DÁIL LEADERS’ QUESTIONS ON HOUSING – OCTOBER

However much we reject Boris Johnson’s letter and his proposals, the Tánaiste has stated that it is a more serious effort to negotiate. Could we take it that, up to Hallowe’en, that this House will be kept informed at every turn in the negotiations?

I mainly want to ask the Tánaiste about his previous portfolio. As he is aware, yesterday, the Raise the Roof-Homes For All coalition stood outside Dáil Éireann. This time last year, the House passed a motion which called for affordable rents and security of tenure, ending eviction into homelessness, doubling national housing investment, the creation of a legal constitutional right to housing and the declaration of a housing emergency. Fine Gael was the only party to vote against the motion and to refuse to do anything about it in the past year.

While we have had an expansion of housing output at a snail’s pace, we still have homelessness and the deficit in housing supply is now embedded into our culture and society. As the Tánaiste is aware, for most of this year almost 10,000 people have, disgracefully, been homeless. Like many other Deputies, week in and week out I meet families in my constituency who are in great distress and who live in emergency accommodation, in overcrowded conditions in family homes, who sofa surf between the homes of relatives and friends and who even live in cars and vans. In my constituency, which is Dublin City Council’s housing area B, more than 5,000 households are waiting to be rehoused, with nearly another 3,000 on transfer lists. In the Howth and Malahide areas of Fingal, there are another 2,000 in the same predicament. Yet, the monthly housing supply reports from the city and county councils provide just a trickle of accommodation for those families in desperate straits. The same is true of many other constituencies. The vast bulk of Dublin City Council’s housing output, 70%, which is the same as last year, will be for housing assistance payment, HAP, tenancies. We know that very few people in HAP tenancies go on to social housing. The Tánaiste’s colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, told the Simon Community recently that his responsibility is to secure a budget that will see more homes being built and more housing output for the remainder of 2019 and into 2020. The Tánaiste has sated that Rebuilding Ireland needs an injection of adrenaline to get housing supply moving.

Like Deputy Boyd Barrett, I was not surprised either to learn from Killian Woods’ article in The Sunday Business Post that two thirds of the fast-track housing approved by An Bord Pleanála has not been built. In my constituency, there is a major proposal to build 2,000 housing units but 1,200 of them are build-to-rent units and fewer than 200 will be social homes. My experience from watching the planning process and making submissions for almost 30 years is that developers’ stories of planning delays are total fiction. Hundreds of planning permissions were granted in recent decades. Developers built 250,000 homes in just three years in the early 2000s. The planning process worked well enough; we did not need the changes. The Government must take action urgently, particularly on Tuesday next.

The Tánaiste

We will keep the House informed on the Brexit issues. Next week will be really important, not just because we will be dealing with the budget, which is, understandably, being put together on the basis of a pessimistic outlook due to the fact that we need to be cautious but also because I hope to see progress in terms of the British proposal developing into something that is fit for purpose. We will keep the House up to date on developments.

In many ways, I share Deputy Broughan’s frustration with regard to housing. It is not acceptable to me or to this Government that more than 10,000 people who are homeless and living in emergency accommodation. We again increased, by 25%, funding for homelessness in last year’s budget. The amount involved now stands at €146 million a year, which is predominantly spent through local authorities to make sure that we can provide people with the emergency supports that they need. However, that is not the solution in the context of housing. The solution in that regard is to increase supply right across the country, particularly in places where the greatest pressure exists. That is why we, when I served as Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, looked at how we could get adrenaline into the house-building system. It was a system that was fundamentally broken across multiple areas. We looked at planning, infrastructure, finance, capacity and location. I looked at how long it was taking, on average, to get planning permission to build an estate comprising more than 100 houses. From memory, the figure was about 75 weeks. We put in place a new system, which I would argue is just as robust in terms of testing the quality of planning applications and making the right decisions. The planners in An Bord Pleanála make the decisions. They consult with local authorities as part of the process. They have refused quite a few planning applications through that system because they demand high standards, but they do make decisions more quickly. We have seen a dramatic increase in the number of planning permissions that have been sought and in the number of permissions granted. We have also seen a dramatic increase in terms of commencement notices. Up to June, there were 24,226 commencement notices for new houses being built. That is a 30% increase on the situation 12 months previously.

Let us please start dealing with the facts. We introduced a change to the planning system in recognition of the fact that we had a housing crisis and we had to start getting homes built. One cannot get homes built unless one gets planning permission to allow that to happen. Changing the planning system does not solve everything. I accept that the 16,000 planning permissions that have been given through the new fast-track system have resulted in 6,000 homes being constructed so far but two thirds of those decisions were made in the past six months. The first decision through the new system only happened in January 2018.

An Ceann Comhairle

I thank the Tánaiste. The time is up.

The Tánaiste

There is always a time lag between planning permission being granted and a developer getting the finance together to be able to start building houses. Let us start talking about the real world.

An Ceann Comhairle

The time is up.

The Tánaiste

One cannot instantly deliver houses, one must obtain planning permission first. We have a new and better system to do that and we need to deal with the other issues too, which are part of the Rebuilding Ireland strategy.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan

The facts are simple. When the Tánaiste met the developers about the strategic housing development, did they tell him that they had hundreds of extant planning permissions and that they just were not building because they were hoarding the land in order to flip it and make the best conceivable profit? Is that not the reality? It used to take eight weeks for a local authority to make a decision and then four weeks for An Bord Pleanála. The system used to work. We built 400,000 houses. Previously, we built more houses than the UK built and that could be done again, but the Government is not doing it. Unfortunately, that is the reality. Fine Gael has shown that it cannot be trusted with housing. Gene Kerrigan has stated that we should not leave housing to developers. The time has finally come to get the Land Development Agency or a new national housing executive into action with local authorities and to start building houses with the aim of having 35,000 to 40,000 homes being produced year in and year out. That is the kind of production that we need. I asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when we would have equilibrium in the housing market. He could not tell me whether it would be 2030 or 2040. That will be the case if Fine Gael stays in power.

The Tánaiste

I am not quite sure what the question is there.

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan

It relates to whether the Tánaiste questioned the developers.

The Tánaiste

We have taken the level of delivery of new homes from approximately 12,000 to well over 20,000 this year. That happened in the space of three years. We need to get to a figure of more than 30,000 per year, given the current and predicted population growth in this country. To do that, we need to build a lot of social houses, which we are doing. We will add more than 10,000 to the social housing stock this year.

I suspect it will be about 12,000 next year and that needs to continue. We also need to ensure we have a building sector delivering affordable private homes for people to buy across the country. That means working with builders, understanding the market and trying to ensure we make the appropriate policy decisions to make that happen. If people are sitting on and hoarding land, we are now fining them with the vacant site levy, which increases annually.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett

It is derisory.

The Tánaiste

We are doing as much as possible within the legal parameters. Deputies should understand that if they were part of the debate on this issue when we introduced that legislative measure. We are, therefore, doing much on the provision of public infrastructure by ensuring public funding is in place, for example, though the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, which I hope people understand. It is making sites work and getting houses built. We are doing things in the area of finance—–

An Ceann Comhairle

The Tánaiste is way over his allotted time.

The Tánaiste

—–and capacity and we have done much on planning. This does not happen overnight. We are seeing a dramatic increase in house building, planning permission applications and commencements and—–

An Ceann Comhairle

I thank the Tánaiste.

The Tánaiste

—–we will see the Rebuilding Ireland plan come to fruition.

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