Dáil Éireann - Volume 608 - 25 October, 2005

Other Questions. - Social and Affordable Housing.

  99. Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will make provision for more social housing units instead of affordable housing units in compliance with Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [30359/05]

  Mr. N. Ahern:Part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2004 requires all local authorities to draw up a housing strategy to provide for the existing and future housing needs of their areas. A key element in the preparation of the strategy is the carrying out of an assessment of overall housing needs. This is based on a number of factors, including the current and future demand for housing generally, the existing and likely future needs of persons requiring social housing, affordable housing and the existing and likely future demand for private rented housing. The Acts also require planning authorities, in developing their housing strategies, to ensure that policies and objectives are in place which will [650] counteract undue social segregation in housing developments.

Up to 20% of all land zoned for residential development may be reserved to meet the identified needs for social and affordable housing. Local authorities may specify different percentages for different catchment areas subject to the percentage limit specified in the housing strategy.

The type of housing to be provided by developers under Part V agreements is a matter for local authorities to determine based on the housing needs identified in their housing strategies. In considering whether to utilise one of the options to secure a Part V agreement, authorities must consider, inter alia, whether such an agreement will contribute effectively and efficiently to the achievement of the objectives of its housing strategy. My Department’s preference, which has been communicated to authorities, is for the provision of housing units under Part V.

As indicated in my earlier reply to Question No. 96, output under Part V is not intended as the sole mechanism for the provision of social housing units. The local authority direct build programme, together with the voluntary and co-operative programme, continue to be the major contributors to social housing output. In accessing housing units through Part V, local authorities must take account of the full range of delivery mechanisms available.

I am confident that a well prepared housing strategy will properly identify the levels of need in each housing category. Accordingly, it would be inappropriate for me to make provisions that favour one category of house occupier over another. That is best left to the local authorities.

  Mr. Stanton:Is the Minister of State satisfied that the correct balance is being achieved between social and affordable housing, as his own figures indicate that social housing output is half that of affordable housing? Under what guidelines from his Department are local authorities working? Is the Minister of State about to produce new social housing guidelines? Is there any truth in statements to the effect that the national development plan’s social housing guidelines have been abandoned by the Government? Will the Minister of State throw some light on that matter? What is the Government’s policy on sheltered housing for elderly people and those with disabilities? Will the Minister of State provide the House with some statistics on the provision of sheltered housing?

  Mr. N. Ahern:On the balance between social and affordable housing, the figures I provided earlier indicate that there are twice as many affordable units being built under Part V as there are social units. As I said, however, that is a matter for the housing strategy of individual local authorities. When I was a member of a local auth[651] ority, I recall major debates about whether the ratio should be 10:10 or 7.5:12.5, but that is a matter to be dealt with locally. Some local authorities may feel there is a greater need for affordable housing and that they can still provide social housing under the local authority programme. What Part V is delivering is becoming significant, but the local authority building programme is still the larger one.

Local authorities provide some sheltered housing for the elderly and those with disabilities. In the voluntary sector, local housing associations provide much of the housing for disability groups. Their output is about 1,600 per year. Approximately ten years ago, the figure was 500 or 600 per year. The voluntary housing sector is made up of local housing associations providing ten or 20 units along with the newer, larger voluntary bodies. Their output has increased greatly. Local authorities provide accommodation for senior citizens as well, but accommodation which is linked with a local Health Service Executive area for the provision of health care is best dealt with by voluntary bodies.

  Mr. Gilmore:Earlier today, the Minister of State released figures for house completions for the first nine months of 2005. I welcome this good news which brings to approximately 300,000 the number of houses that have been constructed since 2001 when Part V of the Planning and Development Act came into operation. Allowing for the fact that Part V would not apply to half that total of 300,000 houses, 20% of 150,000 should amount to 30,000. In an earlier response to Deputy McCormack, the Minister of State admitted that only 1,294 social and affordable houses have been produced under the Part V provisions. Will the Minister of State explain how it is that while 30,000 units should have come through under Part V over the past five years, only 4% of that amount has materialised?

  Mr. N. Ahern:I am sure I have answered that question for the Deputy on a number of occasions.

  Mr. Gilmore:I have asked the Minister of State the question on a number of occasions, but I am still trying to figure out where the other 28,000 units are.

  Mr. F. McGrath:The Minister of State has not answered the question. He should do so.

  Mr. N. Ahern:I will try again.

  Mr. Gilmore:Are they in the builders’ back pockets?

[652]   Mr. N. Ahern:As I said, construction is still continuing based on many pre-Part V planning permissions, while other such developments could start today or tomorrow even though the permission was received five years ago. As such, Part V would not apply.

  Mr. Gilmore:Of the total of 300,000 units, only 1,294 social and affordable houses have been produced.

  Mr. N. Ahern:The Deputy knows, as I do, that whether one is building an estate or a house extension, one can start the work anytime up to five years after obtaining planning permission.

  Mr. McCormack:One must have it substantially finished in that time.

  Mr. Gilmore:They are so anxious to get on sites these days that they are tripping over each other with JCBs.

  Mr. N. Ahern:Some of the large estates have ten-year planning permissions, which means that they will still be building them, yet we will not be getting a Part V dividend from them during that period. That is the reason. Nobody escapes. All new planning permission is subject to Part V. As mentioned earlier, in some cases developers agree with local authorities to give cash but that only happens in a minority of cases. To date, €17 million has been given, which has been ploughed back into the provision of social housing. The figures are finally coming right because——

  Mr. Gilmore:More than 300,000 houses have been built and only 1,200 are for people who cannot afford them.

  Mr. N. Ahern:Am I not getting through to the Deputy?

  Mr. Gilmore:Those are the Minister of State’s figures.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:Order, please.

  Mr. N. Ahern:I know the figures.

  Mr. Gilmore:Out of 300,000 houses built in the country only 1,200 are for the poor people who cannot afford to buy them.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:Order, please. I call Deputy McCormack for another supplementary question.

  Mr. N. Ahern:Under Part V, yes, but as I stated——

[653]   Mr. B. O’Keeffe:Deputy Gilmore is not good at figures. There would not be much social housing in Dún Laoghaire.

  Mr. Gilmore:The figures are all there.

  Mr. N. Ahern:I have explained the situation. From now on, Part V applies to all planning permission passing through the system on zoned land. Many houses have been built, far more than Deputy Gilmore adverted to. It does not apply to small developments of under five houses. It does not apply to one-off housing. It applies to zoned land.

  Mr. Gilmore:I allowed 50% for that, which was generous.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:Order, please. We must allow the Minister of State to reply.

  Mr. N. Ahern:Deputy Gilmore may have to allow a greater figure than that. It will be far better in future because all the old stockpiled planning permissions are dying away.

  Mr. McCormack:Is the Minister of State aware that some developers are avoiding their responsibility to provide houses under Part V because of its interpretation by some local authorities? In cases where no development plan has been adopted for a town or village, local authorities have interpreted it to mean that a builder does not need to comply. Whether it is by a material contravention or by getting planning permission builders can avoid their responsibility to provide social or affordable housing. Is that a fact, or is the Minister of State aware that some local authorities are interpreting the Act in that manner? That is part of the reason for the discrepancy in the number of social and affordable houses being built. A totally inadequate number of social and affordable houses are coming on-stream.

  Mr. N. Ahern:It is the law of the land and there is no scope for interpretation. If Deputy McCormack is aware of any case where this provision has been misinterpreted he should please let us know. Part V applies to zoned land. If an estate of ten or 20 houses is being built in a village, it may well be that the land is not zoned.

  Mr. McCormack:How do they get permission?

  Mr. N. Ahern:They get planning permission.

  Mr. McCormack:There you are.

  Mr. N. Ahern:It may not be zoned development land.

  Mr. F. McGrath:That is an opt-out clause.

[654]   Mr. N. Ahern:Land around cities was always zoned. If Deputy McCormack is aware of any case where a peculiar interpretation has been put on it he should please give me the details and I will check it out. Part V applies to all zoned residential land. There is no doubt about that.

  Mr. McCormack:I will see the Minister of State in the tent in Galway and explain it to him then.

  Mr. Morgan:Does the Minister of State accept that builders can get out of their obligations to provide social housing under Part V? Land and money are not effective in this regard, as evidenced by the extremely low number of houses coming through. Does he accept that builders have been allowed to get off the hook since the introduction of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2002, and that it simply is not working? Part V is kaput. It has been gutted and banjaxed since the Government brought about these changes.

  Mr. N. Ahern:No.

  Mr. Stanton:Is the Department about to produce new social housing guidelines, and if so when? Why is it taking so long for the figures on the waiting lists for social housing to be produced? We were told the study was finished last March. Are they counting them up with pencils and rubbers?

  Mr. Durkan:They are.

  Mr. Stanton:When will the figures be produced and can we please have them soon?

  Mr. McCormack:Shortly.

  Mr. N. Ahern:I expected to announce the results of the needs assessment in September.

  Mr. McCormack:Next September?

  Mr. N. Ahern:Now it looks like it will be November because some of the information coming from local authorities has had to be sent back to be checked and rechecked.

  Mr. Roche:Since the local authorities were taken over by the colleagues of the Opposition.

  Mr. B. O’Keeffe:The Deputies should talk to their colleagues in the councils.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle:Order, please.

  Mr. N. Ahern:I say to Deputy Morgan that nobody is getting out of obligations. When we brought in the change to the law we gave flexi[655] bility because there was no point in having social units on Ailesbury Road selling at €1.2 million. That is why we brought in the flexibility.

  Mr. McCormack:Now we know.

  Mr. N. Ahern:It is about giving numbers quickly and in the right place. I will speak privately to Deputy Stanton about the guidelines. I am not sure what he is getting at.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.