Private Members Motion – Seaweed

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Speech by Minister Damien English – Minister for Housing and Urban Development

I wish to thank Deputies Connolly and Pringle for bringing this Private Members’ motion before the House today. While it is a motion that I cannot fully support, I think it is an opportune time to have a debate on this issue and I very much welcome this opportunity to listen to your views on this subject. In particular, I am anxious to hear your concerns regarding issues around traditional seaweed harvesting which is one of the central messages in the motion which we will debate today.

At the outset of this debate, I would like to reiterate, as I have on a number of occasions in this House, my concern regarding issues relating to traditional seaweed harvesters. Indeed, it was for this specific reason that my Department placed “on hold” the applications we have received from various companies who sought to harvest seaweed until my Department has an opportunity to thoroughly research and clarify all of the legal issues involved. Indeed, the 2015 report by the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht highlights clarity around this issue as being key to enhancing the potential of the sector.

At the outset, it is important to note that the Government has set out its policy by which Ireland’s marine potential can be realised in our integrated marine plan: Harnessing our Ocean Wealth (HOOW). HOOW has three high level goals, of equal importance, (i) a thriving maritime economy, (ii) healthy ecosystems and (iii) engagement with the sea. Within this plan, to support the goals are eight enablers covering such areas as governance, clean – green marine, research, knowledge technology and innovation. Within the eight enablers areas are 39 further issues for action.

In the area of seaweed, it is important that I set out clearly my responsibilities. Under the Foreshore Act 1933, I have responsibility for regulating activities and development within the foreshore area. The foreshore area stretches from the high water mark out to a distance of twelve nautical miles – a total area of approximately 39,000 sq kilometres. This area is considered State property under the State Property Acts. The Foreshore Act controls development within this area and we are approached by individuals, companies and organisations pursuant to this legislation seeking consent for developments such as marinas, slipways, coastal protection measures and port development. Consent is also sought for activities such as one day events such as horse racing, sand or gravel removal and the harvesting of seaweed.

I do not have responsibility for the regulation or development of any industry that utilises the foreshore space, although I can insert specific clauses in foreshore leases. It should also be noted that I do not have, contrary to some who argue otherwise, the means under the legislation to sell either any area of the foreshore or to sell seaweed rights. Consent to applications under the Foreshore Act is given by way of a lease to confer exclusive use (generally for long term semi-permanent or permanent development) or a licence for non-exclusive use (generally shorter term, non-permanent activities such as one day events, telecommunications cables or seaweed harvesting). During the period of the lease, the area remains the property of the State with the lessee paying rent to the State.

The role of my Department in relation to the harvesting of wild seaweed is to regulate the activity in accordance with the Foreshore Act. In carrying out this task, there is a need to ensure that the resource is suitably managed, with the twin aims of protecting the marine environment and allowing for a sustainable level of harvesting.

While it is not directly relevant to the issues of traditional seaweed harvesters, I am aware that a delegation from West Cork is making its views known today outside the House. My officials have met with them and I look forward to meeting with them in due course. It is disappointing that an Eco Eye programme took a very one sided view of the issue of the licence in Bantry Bay, which was granted by the then Minister John Gormley in 2011. Accordingly, I welcome the recent ruling by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland in relation to the complaint it received regarding this programme and acknowledged “that the programme did not include a range of perspective on the topic sufficient to meet the requirements of fairness, objectivity and impartiality, in a context where it was evident that there were other views, including the views of the complainant.” While I appreciate that this Group have a number of concerns regarding the licence, it is disappointing that the programme did not mention the baseline study and monitoring programme which were specifically included in the terms of the licence to underpin the sustainability of the resource.

  1. Seaweed as a Resource.

Seaweed represents a valuable natural resource that if sustainably harvested can maintain and stimulate further economic development in coastal rural areas. While this has always been the historical position of seaweed in Ireland, to contribute positively to economic growth, we have moved from a position of using seaweed mainly for food, as fertilizer and as an animal foodstuff to a position where we have enhanced applications and uses for seaweed.

Seaweed is now the raw material in cutting edge bio-pharma products such as animal pro-biotics, anti-coagulants in blood products. There are Irish companies using seaweed or seaweed derived products in bio-pharma and other areas such as body care, cosmetic products and artisan foods.

To maximise the economic potential of this valuable resource, these are the sectors that we must look to support. If we wish to encourage further high value growth, to provide high quality jobs at both graduate and PHD level, in the areas of research and development, technology and advanced production process and sales and marketing then investment is needed. Companies based in Ireland such as Oileann Glas Teoranta (OGT), Bioatlantis, and Brandon Bioscience have made significant investment in these areas and are already producing high value products that compete in global markets.

  1. Applications and Interaction with Traditional Rights.

I can confirm that my Department is currently in receipt of 17 applications for licences under the Foreshore Act to harvest wild seaweed on hand of which 13 are from companies who wish to harvest and process seaweed. The applicants produce products that range from artisan food products to animal health products to high grade fertiliser. While assessing these applications we discovered that certain rights to harvest seaweed exist in coastal communities, particularly along the western seaboard, in the same geographical area that the companies had applied for.

To learn more about the extent and nature of existing rights to harvest seaweed, my Department engaged with the Property Registration Authority of Ireland to determine the number of appurtenant rights specified in Land Registry folios. On foot of this request, the PRAI provided my Department with aggregate data detailing the extent of the rights in seven of the western seaboard counties: Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo and Donegal. The data showed that there were approximately 6500 rights relating to seaweed spread across those seven counties. However, while there is not a definitive number of those engaged in traditional harvesting of seaweed estimate are that somewhere between 250 to 400 of these rights are currently being exercised.

My Department has also undertaken work to establish the implications of the interaction between these existing seaweed harvesting rights and the applications for licences by companies and my officials have met with the Attorney General’s Office on a number of occasions to examine these issues. Once this work is complete, it is my aim to bring clarity to the regulatory regime applying to wild seaweed harvesting, seeking to balance the existing rights of traditional harvesters and commercial potential, while also ensuring sustainability of the resource and compliance with the State’s obligations under domestic and EU environmental law.

  1. Private Members Motion.

The Government cannot support a motion that looks to focus on the issue of seaweed or the development of the seaweed industry while only concentrating on a singular viewpoint: that of the traditional seaweed harvester. Any regulatory regime must take into account the interests of a multiplicity of stakeholders.

The private members motion by Deputies Connolly and Pringle does not reflect the symbiotic relationship between traditional harvesters and companies. Quite simply, both entities need each other. The main source of raw material for companies comes from the seaweed harvested by traditional harvesters while the main income derived by traditional harvesters from selling seaweed comes from companies.

It is in this context of listening to all views that I have agreed to meet with the different stakeholders to hear their viewpoints. I recently met with a processor of seaweed and had hoped at this point to have met with Coiste Cearta Cladaí Chonamara, a group of traditional harvesters from the Gaeltacht area in Connemara and the Ascophyllum Nodosum Processors Group (ANPG) who represent a number of the larger producers. However, given the recent weather conditions these meetings have not yet taken place. I hope to meet both of these groups and the Bantry Bay group in the next couple of weeks.

It is also our view that the need to prevent the over-exploitation of this valuable resource while also providing for an environment that will support the growth of jobs in local area is the principle that must underpin the regulation of wild seaweed harvesting. All leases and licences granted by my Department under the Foreshore Act include clauses specific to sustainability of the resource, environmental protection and compliance appropriate to the activity and the area in which it is granted.

  1. Counter Motion.

I believe that the counter motion that I am proposing on behalf of the Government today will allow for the interests of all stakeholders to be taken into account. It acknowledges the importance of wild seaweed harvesting in rural communities particularly along the western seaboard. It recognises seaweed harvesting as one of the sources of income for some families in rural communities, it also however recognises that to continue to grow the seaweed industry in Ireland we must look to the production of high value products that will provide graduate and PHD level opportunities in these communities. It focuses not only on traditional harvesters but also on those companies that have the ability to turn a naturally occurring marine resource into cutting edge products which can be supplied to global markets.

The counter-motion also highlights the fact that all harvesters of seaweed, whether they be a traditional harvester or a company equally share the responsibility for ensuring the sustainability of this valuable natural resource.

It notes and reaffirms the on-going work of my Department to progress the Maritime Area and Foreshore (Amendment) Bill which will bring much needed reform to the regulation of all development and activity regulated under the Foreshore Act 1933.

I would like to take this opportunity to once again assure everyone that no decisions have yet been reached on the commercial seaweed harvesting applications which have been received by my Department. These 17 applications are essentially on hold while my officials continue to work on this complex legal issue. I wish to re-affirm my commitment to the work necessary to bring clarity to the regulatory regime in relation to wild seaweed harvesting and while this work is now in its final stages, I hope to be in a position to make an announcement in the next two months.

Finally, while I cannot support all aspects of the motion today by Deputies Connolly and Pringle, I am very conscious of the traditional role played by seaweed harvesters up and down the west coast of Ireland over many generations. I am very aware of the economic value and the positive economic contribution which their efforts have made to their communities. I also respect the heritage of seaweed harvesting and the way in which they have protected and safeguarded the resource through sustainable harvesting practises. I am deeply conscious of all of these aspects and the integral part that seaweed harvesting has played in people lives along the western seaboard. As I have outlined earlier, I look forward to hearing about these issues at first hand when I meet with representatives of traditional harvesters shortly.

Number of ‘ghost’ estates further reduced by 91% since 2010

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Minister for Housing and Urban Development Damien English TD, today 8 March, 2018 published the Sixth Annual Progress Report and seventh housing survey on tackling the issue of unfinished housing developments.

This reveals a “91% reduction in the unfinished developments since 2010 from almost 3,000 to 256. 2017 saw the resolution of 165 developments”.

Minister English was speaking at the launch of the report that includes the results from the 2017 National Housing Development Survey which tracks progress on unfinished housing developments since 2010. Among the key findings of this year’s survey are:

91% decrease in the number of unfinished developments over the last 7 years;
165 developments resolved in 2017;
256 unfinished developments remaining;
74% of local authority areas now contain less than 10 unfinished developments;

and
Four local authority areas have no occupied unfinished developments.

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Minister English indicated that his objective is to resolve all remaining unfinished housing developments especially those within high market demand locations and strive for 100% turnaround.

The Minister acknowledges the results of the 2017 survey which indicate that the parts of developments that are occupied are, in the vast amount of cases, now well established and finished to a good standard. Minister English added “in the last twelve months we have resolved 165 developments and intend to build on that success with a further push in 2018 to resolve as many as possible of the remaining unfinished developments.”

Local authorities and on-the-ground teams have excellent local knowledge and have signalled that a number of sites with ‘unfinished’ elements are now coming back in for new planning permission. In a number of cases this was at pre-planning stage and throughout 2018 should move on to the determination of planning applications clearing the way for development subject to developer capacity, funding and demand.

Unfinished Housing Development teams established in local authorities to address the ‘unfinished’ issue have gained enormous experience and knowledge in matters of successful resolution from enforcement through to bonds and effective collaboration with receivers and financial institutions. This knowledge and expanded capabilities can also now be applied towards matters of Taking in Charge and Vacant Homes Action Plans with the need for Empty Homes Officers.

In conclusion, the Minister signalled that “in the last twelve months we have resolved 165 developments and intend to build on that success with a further push in 2018 to resolve as many as possible of the remaining unfinished developments. I am very pleased with the progress made by my Department and look forward to working with Department officials and local authorities in reducing the number of unfinished developments further throughout 2018.”

ENDS

English thanks emergency services, local Councils and most importantly community spirit and human kindness

Agher, Athboy, Ballinacree, Ballinlough, Ballivor, Bohermeen, Carnaross, Castlepollard, Clonard, Collinstown, Delvin, Dromone, Enfield, Farming, Fire Safety, Firefighters, Housing and Urban Renewal, Johnstown, Killyon, Longwood, Meath, Navan, North Meath, Oldcastle, Roads, Summerhill, Transport, Trim, Wesmeath

Monday, 5th March 2018

As the thaw well and truly sets in, and normal life begins to return
for the majority of our people, it would be wrong not to reflect on
the week gone by and thank those who did so much locally and
nationally during the most raw demonstration of nature’s power in our
generation.

I want to acknowledge and thank the exceptional work of local
emergency services like An Garda, Fire Services, Defence Forces and
Reserve Defence Forces, Ambulance and Hospital staff last week. i also
want to thank Meath and Westmeath County Councils – their staff, elected members and
contractors, and all of those who kept our roads open when safe to do
so, and who kept water and power supplies going or helped to restore
them if lost. As a once in a generation event Storm Emma really pushed
the resources of the State nationally and locally, and as a result so
many local people, especially our local farming community stepped into
the breach to our offer their expertise, experience and community
spirit in clearing local roads and local estates.

Community groups like Meath River Rescue joined the Civil Defence, Order of Malta, Red Cross, Gardai and many others in delivering emergency workers, carers and
home helps safely to work, and helping meals and wheels and other vital services to do their work with the oldest and most vulnerable in our society.

Local media  like LMFM, Midlands Radio, the Meath Chronicle and Westmeath Examiner online, and Social Media platforms were all crucial in keeping people informed.

As a member of the National Emergency Co-ordination Group I saw how the work of our emergency services, communities and media nationwide was equally exceptional. I also saw first hand the quality of the research and modelling done by Met Eireaann, who are second to none in Europe. Their early warnings early last week gave people time to organise supplies and make all necessary preparations.  We thank them for that too.

The work of the National Emergency Co-ordination Group was mirrored in every County by similar local groups, and Meath and Westmeath County Councils are to be congratulated for their leadership and team work of this group locally along with all the members groups and agencies.

The danger with saying thanks is that someone is left out, but that
never happens on purpose.  The gratitude of Meath West and the whole
country goes out to those who went above beyond the call of duty last
week, and put themselves in harm’s way in helping their community and
country.

Please continue to use common sense during the thaw and heed the
warnings on local media. Please watch out for potential flooding on
our roads and continue to stay safe.

ENDS

Minister English is urging Meath West constituents to make all necessary preparations now for snow this week

Meath, Navan, North Meath, Transport, Wesmeath

Monday, 26th February 2018

We are looking at very unusual weather events this coming week
according to local Meath West Fine Gael T.D. and Minister for Housing
and Urban Renewal Damien English.  He is urging local residents to
prepare now, and to keep a close eye and ear on Local and National
media, and Social Media.

According to Met Eireann it is likely Tuesday evening will see bands of
rain turning to snow with further accumulations for the rest of the
week. Some of the snow showers will be of prolonged duration.  The
forecasts are for extremely low temperatures this week.  High winds,
up to gale force strength later in the week could cause blizzards.

Make arrangements now

“This will be a very significant weather event and people need to
start making arrangements now to prepare for it. The advice to people
is to start preparing their homes now, so have extra batteries, fuel
and enough food in stock for the coming days. Please look in on older
or more vulnerable neighbours” stated Minister English.

Local Authorities

He continued “Nationally Government is working with the aim is to
coordinate the various Local Authorities and state or semi-state
bodies to help businesses and keep the country open as much as
possible. Local Authorities  have been asked to provide an update to
Government on their state of readiness to deal with the severe weather
on a county by county basis. Anyone planning to travel this week needs
to heed weather reports over the next few days.”

Salting

“The levels of salt available nationally is 120,000 tonnes. The normal
daily usage is 4-5,000 tonnes so the stocks are sufficient to meet
demand. Local authorities are managing these stocks. Motorways and
national roads will be prioritized. Driver behaviour will be an issue
this week and we need drivers to take care and slow down” Minister
English said.

School transport

“School transport system decisions will be made in line with ongoing
forecasts in each County. Code red snow levels in a County will lead
to school buses not running so schools will be closed in that
circumstance. Safety is to the fore in all decisions being made, and
school Principals and Boards of Management are asked to keep a close
eye on updates and guidance for their local area” stated Minister
English.

Rough Sleepers

Members of the public are also being asked to contact their local authority to report any rough sleepers that they have concerns about and any such cases will be followed up. In the Dublin region, members of the public can report cases of concern through the following weblink; http://www.homelessdublin.ie/report-rough- sleeper#1

Finally Minister English encouraged people to visit: www.winterready.ie

ENDS

Beaufort College Navan wins the race to study PE – English

Education, Meath, Navan

Monday, 26th February 2018

Beaufort College Navan is among the 80 secondary schools nationwide,
to be part of the first phase implementation of Physical Education
(PE) for Senior Cycle programmes and has been congratulated by local
T.D. and Minister Damien English.

The Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal, and Meath West Fine Gael
T.D. welcomed the news saying: “I am delighted that Beaufort College
Navan is included in the pilot scheme for schools to study Physical
Education at Senior Cycle. This means Navan students will be among the
first in the country to take the Leaving Cert exam in PE.”

80 schools will implement either the examinable Physical Education
Leaving Certificate subject or the new Senior Cycle Physical Education
Framework which is not for examination, or both. It will be rolled out
to all schools from 2020 so all students in Meath will benefit from
this before too long.

“Students taking the new Leaving Certificate subject from September
2018 will sit the first Leaving Certificate Physical Education (LCPE)
exam in 2020. The subject can be taken at both higher and ordinary
levels. The new Senior Cycle Physical Education (SCPE) Framework, will
provide a new modern curriculum for teachers to teach PE to all
students at senior cycle.

“The assessment process will have 20% going to a physical activity
project; 30% to performance assessment and 50% to a written
examination.”

“The Fine Gael Government is taking physical education seriously for
the health of our nation and this announcement is part of the overall
Government focus on encouraging healthy living. We want to support
families and communities in Meath to make healthy choices. The
announcement is also a key commitment in Minister Richard Bruton’s
Action Plan for Education, which aims to make Ireland’s education and
training system the best in Europe by 2026.”

ENDS

Project Ireland 2040 launched today

Action Plan for Housing, Action Plan for Jobs, Funding, Meath, Navan, North Meath, Roads, Trim, Wesmeath

‘Project Ireland 2040’, launched today, is a key element in how we plan
and build for the Meath/Westmeath and the Ireland of 2040 and beyond.  I am
delighted that encouraging local jobs near to where people live, and
providing vital infrastructure – both social and transport, are the
key drivers of this new investment plan. As one of the Ministers
responsible at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local
Government for the National Planning Framework , which forms a
crucial component of this plan, I welcome this jobs focussed and
sustainable vision.  This marks a major re-balancing of previous
failed Fianna Fail plans.

Some of the highlights of the plan include:

Rural Regeneration and Development Fund

Locally, in Meath West I welcome specifically the Rural Regeneration
and Development Fund. Investment projects in towns and villages with
populations of less than 10,000 in Meath and Westmeath will be in a
position to benefit from a new Rural Regeneration and Development Fund
which will invest €1bn in promoting rural renewal, to help towns,
villages and rural areas to grow in a sustainable way. Our larger Urban centres will also have access to an Urban Regeneration Fund.  This is good
news for many parts of rural Meath and Westmeath. Project Ireland 2040
also supports Gaeltacht areas across the country with increased
investment to enable the creation of 1,000 jobs every year in
Gaeltacht areas including Meath.

Social Housing

For social housing, the target up to the 2021 period is to deliver
approximately 26,120 additional social homes under this programme
across the Greater Dublin Region (Meath/Kildare/Wicklow). Over two
thirds of this will be through new build and a healthy pipeline of
activity is already in place with around 5,000 units completed, on
site or progressing through approval stages.  Of the 5,000 additional
social housing units in current delivery, specific examples would
include projects in Meath at Ratoath 17 homes, Kells 40 homes and
Connaught Grove, Athboy, 32 homes.

Dunboyne Rail and possible extension to Dunshaughlin and Navan

The National Transport Authority is required to review its Greater
Dublin Area Transport Strategy before the end of 2021. This review
will include a reappraisal of the project to extend the rail line from
Dunboyne to Dunshaughlin and Navan, taking into account the scale of
new and planned development along the route and will allow for its
consideration during the Mid Term Review of Project Ireland 2040.

Greenway

Projects ready to be delivered in 2018/2019 include the completion of
the Kildare and Meath sections of the Galway to Dublin Greenway. It is
expected that a number of new greenways projects will be funded and
delivered over the period of the National Development Plan, the
funding for which will be allocated on the basis of a competitive
bid-based approach. The goal of an iconic coast-to- coast greenway
from Dublin to Galway remains a priority for the Government and in
light of the development of the Greenways Strategy.

ENDS

Minister Damien English introduces New Planning Regulations

Action Plan for Housing

Minister of State with Special Responsibility for Housing and Urban Development, Damien English, T.D., today (8 February 2018) signed three new sets of exempted development regulations.

The Planning Act provides that the Minister may make regulations to provide that certain classes of development be exempted from the requirement to obtain planning permission, thereby streamlining and creating efficiencies in the planning system but also reducing the regulatory and administrative burden on those undertaking such works.

As required under the Planning Act, the regulations received a positive resolution from both Houses of the Oireachtas on 25 January 2018.

The new regulations now provide for the following exemptions:

  • development by Irish Water related to the provision of water services and the undertaking of normal day to day activities relating to same, such as maintenance type works,
  • the change of use, and any related works, relating to the conversion of vacant commercial premises – including “over the shop” type premises – for residential use, on foot of the commitment in Rebuilding Ireland in this regard, and
  • amending existing provisions relating to certain works by statutory undertakers in providing telecommunications services, to support the rollout of the National Broadband Plan and extended mobile phone coverage.

Minister English said “Following detailed engagement with the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and with Oireachtas members last week, I am pleased to sign these regulations and bring the new planning provisions into force.”

“These are important regulations which are intended to benefit and have a positive impact on people’s everyday lives. For example, reliable mobile and broadband service across the country is essential in our modern lives and the regulations will assist in the accelerated roll-out of the National Broadband Plan and support the provision of enhanced mobile phone services, particularly in rural and remote areas. The regulations will also support Irish Water in the efficient delivery of the vital service that it provides and allow it to respond quickly in emergency situations to ensure the continued supply of essential water services”, he continued.

Minister English highlighted, “The regulations relating to the change of use of vacant buildings for residential purposes are vitally important and have three-fold benefits – firstly, facilitating the bringing on stream of urgently needed housing supply in high demand areas; secondly, maximising the use of vacant underutilised spaces; and thirdly, rejuvenating and breathing new life into inner-core urban areas in towns and cities. I hope that as many property owners of vacant premises around the country will utilise these provisions as soon as possible.”

The new regulations will be available on the Department’s website and on the electronic statute book.

ENDS

Speech at Launch of Advanced Leasing Arrangements, Mont Clare Hotel

Action Plan for Housing

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Introduction

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

I am delighted to be here this morning to officially launch the new enhanced arrangements for long term leasing of private property, to provide additional social housing homes. This important initiative is just one of a large number of actions being taken to implement Rebuilding Ireland, the Government’s Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness.

As I am sure you are aware, Rebuilding Ireland is the Government’s Plan to deal with the housing shortage in this country. Taken together, it comprises a €6 billion, multi-annual action plan, which seeks to increase the overall supply of new homes to 25,000 per annum by 2020; deliver an additional 50,000 social housing units in the period to 2021; and meet the housing needs of some 87,000 households through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme.

Strong progress on the implementation of this plan is already being made. On the social housing construction front, we have a programme of works on 770 sites that will deliver over 12,300 new homes, with the number of schemes in the programme continuing to grow on a weekly basis.

Clearly, we want to see a greater emphasis on direct building of social housing than was envisaged originally under Rebuilding Ireland. In this regard, we will see almost 5,000 new social homes built in 2018, including 3,800 by local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs).

In addition to the established Local Authority and AHB direct-build programme, activity continues apace across a range of other measures. These include social housing homes through local authorities and AHBs; the Housing Assistance Payment scheme; and the Rental Accommodation Scheme.

Recognising that measures introduced to date are beginning to have an impact, and will have a greater impact in time, on 22 January my colleague Minister Murphy announced a further package of initiatives to help alleviate affordability pressures faced by households, particularly in areas of high housing demand and high accommodation costs. This included the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan, along with an Affordable Purchase Scheme, and an Affordable Rental Scheme.

Background to Enhanced Leasing Scheme

It is among these broader efforts that the Enhanced Long Term Social Housing Leasing Scheme must be viewed. As the latest element of Rebuilding Ireland housing policy, I am delighted to launch the scheme this morning.

The enhancements made to the Leasing programme represent a strategic policy approach, signalled in Rebuilding Ireland, to harness the capacity of institutional investment, and the increasing activity in the wider construction market, in order to achieve the delivery of high quality social housing homes, in places where people want to live.

Over the course of Rebuilding Ireland, 10,000 new social homes are targeted for delivery using a leasing model. We don’t expect all of the 10,000 new units to be delivered using the new leasing arrangements but the Government is committed to providing the resources necessary to achieve our ambition in that context.

The existing Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme (SHCEP), administered by my Department, already provides a means whereby properties can be leased by Local Authorities from private providers. However, we would all acknowledge that there are limitations to the scheme as it currently exists, particularly if we are looking at targeted new build units and delivery at scale. It is for this reason that we been working on improvements to make the leasing scheme more attractive to private investors, who can provide social housing for leasing to local authorities on a larger scale. A core necessity as part of the development of these new arrangements is to ensure that the contracts that underpin the security of these units do not have a negative impact on the General Government Balance. In other words, that we are actively benefitting from the institutional investment in such a way that does not limit our ability to continue to invest in our local authority and approved housing body building programmes.

Officials from my Department, together with the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA), the Housing Agency, representatives of the local authorities, and their legal advisors Eversheds Sutherland Solicitors, have worked closely to finalise the details of the scheme. Through their work in bringing the initiative to the market and undertaking the market testing of outline provisions of the lease, the NDFA has established that there is a demand among potential investors for what is being proposed.

Objectives & Operation of the Scheme

The main objective of this scheme is to have about 2,500 units leased for social housing by the end of 2021.

It will mainly target newly built or yet to be built houses and apartments for leasing. Private or institutional investors will finance 100% of the cost of purchasing or constructing residential units and they will retain ownership of the property during and after the term of the lease. The lease will be for a period of 25 years.

The scheme will be governed by my Department and operated by Local Authorities. It will be funded through the Department’s Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme (SHCEP), which provides financial support to local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies for the long-term leasing of houses and apartments from private owners and developers. The Department will recoup to local authorities the cost of meeting the contractual costs of each leased unit. Properties made available under the scheme will be used to accommodate households from local authority waiting lists on a long term basis.

The Housing Agency will administer the scheme on behalf of the Department. It will assess proposals from prospective providers and their capacity to deliver the required number of properties. Following the assessment, the Agency will act as the point of contact between the provider and the local authorities. The Local Authorities will determine the suitability of the proposed properties, having regard to the standard of the properties, the requirement for social housing in the area, and the criteria set out in each authority’s Development Plans.

Providers will be invited to indicate their capacity to fund the purchase or construction of a minimum of 20 properties in a Local Authority area for the purposes of scheme. Alternatively, they may propose vacant properties in their existing portfolio if these units are either new to the housing market, or have not been leased or rented in the previous two years.

The Local Authority will retain their important role as landlord to the tenants, an area in which they have decades of experience. Tenants will be nominated by the appropriate Local Authority in accordance with their accepted allocation scheme.

The provider will be required to assist the Local Authority in managing the tenancy, and they may engage a property management company or Approved Housing Body to provide facilities management services to the tenants on their behalf.

Conclusion

The delivery of this project has involved the cooperation of a range of State bodies and agencies. The role of the NDFA as financial advisor to my Department in this work has been an important one. The Housing Agency has also had a major input into developing the scheme, in consultation with the local authorities. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their involvement and expertise in this process, as well as Eversheds Sutherland, and also my Department’s officials, for their work in bringing this scheme to fruition.

I believe that the changes being unveiled today in this Enhanced Leasing scheme will allow potential investors from the private sector to assist in the delivery of housing services and supports. The details of the scheme are now on the Housing Agency’s website which contains the Call for Proposals and the related legal documents. Jim Baneham, who is here today on behalf of the Agency, will give you the details in his presentation.

This initiative is another important policy instrument that will help us to meet our ambitious goals for improving the delivery of social housing as set out in Rebuilding Ireland.

Combined with other recently announced initiatives; the additional measures announced under Budget 2018; and those announced just last week; Rebuilding Ireland continues to provide a robust framework to address the housing and homelessness challenges we face.

Our focus will remain firmly on implementation and delivery to ensure that the range of objectives and targets set are achieved.

Once again, thank you all for coming, and I hope you find the material presented at this morning’s event informative.

Seanad Housing Statement Wednesday 31st January 2018

Action Plan for Housing

Seanad Housing Statement Wednesday 31st January 2018

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Introduction

A Chathaoirleach, I’d like to thank you and the members of the Seanad for the opportunity to update the House on the Government’s progress in responding to the housing challenges and highlight the actions we have taken and are taking to increase the social housing stock, meet the needs of those on the waiting lists and those at risk of becoming homeless, as well as drive the increased supply of new housing across all tenure and maximise our existing housing stock to meet current and future needs.

I want in the first instance to acknowledge the delivery of almost 26,000 social housing supports, by local authorities and approved housing bodies and other housing stakeholders, to those who needed support and help in 2017. We have over-achieved most of our targets, but need to maintain and build on this progress in 2018 and beyond.

I also want to acknowledge the hard work across the country in terms tackling homelessness. It was encouraging to see the reduction in homeless numbers in December. We must, however, do more and especially advance additional preventative measures.

2017 outcomes

I’d like to briefly highlight some key outcomes from the range of actions that we have taken under Rebuilding Ireland:

  • 25,892 is the number of new households that had their housing need met in 2017. To put it another way, 100 new households had their social housing need met each working day of the week last year.
  • The Government exceeded its overall target for new social housing supports last year by 23%. That’s more than 4,800 additional tenancies.
  • Comparing with 2016, last year we increased our social housing supports by 36% or 6,847 more households supported.
  • Over 7,000 new homes were brought into the active social housing stock through build, acquisitions, voids and leasing programmes in 2017. This is a 40% increase (almost 2,000 new homes) on what was planned for the year; and it’s a 24% increase over what was achieved in 2016.
  • We came in slightly shy on our LA and AHB Build target for the year, but hitting 92% or our target – 2,245 newly built homes – is still a very positive result.  In fact, it’s over three times the level in 2016.
  • Furthermore, when we look at the combined delivery for both built and acquired social housing homes in 2017, the delivery was 4,511 new homes. That’s 22% (or 827 additional homes) more than had been originally planned.
  • We have changed the delivery mix for 2018 though, meaning we will be aiming to do more on the build side and less on the acquisitions side. But where buying makes sense, and where it’s not competing with young families or couples in the market, Local Authorities will continue to do it.
  • Construction figures from September of 2017 show 3,700 new social housing homes being built across 190 sites. These are being added to on a weekly basis.
  • Activity under Part V in 2017 reflects the overall increase in activity in the wider residential construction sector. The 388 homes delivered represent an almost six-fold increase on the number of new social homes delivered using this mechanism in 2016.
  • The target for HAP of 15,000 was exceeded by nearly 3,000, with 17,916 new HAP tenancies established in 2017.
  • Overall, some 4,000 exits from homelessness were achieved in 2017; this is 33% higher than in 2016.

Looking across the residential sector more generally:

  • In 2017, over 17,500 new homes commenced construction. This is an increase of 33% on 2016.
  • Last year, we saw over 9,500 registrations in larger developments, a level not seen since March 2009.
  • Over 19,000 homes were connected to the ESB network. This is an increase of more than 29% on 2016. This number includes newly built homes and those lying empty more than 2 years.
  • In the year to the end of September 2017, planning permissions were granted for more than 18,000 new homes.
  • As of 31st December, 2017, An Bord Pleanála had received 13 applications for large scale developments under the new fast track process which I signed in to law six months ago, including 1,900 houses, 1,750 apartments and over 4,000 student bed spaces, all due for decision in 2018.
  • And we’ve recently had the first positive decision under this scheme, which is welcome news.

Of course in recognising these positive developments in 2017, that’s not to say that our work is finished – not by a long shot.

And I’m not saying that all is now well with our housing system and that further interventions will not be needed to continue to repair our recently broken housing system. There is more that we need to do and both Minister Murphy and I know that.

It’s also important to note that Rebuilding Ireland is a 5-year plan, and we are only about 18 months into that plan.

These figures tell us that Rebuilding Ireland is working, that we are moving in the right direction – and we are moving there more quickly than had originally been planned.

People can have confidence in the work that we are doing to repair a recently broken housing system and to get tens of thousands of new homes built.

I’ll continue to drive that work, because it needs to be driven, and further interventions will need to be made, over the coming months and years, until Rebuilding Ireland is completed.

As a Government we are fixing our housing problems – as quickly as they can be fixed; and we are doing it in a sustainable way that won’t expose us to the risks and mistakes of the past.

There is more work to do, clearly. We have even greater ambitions for 2018, particularly on the build side.

Housing Summit with LA CEs

Minister Murphy and I hosted a valuable all-day Housing Summit with all 31 Local Authority Chief Executives last week, and discussed how each authority will implement the target number of social houses to be delivered in each Local Authority area out to 2021, with a particular focus on 2018 delivery and accelerating delivery across the country.

The targets for delivery in each Local Authority area are based on the Social Housing Needs Assessment and waiting lists, which were published earlier this month.

The targets also take account of two changes in the latter half of last year: the move towards a greater percentage of build by Local Authorities; and the additional €500m secured in last year’s budget for the capital plan.

Each Local Authority Chief Executive is now required to furnish a report by mid-February, confirming and setting out how their Local Authority will deliver on its social housing targets over the coming years. The targets and details of the delivery programme of each Local Authority will then be published on an ongoing basis, with this transparency helping to achieve greater accountability and drive delivery.

Better coordination & support

In terms of improving coordination and sharing of best practice across the local government sector, my Department’s Housing Delivery Unit is now up and running and working on the ground with Local Authorities to support and accelerate delivery.

We do not need a new agency or quango to accelerate the building of homes – but we do need better coordination of resources, and ensure that the right people with the right skills are in place within my Department and across local authorities to deliver on these ambitious targets.

New leasing Initiatives

Tackling vacancy continues to be a key focus and we have agreed a range of improvements to the existing Repair and Leasing Scheme, which has not been successful to date. There is also progress at local level in developing Vacant Homes Actions Plans and targeting vacancy hot-spot areas is advancing, especially in our cities and urban areas.

I also outlined at the LA Housing Summit details of an enhanced scheme for long-term leasing of private dwellings for social housing.  It aims to supply at least an additional 2,500 social housing homes by 2021.  The Scheme will allow the private sector to invest in providing housing which can then be leased to local authorities for up to 25 years for use as social housing. This leasing initiative was launched earlier today and I expect to see a lot of interest to deliver new homes quickly and cost-effectively.

Affordable Housing

There was an extensive discussion in the Dáil last night around the challenge of affordability and what actions are being progressed. As tens of thousands of new homes are built across the country over the coming years, we must ensure that they are affordable.

Given that our residential construction was on its knees following the crash, we first needed to remove costs and obstacles for builders to make projects viable, so they can deliver more affordable homes.

To achieve this, we have taken action by:

  • streamlining planning with a new fast-track process for large developments;
  • a dedicated €200m infrastructure fund;
  • new apartment guidelines to remove unnecessary costs; and,
  • Home Building Finance Ireland HBFI, a new State-funded bank to provide competitive loans for builders,

These actions and others have resuscitated the residential construction industry and facilitated the construction of thousands of new homes at more affordable prices. The Help-to-Buy Scheme is also great help to many in securing a deposit, with nearly 5,000 approvals so far.

Still, as a Government we are going to do more on housing affordability.

As Minister Murphy announced on 22 January and reiterated last night, initially we are doing this in three ways:

  • The Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan;
  • An Affordable Purchase Scheme, and
  • An Affordable Rental Scheme.
  • The measures are targeted at households with low to moderate incomes with a maximum of €50,000 for a single applicant or €75,000 for joint applicants.

Conclusion

We have made strong progress across a wide range of areas during 2017 – we are not there yet but the signs and data trends are very promising.

Rebuilding Ireland is working.

Social housing provision is ahead of target.

The Government is committed to delivering on the new affordable housing schemes.

Myself, Minister Murphy, our Department and our delivery partners will continue to do all in our power to drive on that delivery.

Full statement to the Meath Chronicle on North South Inter-connector

Innovation, Meath, North Meath, Pylons

Please see below my full statement to the Meath Chronicle this week on Eirgrid:

“The North South Interconnector is a contentious issue. There has been much local concern surrounding the use of pylons in areas like Kilmessan, Bective, Dunderry and my own parish of Bohermeen.

In opposition or Government, I have maintained that the winning of the undergrounding argument is to prove it is the best use, and long-term value, of taxpayer’s money to do so.

Since Fianna Fáil gave the green light to the North South Interconnector in 2007 I questioned the cost of undergrounding that Eirgrid put forward, and the assertion it has to be done solely with pylons.

I have repeatedly called for international exerts, independent of Eirgrid, to assess the North South project and compare it a similar project internationally; as each of the planned grid projects in Ireland are so different. The high voltage underground interconnector between Belgium and Germany, ALEGrO, is one such project internationally that I am aware of.

Both the technology available and the costs associated with that technology have changed and improved over the years. These changes have demanded further study. As a result, Minister Denis Naughten agreed to commission an independent study to examine the technical feasibility and cost of undergrounding the North South Interconnector.

This is due out in the near future. I hope it provides the evidence that undergrounding is both a technically feasible and cost-effective option for the North South Interconnector.

Some in Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin have put forward a simplistic view that the project can be undergrounded at the whim of the Government. If this is the case, why then did Fianna Fáil sanction the use of pylons in the first place for the North South Interconnector and hold this view for years in Government? Why did Sinn Féin, a party in a power sharing Government for the first ten years of this project fail to stop the use of pylons for the Northern Ireland section of this project?

Coming from Bohermeen I am biased against the use of pylons. But this will not win the argument to put them underground. Evidence and facts will win the case. A reasonable person would accept we should do all we can to avoid the use of pylons if possible. That is my job as a local TD; to do all I can to avoid using them. I will continue in my work to prove we can avoid their use”