On 11 May 2016, the Irish Government unveiled its Programme for a Partnership Government (the “Programme”).
The Programme commits to tackling, amongst other things, the Irish housing crisis and clearly states important ambitions, namely:
- Leadership: to appoint a dedicated Minister for Housing and support the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness (the “Oireachtas Committee”).
- Action Plan: to prepare and publish an Action Plan for Housing which will, amongst other things, identify existing vacant housing and commercial units with a view to incentivising their refurbishment, and where relevant change of use, to new housing units.
- Social Housing Development: to support the existing Social Housing Strategy which targets the delivery of 35,000 new social housing units by the end of 2020 and to accelerate this delivery the Government intends to devolve more power, responsibility and resources to local authorities, including for the design of social housing.
- Private Sector Development: to support the development of 25,000 new homes every year until 2020 and to put into place a €100 million Local Infrastructure Housing Fund from which local authorities can deliver local projects needed to unlock development land in high demand areas.
- Regeneration: to promote rural development and urban regeneration through a new Town and Village Renewal Scheme (which will include a focus on vacant site levies and reform of the existing Derelict Sites Act), to consider the possibility of additional Compulsory Purchase Orders, to review the planning system with the aim of reducing the uncertainty and length of planning processes (which will include a review of the resources and structures required by An Bord Pleanála to meet its statutory objective of deciding appeals within 18 weeks), to review housing building standards and to consider possible amendments to the planning guidelines to support the construction of on campus or near-campus student accommodation and retirement villages for the elderly.
The Programme provides for certain mechanisms to check in on the progress on these ambitions, for example public reporting of delivery of actions and progress towards objectives.
While the Programme initially envisaged a new Local Infrastructure Housing Fund (the “Fund”) of €100 million, on 14 June 2016 it was announced that the Fund would be increased to €200 million. It is understood that the Fund comprises €150 million of exchequer funding and €50 million local authority funding. The Fund will make €70 million available in 2017, following which €100 million will be available in 2018 and the balance of €30 million will be released in 2019.
One of the key issues in unlocking land banks for development has been the lack of essential infrastructure surrounding these lands. The purpose of the Fund is to allow local authorities to tap into the Fund to provide access infrastructure such as distribution roads, bridges, surface water management, amenities and utilities diversion. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Simon Coveney T.D., said “this funding intervention will help improve the economic viability of new housing projects, by moving key sites from inactivity and slow release to active and accelerated delivery of homes”.The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Paschal Donohoe T.D., added that the Fund will “help to activate existing planning permissions for large scale housing developments and should facilitate in the region of 15,000 to 20,000 new houses and apartments”.
The move to put the Fund in place has been welcomed by key industry stakeholders as the funding of infrastructure to unlock land is currently seen as one of the barriers to private sector housing development. Given the on-going crisis in the delivery of housing, it is not surprising that housing initiatives, such as the Fund, are key features of the Programme announced by the new Government. The next initiative, the Action Plan for Housing, is expected by mid-July, which is now earlier than previously mooted. Those with an interest in this sector eagerly await the Action Plan, which it is hoped will provide clear steps forward to deal with the crisis.