth of cities and towns in a way that creates more attractive places to live and work, preventing urban sprawl. We have all heard the anecdotes of apartment developments that have been granted planning permission but are not being built because they are unviable. A strong case can be made for the construction of apartment buildings in our cities - I believe they should be higher but we will come back to that later - and much less of a case can be made for those same units being built outside of our cities. This is the difficulty faced in some of our commuter towns. We are building apartments to adhere to the planning density regulations but demand is not there for those apartments. The apartments cost an average of €450,000 to build compared with €300,000 for a house. Therefore, there is the whole issue of unviability that needs to be looked at.

In some instances, apartments are being built in suburban developments not because they are attractive to owner-occupiers, but because they are necessary to bring developments in line with planning density regulations. Without them, developments would not reach the required density and, therefore, we need imaginative responses. We need smaller houses based on the continental model. Family size and cultures change and that should be reflected in housing size, without going at it radically.More supply is the only way to meet the high level of demand that exists for housing. We need to examine ways to introduce a more streamlined planning approval process with a set timetable on the part of An Bord Pleanála and to take measures to address the current backlog of planning appeals. The current practice is bizarre. Does the Minister of State, on behalf of the Minister, believe that changes to planning guidelines and regulations concerning house design, site layout and density would assist in the availability of housing? It comes down to increasing planning system efficiency to increase availability.

I have other points but in the last minute I will come back to the review under way in the Department. How is that progressing? We must look at the whole design, the green areas in front of houses, more allotments for individual families, as well as smaller pitches perhaps, that is, the complex changes there that would utilise space better. I look forward to the Minister of State’s response.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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I thank Senator O'Reilly for raising this matter. I am answering on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Peter Burke. The compact growth of cities and towns of all sizes to create more attractive places in which people can live and work is a key objective of the national planning framework, NPF. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is in the process of developing sustainable and compact settlement guidelines, SCSGs, for planning authorities under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act. The SCSGs will supersede current section 28 ministerial guidelines for planning authorities on sustainable residential development in urban areas and the sustainable residential development guidelines last issued in 2009. The SCSGs will also supplement other relevant guidelines such as the sustainable urban housing design standards for new apartment guidelines for planning authorities of 2020, as well as the urban development and building heights guidelines for planning authorities of 2018. A working group was convened in June 2022 to work through key issues. The working group included representation from the construction industry, private built environment practitioners, professional bodies and the public sector. The group, via a series of workshops in June, August and September 2022 discussed the interrelated issues of density, viability, land use, transportation, place-making and quality design. This included general discussion in regard to housing standards and the potential for new and more compact housing typologies seen in other countries at suitable locations in Ireland. Following completion, the draft guidelines will be placed on display for a focused period of public consultation. This is targeted for quarter 4 of 2022. All interested parties will have an opportunity to make submissions on the guidelines at that stage. Submissions made during the public consultation period will be reviewed and where appropriate and necessary, amendments will be made to the published draft. The guidelines will then be submitted for approval and publication by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Once published planning authorities and An Bord Pleanála will be required to have regard to the guidelines in carrying out their functions.

That is the Minister's response but if I could, in the allotted time, as Minister of State with responsibility for disability, I would like a moment to build on that. When we talk about the guidelines I hope that people from the disability community would also participate in the consultation. It is important to discuss universal design and accessibility. When we talk about the various models and standardisation of the houses, within that we should also have the standardisation of houses that would be suitable for persons with disabilities and their various needs to be incorporated. They would be part of the overall plan for living within their communities. The motto of people with disabilities, “nothing about us without us”, should also pertain to the development of how we look at developing our Housing for All strategy to ensure everybody in the community has a right to access housing.

Photo of Joe O'ReillyJoe O'Reilly (Fine Gael)
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I could not agree more with the Minister of State's latter comments. The current guidelines came into operation in 1999. They have not been updated since 2009. That makes the review and updating of them very urgent. I am happy to note that there is commitment to immediate progress. We should be looking more at modular homes. We should look at timber-framed homes and at building up in the cities. Look at the situation on the Continent. We can build up in the cities in a way that is beautiful and intelligent. We have to become creative and imaginative because we cannot have people unhoused and almost fiddle while Rome burns. We must act in a proactive way to deal with this.

Photo of Anne RabbitteAnne Rabbitte (Galway East, Fianna Fail)
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The national planning framework sets out the vision and strategic objectives to support Ireland's national, regional and local spatial development in economic, environmental and social terms to 2040. The delivery of increased supply of sustainable, affordable homes for people is an integral part of this vision and remains the Government's top priority. The sustainable and compact settlement guidelines currently being developed by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the draft of which will be published by the end of the year, will support this increase in housing supply while also supporting the development of sustainable and amenable neighbourhoods that promote a high quality of life for residents. The significant potential for new housing typologies to meet the need of Ireland's diverse household types has been recognised and officials from the Department will continue to explore these issues.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 11.26 a.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 12.02 p.m.

Sitting suspended at 11.26 a.m. and resumed at 12.02 p.m.