Saturday 1 October 2016

1,700 homes promised a year ago – not one has been built

'Shovel-ready' social housing plan stalled by endless delays

Published 07/06/2016 | 02:30

Delivering homes to the 90,000-plus families on social housing waiting lists is being hampered by delays in completing designs, securing planning permission and, in some cases, finding the necessary land. Photo: Bloomberg
Delivering homes to the 90,000-plus families on social housing waiting lists is being hampered by delays in completing designs, securing planning permission and, in some cases, finding the necessary land. Photo: Bloomberg

Local authorities have failed to build any of the 1,700 'shovel-ready' social houses promised more than a year ago.

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Architects and design teams are only now being appointed for some developments - 13 months after the previous Government announced a €312m investment programme which it claimed was part of an "aggressive" plan to tackle the housing crisis.

Delivering homes to the 90,000-plus families on social housing waiting lists is being hampered by delays in completing designs, securing planning permission and, in some cases, finding the necessary land, it has emerged.

It comes after former housing minister Paudie Coffey claimed in May last year that work would go ahead on 100 projects which were "shovel-ready" - but not one of the promised homes has been delivered.

The Irish Independent has learned the Government now plans to send 'project delivery teams' into local authorities to speed up delivery of units as the number of people living in homeless accommodation continues to rise.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney said, while there were "genuine challenges" for some local authorities, there were "a lot of things" which could be done to speed up delivery.

"Chief executives (of city and county councils) need to take responsibility. The chief executive needs to drive this with a sense of urgency," he said.

"We should be able to turn around projects on publicly-owned land quicker. The delays include the tendering, planning, approval, contract sign-off and servicing of sites. There's a whole project management issue which is taking far too long before a builder moves on site."

Last March, the Department of the Environment produced a list of projects which had received Stage 1 approval - meaning the scheme had been sanctioned, and councils were allowed go ahead to the detailed planning and design stage.

Some 1,706 homes were approved in May 2015. Another 134 were sanctioned the following July, and 890 last January - a total of 2,730 across 145 individual schemes.

The Irish Independent asked each local authority to provide an update on how the projects were progressing. Three - Kerry, Offaly and Wexford - failed to respond. The data shows:

■ No social houses have been built by the local authorities from the 2,730 sanctioned as long as a year ago.

■ Just 26 are under construction in Donegal, Tipperary and Louth. Louth County Council said it expects 12 to be completed this month.

■ Architects and design teams are only now being appointed for many of the schemes. A significant number have yet to proceed to planning.

■ Some units have been purchased - Fingal has secured 44, Cork City another 28 and Louth another eight. But some councils are only beginning to purchase homes now.

■ In some cases, including Cork and Galway, the number of units has been increased, which has resulted in delays as projects must be redesigned.

■ Some other projects have also been cancelled or delayed.

In Longford, no work has started on 13 houses approved in Lanesborough last July. 'Trial holes' are being organised for the site, the council said.

A land swap is also being organised with the HSE in Meath to facilitate construction of 19 units in Summerhill, approved in May 2015.

In one case - a €3.1m scheme of 20 units at Strandhill in Co Sligo - construction work is not expected to begin until November next year, 30 months after it was approved.

The minister said special teams would be sent into local authorities to drive delivery.

Last year, 72 social houses were built, and around 1,160 acquired. The Government plans to deliver up to 35,000, which includes new-build and rented units. The teams will include architects, planners, quantity surveyors and engineers who will scrutinise local authorities' performances to ensure projects are proceeding in a timely manner.

"We will send project teams from the department into the local authorities to speed up the planning, approval and design process. We need to help local authorities to move quicker through procurement," Coveney said.

"I will expect and demand urgency from local authorities."

The teams are expected to be announced in the Action Plan for Housing. Chief executives of local authorities were due to report back last Friday on how they could speed-up delivery.

Irish Independent

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