Dáil Éireann - Volume 466 - 13 June, 1996

Written Answers. - Programme of Minister of State.

46. Mr. O'Dea asked the Minister for the Environment the programme of work of the Minister of State at his Department, Deputy McManus, for the remainder of this administration. [8185/96]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment (Ms McManus): Under the Environment (Delegation of Ministerial Functions) Order, 1995, my areas of responsibility relate to housing and urban renewal.

My priorities in the housing area are, in the first instance, the implementation of the housing commitments contained in the policy agreement A Government of Renewal and the policy document Social Housing — The Way Ahead which was launched in May 1995. My programme of work involves building on my achievements to date, and [2211] pressing ahead with a range of measures which I have already set in train. These include further development of the local authority housing programme, with an appropriate level of funding, as the mainstay of the response of social housing needs; securing the target of 7,000 social housing “starts” annually; the continued development of the voluntary housing sector, with improvements in the terms of the schemes under which the sector provides social housing; modification of the eligibility criteria, including increased income eligibility, for the various social housing schemes to make them more effective in meeting needs; continued development of the shared ownership scheme; implementation of the new Government strategy aimed at meeting the accommodation needs of the travelling community, preparing the necessary supporting legislation and, through the new special unit which has been established in my Department, overseeing the preparation, monitoring, implementation and co-ordination of the local programmes; an initiative aimed at securing better co-ordination and delivery of services for the homeless, including outreach services, in the Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare areas; ensuring that toilet and bathroom facilities can be provided for all local authority tenants who want them by 1 January 1998; arranging for a review of the remedial works scheme in consultation with local authorities, and considering specially the refurbishment of older local authority housing stock in this context; introducing a new registration system of private rented dwellings as a final element of a charter for rented housing; establishing an interdepartmental committee to consider the issues arising in the proposed transfer from health boards to local authorities of the administration of rent and mortgage supplements, currently paid under the supplementary welfare assistance scheme; introducing further measures to improve the management of local authority housing estates through the [2212] development of the authorities' management skills and through increased tenant participation in the running of estates; the establishment of a housing management group to recommend measures to put housing management practices of local authorities on a sound professional footing throughout the country; the introduction of a new scheme of grants to local authorities towards the cost of selected practical pilot projects in housing management; introducing a new tenant purchase scheme which is more affordable for tenants, including a shared ownership option; introducing a new sub-programme for extensions to local authority houses in lieu of rehousing; raising standards of new apartments by increasing the minimum floor area for new house grant purposes to 38 square metres with effects from 1 April 1996; promoting the development of comprehensive housing information and advice services by local authorities; introducing an award scheme to promote good design in local authority housing; increasing the thatching grant to £2,400 generally and £3,600 in the case of offshore islands; setting up arrangements for joint funding under the capital assistance scheme and from health boards for certain housing projects for the mentally handicapped which previously could not go ahead; directing housing authorities to undertake an assessment of housing needs in their areas to establish the need existing at 29 March 1996, including a thorough assessment of the needs of homeless persons; pressing housing authorities to assign a high priority to energy conservation within their housing programmes and to develop and implement an effective energy conservation programme for their housing stock.

In the urban renewal area, my achievement to date include initiating a wide ranging review by consultants of the urban renewal tax incentive scheme, including the impact of the scheme in economic, social, architectural and urban design terms; implementing successfully the Urban and Village [2213] Renewal Sub-Programme of the Operational Programme for Local Urban and Rural Development, including the issue of guidelines to local authorities; designation of additional areas in Bray, Clonmel, Cork, Dublin, Sligo, Tralee and Wexford under the Urban Renewal Act, 1986 and of a new area in Cobh; issue of guidelines to local authorities aimed at improving the standard and mix of apartments being provided in the urban renewal designated areas.

In addition to progressing the range of measures which I have already set in train, priorities for the future include continuing to ensure adequate resources for the social housing programme in relation to needs; securing commencement of a comprehensive redevelopment of the Ballymun flats complex; introducing a new pilot house purchase loan scheme involving Bank of Ireland, the Housing Finance Agency and Rural Resettlement Ireland; in the context of the EU Presidency, a successful outcome of the meeting of EU Housing Ministers in Dublin in October next on the theme “Housing of Socially Excluded People”; evaluating the future of the urban renewal tax incentive scheme in the light of the review which is due for completion later this year.

The range and extent of my responsibilities are significant, whether measured in economic or social terms. I believe I have achieved much in a relatively short time and it is my firm intention to build on progress already made, particularly in regard to meeting the accommodation needs of the socially disadvantaged.