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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 48-67
 Header Item Homelessness Strategy
 Header Item Defective Building Materials
 Header Item Planning Issues
 Header Item Local Authority Housing
 Header Item Fire Service
 Header Item Housing Assistance Payment
 Header Item Housing Provision
 Header Item Social and Affordable Housing
 Header Item Water Quality
 Header Item Direct Provision System
 Header Item Local Authority Funding
 Header Item National Parks and Wildlife Service
 Header Item Planning Issues
 Header Item Land Development Agency
 Header Item Home Loan Scheme
 Header Item Special Areas of Conservation
 Header Item Housing Provision
 Header Item Social and Affordable Housing
 Header Item Social and Affordable Housing

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 998 No. 5
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 120 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 48-67

Homelessness Strategy

 48. Deputy Mick Barry Information on Mick Barry Zoom on Mick Barry asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if a restoration of the eviction moratorium will be supported in view of the most up-to-date homelessness figures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28554/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020 provided for a temporary moratorium on tenancy terminations, other than in exceptional and limited cases, and on all increases in rent during the emergency period from 27 March to 1 August 2020. The emergency measures aimed to assist in restricting the movement of people to suppress the spread of Covid-19 and applied to all tenants, irrespective of their financial circumstances.

While this Act did have a positive impact in reducing the numbers presenting as homeless, the landlord's right to terminate a tenancy on the grounds in the Residential Tenancies Act was temporarily limited in a bid to suppress the spread of Covid-19.

The Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020 targets enhanced protections to the most vulnerable tenants until 10 January 2021 and respects the constitutionally protected property rights of landlords. As we learn to live with Covid-19, these provisions enable the residential rental sector to resume activity in as near as normal manner as possible.

With effect from 1 August 2020, the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020 introduced protections for those tenants who are facing rent arrears and, as a result, are at risk of losing their tenancy. If a tenant’s ability to pay rent has been impacted by Covid-19 and the tenant meets specific criteria, new procedures and protections apply. Tenants who follow these procedures cannot be required to vacate their rental accommodation before 11 January 2021, and are not required to pay any rent increase in respect of the period ending 10 January 2021.

In all other cases, a landlord can again serve a notice of termination. For example, some landlords might need to occupy their rented dwelling or to sell it, possibly on foot of Covid-19.

These protections are having a significant effect on the level of tenancy termination. Of the 844 notices of arrears issued since the protections were enacted on 1st August, less than one in four has led to a notice of termination being issued. One in five tenants has availed of the protections available under the act and their tenancies cannot be terminated before 11th January next year. The remaining 487 tenancies, representing over 57% of all those who received the 28 day arrears notice, have not received any notice of termination. Engagement with MABS, access to rent supplement and direct contact between landlord and tenant has addressed a significant number of issues associated with rent arrears.

In addition, the protections introduced in 2019 are also having a positive effect. Since the RTB was empowered to initiate sanctions against landlords it has processed information in relation to 704 tenancies and this has led to it commencing investigations of 191 instances of improper conduct by landlords.

Any further measures with regard to restricting tenancy terminations will be informed by the extent to which restrictions of movement introduced on public health grounds under the Governments Resilience & Recovery 2020-2021: Plan for Living with Covid-19 are of such a nature as to inhibit the normal functioning of the rental market.

Defective Building Materials

 49. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if provision will be made in budget 2021 for a latent defects redress scheme. [28368/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the very stressful circumstances which owners and residents face when their homes are affected by construction defects.

In general, building defects are matters for resolution between the contracting parties involved, the homeowner, the builder, the developer and/or their respective insurers, structural guarantee or warranty scheme.

However, the Programme for Government 2020 (PFG) sets out a number of commitments in respect of the important policy area of defects which my Department is actively engaging with all key stakeholders on.

The remediation of dwellings affected by reactive pyrite in hardcore and defective concrete blocks is a priority in the PFG. By end of 2020, approximately €150 million will have been spent remediating some 2200 dwellings since 2014. I have recently extended the pyrite remediation scheme to include the administrative area of Limerick City and County Council.

The Defective Concrete Blocks Grants Scheme opened for applications at the end of June, 2020 and applications received to date are being processed by Donegal and Mayo County Councils.

In relation to other housing defects, I met with a number of stakeholder representative groups in July and again last week. My Department is currently preparing to set up the structures to examine the issue of defective housing, in line with the commitment in the programme for government.

Planning Issues

 50. Deputy John Brady Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if his attention has been drawn to concerns about alleged planning irregularities in Wicklow County Council; his plans to investigate same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28334/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Peter Burke): Information on Peter Burke Zoom on Peter Burke My Department has received correspondence relating to a number of allegations regarding certain matters in County Wicklow. An assessment and analysis have been carried out of the various allegations raised.

It should be noted that some of the matters raised in the correspondence have been the subject of previous reviews or investigative processes by a person with suitable expertise or an appropriate statutory body external to Wicklow County Council. In addition, some of the associated cases have, appropriately, been the subject of statutory appeals in relation to certain planning decisions.

I must also advise the Deputy that under Section 30 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, I am precluded from exercising any power or control in relation to any particular case with which a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála is or may be involved.

My Department will make a final submission to me of its findings and recommended course of action in relation to the various allegations in due course.

Local Authority Housing

 51. Deputy Joan Collins Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien his views on the fact that persons have been on the housing waiting list for two decades, that more than 68,000 persons and families are on housing waiting lists and that more than 8,700 persons are in emergency homelessness accommodation; and his plans to tackle the housing emergency. [27755/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Over the past three years (2016-2019) the number of social homes delivered in Ireland has grown from 5,714 in 2016 to more than 10,000 in 2019. The number of new build homes has more than doubled from 2,965 to over 6,000 over the same period. In addition, almost 70,000 households have been supported in their homes through HAP/RAS.

The effect of these measures can be demonstrated through their effect on waiting lists over the same period. The most recent Summary of Social Housing Assessments (June 2019) shows a decrease of 3,165 households or 4.4% on the last assessment in June 2018. More tellingly the numbers have decreased from 91,600 to 68,693, a reduction of 25%.

I published the August Homeless Report on Friday. The report showed a total of 8,702 individuals in emergency accommodation including, 6,082 adults, and 1,120 families with 2,620 dependents associated with the families. This represented a reduction of 26 people from July.

Since the introduction of the COVID response, we’ve seen a significant reduction in the numbers of families in emergency accommodation, with nearly 500 fewer families in emergency accommodation since February.

The Programme for Governments commits to delivering an additional 50,000 social homes over the coming five years and I will outline further plans in terms of affordable housing later in the Autumn.

Fire Service

 52. Deputy John Brady Information on John Brady Zoom on John Brady asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if his attention has been drawn to concerns about recruitment and retention within the retained fire service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28333/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The provision of a fire service in its functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs and the provision of fire station premises, is a statutory function of individual fire authorities under the Fire Service Acts 1981 and 2003. My Department supports fire authorities through general policy setting and preparing legislation, providing a central training programme, issuing guidance on operational and other related matters and providing capital funding for priority infrastructural projects.

  The Fire Service in Ireland is fortunate to have available to it, in the full-time and retained cadres of staff at all levels, a large number of professional, competent and highly committed personnel. At the moment there are 31 fire authorities which provide fire prevention and fire protection services for communities through 27 service delivery structures. Local authorities are the employers of these 3,300 staff engaged at 218 fire stations nationwide, and the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) engages with appropriate staffing representative bodies in relation to overall terms of employment. Fire services issues are managed in my Department through its National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management (NDFEM).

  I understand that in large urban areas where there is a full-time service, there remains a high level of interest in working in the Fire Service. This is evidenced by the very high number of responses to recruitment campaigns, the most recent of which is underway in Cork. This recruitment drive which is encouraging applications from diverse backgrounds with the slogan Be the Difference, and has just closed to applications on 25th September last. It is understood however, that the situation outside these areas, with full-time services, can vary. In this regard, local authorities and the LGMA continuously monitor the issue of recruitment and retention and work on developing strategies to address such issues, involving and briefing the NDFEM as appropriate.

  A review of fire services in Ireland resulted in the publication of "Keeping Communities Safe - A Framework for Fire Safety in Ireland" (KCS) in 2013. This report was the outcome of a wide-ranging review of fire services in Ireland which was undertaken in 2011/12 and was endorsed as national policy in early 2013. It is available on my Department's website at the following link:

  https://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/migrated-files/en/Publications/Community/FireandEmergencyServices/FileDownLoad%2C32381%2Cen.pdf

  The KCS policy document sets out the overall approach, the methods and the techniques to achieve the objective of keeping communities safe from fire. It concluded that local authorities were best positioned to continue to provide fire services in Ireland.

  Furthermore, an External Validation Group (EVG) commissioned by the Management Board of the NDFEM, visited every fire service in the country as part of a new external validation process arising from implementation of KCS. In April 2016, they published their Report titled “Local Delivery - National Consistency”. It concluded that the public are served well by fire services in Ireland and that the retained fire service model is seen as a particularly effective, flexible and efficient model of community service. The findings of that process are available on my Department's website at the following link:

  http://www.housing.gov.ie/local-government/fire-and-emergency-management/fire-services-ireland-local-delivery-national.

  Nonetheless, it was recognised that fire services, both retained and fulltime, face significant challenges, including tapering down of traditional firefighting activities.

  A follow-up to this process was unfortunately delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I do expect that work will begin on this in 2021. As part of this process any issues of concern raised, which may include the retention and recruitment of retained firefighters would be examined in conjunction with local authority employers.

  In summary, the broad issue of recruitment and retention in the Fire Service is one that is continously monitored by the Management Board of the NDFEM. I would expect that should the issue become more problematic in the coming period then the Board will act to address this in close consultation with the Local Government sector. The aim as always will be to ensure that the entire country continues to be served effectively going forward into the coming decades by a Fire Service that is equipped to face and meet the challenges of our rapidly changing society.

Housing Assistance Payment

 53. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien his views on the increasing length of time it is taking to process HAP applications; and his further views on the impact the delay may be having on tenants. [28367/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Despite the challenges faced throughout the period of the Covid emergency measures, local authorities and the Housing Assistance Payment Shared Service Centre (HAPSSC) have continued to provide a critical service to all HAP customers. This is evident in the high number of HAP tenancies that continued to be set-up this year. The 2020 HAP target is for 15,750 additional tenancies and, at the end of Q2 2020, 7,825 HAP tenancies (49% of target) had been established.

My Department and local authorities are keenly aware of the importance of minimising HAP processing times and the critical need to keep this under review at a local level. My Department has recently communicated this to local authority management through the County and City Management Association.

Despite difficulties experienced due to Covid-19, local authorities carried out extraordinary work during this time. Unsurprisingly, measures that were required to be taken in the context of Covid-19 do, however, appear to have had an impact on HAP processing times, particularly in Q2 2020 when average processing time was 40 days. An analysis of more recent data from the HAP SSC indicates a reduction on that average processing time in the period July / August 2020 to 38 days.

It should be acknowledged that any delay in tenants and landlords supplying relevant information, or inaccuracies or missing information, will impact on the processing time of the HAP application. However, in instances where there are delays at the processing stage within a local authority, payment to the landlord will be backdated to the date on which a complete and valid application form was received by the local authority. The landlord is, therefore, not penalised for any delay.

Through our ongoing engagement with local authorities my Department has stressed the need to minimise delays in processing these vital applications to ensure the social housing needs of tenants can be met through the HAP scheme where required. My Department is closely monitoring this situation and will continue to do so over the coming months.

Housing Provision

 54. Deputy Claire Kerrane Information on Claire Kerrane Zoom on Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if a housing needs analysis will be commissioned for the offshore islands in view of the fact that housing has been identified as a major issue by many living on the islands; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24323/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien My Department, which is represented on the Interdepartmental Committee for Island Development chaired by the Minister of State for the Gaeltacht and Sport, recently wrote to the 5 local authorities having inhabited islands within their administrative areas to ascertain the extent to which applicants for social housing have indicated a preference for housing on the islands. The responses received indicate that, in total, 83 social housing applicant households have expressed a preference for housing on 12 of the islands off the coast of Counties Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry and Mayo. The information returned regarding housing need on the Islands has been provided to the Interdepartmental Committee.

The local authorities concerned will have regard to the information on housing need on islands as part of their analysis of overall housing need in their administrative area and it will be for them to determine how best to meet it, including the type and location of new social housing development. My Department remains supportive of all efforts to provide social housing to those in need.

Social and Affordable Housing

 55. Deputy Catherine Connolly Information on Catherine Connolly Zoom on Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien the status of the Galway social housing task force; the number of times the task force has met to date; the reports completed to date by same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28457/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The Galway Social Housing Taskforce is continuing its work in line with its terms of reference, with four meetings to date in 2020, following on from the four held in 2019. The Taskforce remains strongly committed to working to improve and accelerate social housing delivery in both the Galway local authority areas.

  The Galway Councils have a combined target of just over 2,000 social housing homes to be delivered through build, acquisitions and leasing in the period 2018 to 2021.

  The construction of new social homes has ramped up significantly, with 278 homes being delivered in 2019, a substantial increase on the 100 delivered in 2018. An overview of construction activity in each local authority is detailed in the Social Housing Construction Status Report, which provides scheme level detail on new build activity in all local authorities including Galway City and County. The most recent publication covers the period up to the end of Q4 2019 and is available on the Rebuilding Ireland website at the following link: https://rebuildingireland.ie/news/minister-murphy-publishes-social-housing-construction-status-report-for-q4-2019-2/. The Q1/Q2 2020 report will be published soon.

  The Chair of the Taskforce provided an update on its work earlier this year and confirmed that both local authorities were intensively involved in the Taskforce’s work and that it is providing them with an important opportunity for direct, roundtable dialogue with my Department, the Housing Agency and the Approved Housing Body sector, so that each Galway authority can be supported in building the momentum essential for expanded delivery. Taking RAS and HAP into account, they delivered over 1,400 solutions for families and individuals on the social housing waits lists in the City and County in 2019, up from almost 1,100 in 2018.

  I expect a further report from the Taskforce Chair at the end of this year and I understand also that the Chief Executives of both authorities report to their Councils on the work of the Taskforce following each meeting.

Water Quality

 56. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if he will report on the role of the EPA in ensuring water quality on Achill Island; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25165/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the supervisory authority for public water supplies in Ireland. Irish Water is responsible for monitoring the quality of public water supplies while local authorities are responsible for monitoring the quality of water provided by other suppliers. The role of the EPA in relation to public drinking water supplies is set out in the European Union (Drinking Water) Regulations 2014 (as amended).

  Under these regulations, the EPA can direct Irish Water to improve the management or quality of a public water supply. The regulations also require Irish Water to notify the EPA of drinking water quality failures or risk to public health from a public water supply.

  In their role as the supervisory authority, the EPA also carries out audits of public water supplies. These audits are an important way of checking how water suppliers are performing in compliance with Drinking Water Regulations and examine a number of areas including the water source, the water treatment works, management of the distribution system, sampling and analytical methods used and consumer contacts.

  Where the EPA requires Irish Water to take corrective action to ensure the safety and security of a supply, it may place the supply on the EPA’s Remedial Action List (RAL). The RAL is a register of public water supplies with the most serious deficiencies and where remedial action is required to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Drinking Water Regulations. The EPA uses the RAL to focus attention on resolving any deficiencies in public water supplies in order to ensure a supply of clean and wholesome drinking water.

  For the supplies on the RAL, the EPA will instruct Irish Water to submit an action programme for the improvement of each of these water supplies and where action programmes have not been prepared or implemented to the satisfaction of the EPA, it will implement enforcement proceedings. This includes issuing legally binding Directions requiring specific work to be carried out to ensure the safety and security of a water supply and ultimately the EPA may take court action, when necessary and in accordance with its enforcement policy.

  The EPA also produces an annual Public Supply Drinking Water Report and Private Supply Drinking Water Report, which provide an overview of the quality of drinking water in public and private supplies. The reports are based on the assessment of monitoring results reported to the EPA by Irish Water and the local authorities, and on EPA and local authority enforcement activities.

  The EPA’s latest report ‘Drinking Water Quality in Public Supplies 2019’ published in July, shows that overall our water supplies are safe, with over 99% of water samples complying with safety limits. The report also highlights a further reduction in the number of supplies on the EPA’s remedial action list. Copies of the EPA's Drinking Water Reports for Public Supplies and Private Water Supplies are available on the EPA website at https://www.epa.ie/pubs/reports/water/drinking/ and in the Oireachtas library.

  While the quality of our drinking water supplies remains very high, the EPA has also set out the risks and challenges that remain, with Irish Water also recognising that “much more remains to be done”. Our entire water system needs substantial and sustained investment over a number of investment cycles to fully improve performance and resilience. Investment will also need to deliver new water capacity for our growing population and to deal with the increasing impacts of climate change.

  Prioritising the order of this work, and the associated investment, involves ongoing engagement between Irish Water and its regulators (the EPA and Irish Water's economic regulator, the Commission for the Regulation of Utilities) to ensure an effective and efficient delivery of necessary water quality outcomes and to improve overall water-system resilience.

Direct Provision System

 57. Deputy Paul Murphy Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if he has been consulted on the role his Department can play in ending direct provision. [28325/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The housing of people who arrive in Ireland seeking asylum is a matter for the Department of Justice and Equality who are obliged through EU and international laws to provide shelter and subsistence to anyone who claims asylum until their claim has been determined. Once their claim has been determined, those who obtain leave to remain in the State have the same rights to apply for social housing as all Irish citizens.

  In 2019, my Department was represented on an Inter-Departmental Group on Direct Provision which was established by the Department of Justice and Equality to review the implementation of the State’s obligations under the EU Directive 2013/33/EU, European Union (recast) Receptions Conditions Directive, (the ‘Directive’) and to consider the Direct Provision services offered to applicants while their applications are being assessed.

  In December 2019 the Minister for Justice and Equality announced the establishment of the Expert Group on the Provision of Support, including Accommodation, to Persons in the International Protection Process (Asylum   Seekers), also known as the Advisory Group on Direct Provision. My Department was among those invited to meet with the Advisory Group during the course of their work this year and has provided submissions to the Advisory Group on issues of relevance to their work.

  My Department, together with the City and County Manager's Association and local authorities, continues to work closely with the Department of Justice and Equality to ensure those who have leave to remain are assisted to move on from direct provision accommodation.

Local Authority Funding

 58. Deputy Ruairí Ó Murchú Information on Ruairí Ó Murchú Zoom on Ruairí Ó Murchú asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien his plans regarding local government budgetary shortfalls in Louth County Council due to Covid-19, rising local government costs and costs on servicing landbank loans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28475/20]

 80. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien the financial packages that will be put in place to support Cork city and county councils to offset the financial deficits they are facing. [28332/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I propose to take Questions Nos. 58 and 80 together.

My Department is engaging with representatives of the local government sector and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the financial challenges facing local authorities as a direct consequence of the pandemic, both in terms of additional costs incurred as part of the local government response and reductions in some local authority income streams. These matters are under active consideration in my Department. Local authorities have been requested to capture all related costs in their financial systems to aid financial analysis of the impact of Covid-19 on the local government sector.

In order to support the sector generally, my Department continues to keep income, expenditure and cash flow under review and will continue to work with all local authorities, both collectively and individually, on issues arising.

To support both the sector and the business community, €600m has been allocated by Government, as part of the July Stimulus package, to fund the cost of a waiver of commercial rates for six months for eligible businesses badly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This takes the form of a credit in lieu of rates.

It is important to take account of the important role of elected members in the financial affairs of local authorities. The elected members have direct responsibility in law for all reserved functions of the authority, which includes adopting the annual budget and authorising borrowing. The Local Government Act 2001 requires that local authorities prepare their annual budgets in a statutory format. This format requires that budgeted expenditure equals budgeted income. The cost of servicing any existing loans must also be included in the annual budget and it is a matter for the local authority to engage with lenders on the cost of servicing such loans.

National Parks and Wildlife Service

 59. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien the timeline for the review of the National Parks and Wildlife Service; his priorities in respect of the service in budget 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28228/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien There is a commitment in the Programme for Government to review the remit, status and funding of the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) to ensure that it is playing an effective role in delivering its overall mandate and enforcement role in the protection of wildlife. To this end, I engaged with my officials in the National Parks and Wildlife Service to discuss the review and am currently considering options with regard to the proposed review, including the methodology, outline terms of reference, timeline for consultations with stakeholders and its overall completion.

Budget 2021 is currently being deliberated upon by Government. My priority for the National Parks and Wildlife Service, first and foremost, is the continued investment measures to protect our habitats, landscapes and wildlife and for the development and operations of our National Parks and Nature Reserves. As I informed the Deputy in response to her parliamentary question on the 22nd July 2020, I am of course mindful of the need to focus on the core responsibilities relating to the management of the existing Parks and Reserves lands; the Departmental focuses on conservation objectives for Natura 2000 sites and funding for this is paramount.

Planning Issues

 60. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien when his Department will issue a circular to planning authorities arising from the Flemish decree judgment of the European Court; the effect this judgment will have on Irish planning practice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28224/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Under the Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Sustainable Rural Housing 2005, planning authorities are required to frame the planning policies in their development plans in a balanced and measured way that ensures the housing needs of rural communities are met, while avoiding excessive urban-generated housing.

The National Planning Framework (the NPF) provides an important strategic basis for interpreting the 2005 Guidelines. National Policy Objective (NPO) 15 of the NPF fully supports the concept of the sustainable development of rural areas by encouraging growth and arresting decline in areas that have experienced low population growth or decline in recent decades, while simultaneously indicating the need to manage certain areas around cities and towns.

The 2005 Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines are framed in the context of the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) 2002. Given the superseding of the NSS by the National Planning Framework (NPF) in 2018, together with the long-standing need to address the implications of the 2013 European Court of Justice ruling in the "Flemish Decree" case, the Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines require updating, in a broader rural development and settlement context. My Department has commenced scoping this work and I expect a draft by the end of this year.

Land Development Agency

 61. Deputy Thomas Gould Information on Thomas Gould Zoom on Thomas Gould asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien the number of projects under construction or planning for Cork under the Land Development Agency; and the locations of same. [28331/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien The Land Development Agency (LDA) was established on an interim basis in September 2018, by way of an Establishment Order made under the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971, pending the enactment of primary legislation when it will be established as a commercial State agency.

On establishment, the Agency had access to an initial tranche of 9 sites including St. Kevin's Hospital in Cork. Based on information provided by the LDA to my Department, I can confirm that the LDA is currently progressing the 14 acre site at St. Kevin’s which will provide approximately 270 homes. It is now at preplanning stage with An Bórd Pleanála and it is envisaged that a planning application will be lodged before the end of 2020.

Home Loan Scheme

 62. Deputy Seán Canney Information on Seán Canney Zoom on Seán Canney asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien his plans to expand the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme to include the refurbishment costs in addition to the capital costs of the house; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [26864/20]

 88. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme will be extended to include the refurbishment cost in addition to the capital cost of the house; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28420/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I propose to take Questions Nos. 62 and 88 together.

Following a review of the two existing local authority home loan schemes, the House Purchase Loan and the Home Choice Loan, a new loan offering was introduced, from 1 February 2018, known as the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan. In line with the previous schemes, the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan is designed to enable credit worthy first time buyers to access sustainable mortgage lending to purchase new or second-hand properties in a suitable price range, or to self build; it does not include undertaking renovation projects. I have no plans to change this requirement at present.

Special Areas of Conservation

 63. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if the outstanding issues in respect of the lack of designation of special areas of conservation here and the consequences of biodiversity loss as a result will be addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28227/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Ireland is required under the EU Habitats Directive, as well as all other Member States, to depute Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for the protection of endangered habitats and species as listed in the Directive. Sites are evaluated by National Parks and Wildlife Service scientific staff before being proposed. Where lands are being proposed, each landowner is notified in writing and is sent an information pack on the relevant site. A three-month period is provided for lodging an objection to a proposed designation.

  Following the conclusion of the notification and objections process, the European Commission is advised of sites to be adopted as Sites of Community Importance. The Commission has adopted 439 Irish Special Area of Conservation sites as Sites of Community Importance. Following the adoption of sites as Sites of Community Importance, that process is then completed with the signing of a Statutory Instrument in respect of each site.

  Statutory Instruments have been signed, to date, in respect of 276 Special Areas of Conservation. These Statutory Instrument may be viewed at http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/statutory.html.

  Each Statutory Instrument sets out the Qualifying Interests of the site, i.e. the species and/or habitats for which the site is protected and the activities requiring consent by the relevant public authority. Once a site has been formally underpinned by Statutory Instrument, landowners are notified of the designation. Advertisements relating to the designation are placed in local and/or national newspapers and are broadcast on local and/or national radio.

  Special Area of Conservation sites are legally protected under the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 from the time that they are publicly proposed. All 439 Special Area of Conservation sites are so protected.

  My Department is responsible for the implementation of a range of legislation and policy relating to biodiversity and nature in Ireland and is the lead authority for the National Biodiversity Action Plan. The current National Biodiversity Action Plan, Ireland’s 3rd, runs from 2017 to 2021 and captures the objectives, targets and actions for biodiversity to be undertaken by a wide range of government, civil society and private sectors to achieve Ireland’s Vision for Biodiversity. The Plan is an all-of-Government document and progress is monitored through the Biodiversity Working Group, which meets at least twice a year, and also by an independent advisory group, the Biodiversity Forum.

  An interim review of the Plan was published in February and may be viewed at https://www.npws.ie/legislation/national-biodiversity-plan.

  The findings of this review will, along with the outcomes of the discussions around a new post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, inform the development of Ireland’s next National Biodiversity Action Plan.

Housing Provision

 64. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh Information on Rose Conway-Walsh Zoom on Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if his attention has been drawn to the acute housing shortage in County Mayo; the steps that will be taken in 2020 to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28465/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien A key commitment of the Programme for Government "Our Shared Future" is ensuring that affordable, quality homes are available to everyone in Irish society.

The 2019 Summary of Social Housing Assesssments shows that 1,205 households are qualified for social housing support from Mayo County Council, which represents a decrease of 37% since 2016. My Department has been working hard with all stakeholders to ensure the supply of social housing can be increased using a broad range of programmes under Build, Acquisition, Lease, the Housing Assistance Payment and the Rental Accommodation Scheme.

My Department has assisted in the delivery of 2,500 social housing homes in County Mayo under Build, Acquisition and Leasing since 2016. At end June 2020, there were 1,327 households actively in receipt of HAP support in County Mayo.

The pipeline for future delivery in the County Mayo is strong with approximately 400 homes due to be delivered before the end of 2021. It is expected that additional units that are not captured on the pipeline, under the acquisition, part V and voids programmes, will also be delivered.

Social and Affordable Housing

 65. Deputy Brendan Smith Information on Brendan Smith Zoom on Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien when the review of income eligibility limits for social housing will be finalised; if it will be ensured that limits for areas such as counties Cavan and Monaghan will be improved as a matter of urgency due to the unrealistic limits applicable at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28447/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien Applications for social housing support are assessed by the relevant local authority, in accordance with the eligibility and need criteria set down in section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 and the associated Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011, as amended.

Under the Household Means Policy, which applies in all local authorities, net income for social housing assessment is defined as gross household income less income tax, PRSI, Universal Social Charge and Pension-Related Deductions within the meaning of Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009. The Policy provides for a range of income disregards, and local authorities also have discretion to decide to disregard income that is temporary, short-term or once-off in nature.

  The income bands are expressed in terms of a maximum net income threshold for a single-person household, with an allowance of 5% for each additional adult household member, subject to a maximum allowance under this category of 10%; and 2.5% for each child, subject to a maximum allowance under this category of 10%.

The income bands and the authority area assigned to each band were based on an assessment of the income needed to provide for a household's basic needs, plus a comparative analysis of the local rental cost of housing accommodation across the country. It is important to note that the limits introduced at that time also reflected a blanket increase of €5,000 introduced prior to the new system coming into operation, in order to broaden the base from which social housing tenants are drawn, both promoting sustainable communities and also providing a degree of future-proofing.

Given the cost to the State of providing social housing, it is considered prudent and fair to direct resources to those most in need of social housing support. The current income eligibility requirements generally achieve this, providing for a fair and equitable system of identifying those households facing the greatest challenge in meeting their accommodation needs from their own resources.

However, as part of the broader social housing reform agenda, a review of income eligibility for social housing supports in each local authority area is under way. The review will also have regard to current initiatives being brought forward in terms of affordability and cost rental and will be completed when the impacts of these parallel initiatives have been considered.

Social and Affordable Housing

 66. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard J. Durkan Zoom on Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien the precise targets he has identified in respect of the provision of local authority affordable housing to meet the ever pressing needs of those on local authority housing lists and others whose incomes are insufficient to purchase a house on the open market; the extent to which he expects to purchase houses on the market to meet this requirement; the number of houses to be built for the local authorities in the next five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28440/20]

Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien This Government is absolutely committed to ensuring that affordable, quality housing solutions are available to everyone in Irish society and this is reflected in the Programme for Government, "Our Shared Future". The Programme commits to putting affordability at the heart of the housing system through the progression of State-backed affordable housing.

  In terms of affordable housing for purchase, the statutory basis for the delivery of affordable new housing for purchase on local authority lands is Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, which was commenced in June 2018.

  Under my Department's Serviced Sites Fund (SSF), €310 million has been allocated to provide infrastructure to support the delivery of more affordable new homes for purchase or rent in those areas where local authorities have identified an affordability challenge and the viability to deliver homes and below open market purchase prices. Funding under the SSF is available for new-build homes on local authority land. With a maximum of €50,000 funding available per home, at least 6,200 more affordable homes, to buy or rent, can be facilitated. To date, Serviced Sites funding of €127 million has been approved in principle in support of 35 projects in 14 local authority areas, which will assist in the delivery of almost 3,200 affordable homes.

  In relation to the rental sector, the Programme for Government also commits to improving security and affordability for renters. To help achieve that, we are developing a Cost Rental model for delivery of housing that creates affordability for tenants and a sustainable model for construction and management of homes. Cost Rental is housing where the rents charged cover the cost of delivering, managing, and maintaining the homes only. Cost Rental is not intended to overlap with or replace traditional social housing for low-income households.

  Work to outline the consistent and sustainable delivery of Cost Rental at scale is underway through an inter-departmental multi-agency Cost Rental Working Group, and is being assisted by an external research project sponsored by the European Investment Bank on behalf of my Department. Furthermore, three initial Cost Rental projects are already being progressed, including 50 units at Enniskerry Road in Stepaside, that is currently under construction, while sites at Emmet Road, Inchicore (the former St Michael’s Estate) and Shanganagh Castle, Shankill, are at the design phase.

  In addition, the Land Development Agency (LDA) is examining the potential to deliver Cost Rental homes at scale from its initial portfolio of eight sites and the broader State land bank. My Department is working closely with the LDA in relation to policy development, with the aim of assisting the LDA in its development of Cost Rental projects.

  Cost Rental will help the LDA to fulfil the Public Lands Affordability Requirement, the Government’s decision that at least 30% of the housing potential of surplus State lands should be delivered as affordable housing.

 Other measures such as the Help to Buy Scheme and the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan are also available to eligible purchasers nationally to make home ownership more affordable. As part of the €7 billion July stimulus plan, an enhanced version of the Help-to-Buy scheme was announced. This will allow first-time buyers purchasing a newly-built home – or building one themselves – to claim back up to €30,000 paid in income tax and DIRT on bank deposit interest over the last four years. Full details of the Help to Buy initiative are available at https://www.revenue.ie/en/property/help-to-buy-incentive/index.aspx.

  The Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan is a Government-backed mortgage which is for first-time-buyers nationwide to purchase a new or second-hand home or to self-build. This scheme offers loans on competitive terms to those who are unable to secure a commercial bank loan. Full details of the scheme are available at http://rebuildingirelandhomeloan.ie.

  In terms of affordable housing more generally, I will outline my detailed plans in the near future, taking account of progress to date under the SSF, experience from these Cost Rental pilots, a number of other measures, as well as the input of key delivery partners.

  Question No. 67 answered with Question No. 34.


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