Dáil Éireann - Volume 543 - 06 November, 2001

Priority Questions. - House Prices.

70. Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government the plans he has to change Government housing policy having regard to the continuing inability of families to afford their own homes, the low number of local authority dwellings being constructed and the general downturn in housing construction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26587/01]

Mr. Molloy: The Government has implemented a wide range of measures to reduce house price inflation, increase housing output to match demand, remove infrastructural and planning constraints on residential development, afford greater access to the housing market to first time buyers and improve affordability for first time buyers and lower income households.

The measures introduced to improve affordability include revised stamp duty thresholds and [291] rates to ease the burden on first time buyers, measures to discourage speculative demand, the provision of affordable housing under the affordable housing scheme and, in future, under Part V of the Planning and Development Act and significant improvements to the eligibility criteria under both the shared ownership and the affordable housing schemes.

Last year was the first year of a four year multi-annual local authority housing programme designed to deliver 25,000 of the 41,000 local authority housing starts planned over the period of the national development plan. At the end of last year, there were more than 5,000 housing units under construction, the highest level since 1985. Local authorities expect to start more than 7,000 units this year and to complete or acquire 5,000 units. This would represent an increase of more than 50% on last year's output and yield the highest level of local authority housing output since 1986. I expect that voluntary housing output this year will be around 1,200 additional units which will be the highest level ever recorded in the country.

Total house completions last year reached almost 50,000 units, the sixth consecutive year of record housing output. Output for the first nine months of this year is up more than 4% on the same period last year, and we are on target this year to achieve the second highest level of housing output on record.

Mr. Gilmore: The Minister has not answered the question. I did not ask what the Government has done but what it intends to do. Does the Minister accept that young couples are still unable to buy a house, rents have doubled since the Minister took office, record numbers of people are on local authority housing lists, homelessness is at a record high and, despite the failed housing measures announced by the Government during the past four years, housing supply is decreasing? In a recent survey, the Irish Home Builders Association found that the number of house completions will be down by about 10% this year, registrations are down by about 20%, planning applications and planning permissions are down and only 50% of the sites that were supposed to be provided under the serviced land initiative will have been provided by the end of the year. Does the Government plan to change its housing policy in the light of the miserable failure of its attempts to deal with housing problems?

Mr. Molloy: The Deputy's remarks are extraordinary, given that we have achieved high levels of output—

Mr. Gilmore: Output is dropping.

Mr. Molloy: —and that a wide range of measures have been taken to increase supply, deal with affordability and overcome the con[292] straints that have affected housing output, such as the limited availability of serviced land.

Mr. Gilmore: Less than 50% of such sites have been provided.

Ms O. Mitchell: There is a crisis out there.

Mr. Molloy: Deputy Gilmore has continuously sought to rubbish what has been achieved and he wishes to continue to do so, but the Government's record stands.

Mr. Gilmore: It is an extraordinary record.

Mr. Molloy: The housing output can be seen, houses have been built and thousands of people have moved into new homes. The challenge faced by the Government is to maintain the record levels of output and to seek to increase them. I know there are problems at present, but the Government will examine the issues to determine the further steps that can be taken and to take whatever measures are deemed necessary to ensure the housing industry continues to thrive. The Government has sought to assist the first time buyer, who was savagely squeezed out of the market before the Government came into office. While not wishing to repeat myself, there was an absence of available land banks and local authority construction plans to deal with the high demand for public housing. The Government has taken a wide range of measures.

Ms O. Mitchell: None of them has worked.

Mr. Molloy: I am satisfied that remarkable levels of success have been achieved and that such success will continue.

Mr. Gilmore: If I understand correctly the Minister of State's use of the phrase “there are problems”, it is a heavily disguised acknowledgement that the Government's housing policies are not working and that the housing supply is beginning to drop. Does the Minister of State accept what the Irish Home Builders Association has told him? Most of us with knowledge of the housing market and construction know that house building is dropping. The Government policy of increasing supply, advocated in this House on many occasions by the Minister of State, is not working. Supply is falling and Government policy is failing.

An Ceann Comhairle: We have to proceed to the next question.

Mr. Gilmore: Will the Government change its housing policy?

Ms O. Mitchell: It should reverse its policy.

An Ceann Comhairle: The Minister of State may give a brief reply.

Mr. Gilmore: Will it change its housing policy?

[293] An Ceann Comhairle: Order, please, these are priority questions.

Mr. Molloy: I have been listening to Deputy Gilmore for the past four years.

Mr. Gilmore: I have not been heeded.

Mr. Molloy: In each of those years, record levels of housing output have been recorded as a result of substantial increases in construction. I am used to the record the Deputy plays. At the end of September, new house completions were 4% up on the first nine months of 2000.

Mr. Gilmore: They will be down by 10% by the end of the year.

Mr. Molloy: They were up by 4% on the previous nine months.

An Ceann Comhairle: We must proceed to

No. 71.

Mr. Molloy: While there may be some fallback—

Mr. Gilmore: Does the Minister of State think house building is increasing?

An Ceann Comhairle: The Chair has called

No. 71.

Mr. Molloy: I have to obey the Chair.