Friday 30 September 2016

New fast-track planning for houses to bypass local councils

Published 10/06/2016 | 02:30

Simon Coveney's housing strategy will include a special emphasis on increasing the supply of
Simon Coveney's housing strategy will include a special emphasis on increasing the supply of "starter homes" for first-time buyers in Dublin.

Local councils will be sidelined in a new move to speed up house-building nationwide and tackle the country's housing crisis.

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Housing Minister Simon Coveney will set up a new Special Delivery Unit in the department, with project managers appointed to drive specific house building projects from start to finish. He is also considering further bypassing councils by fast-tracking big building projects to An Bórd Pleanála, to speed up decisions and minimise delays through procedures and objections.

This process is similar to the strategic infrastructure projects, like roads and bridges, which go straight to the planning board for a slimmed-down assessment process.

Mr Coveney said he would publish his housing strategy late next month - ahead of the target of 100 days in office.

The housing strategy will include a special emphasis on increasing the supply of "starter homes" for first-time buyers in Dublin.

He said current prices meant no house in the Dublin area could be bought for less than €300,000.

"It means that 40pc of people are locked out of the mortgage market. That is a big issue."

But Mr Coveney signalled he would make no attempt to interfere in a Central Bank review of its tough rules on deposits for homebuyers, which have been controversial.

He said he had no power to tell the Central Bank what to do.

It comes after the Government conceded the housing system - across renting, buying and social accommodation - was totally broken.

The admission, during a Dáil housing debate, came as a new report showed that Dublin rents are back at boom-time rates and rents across the country continue to grow.

Education Minister Richard Bruton said housing was the biggest problem facing the Government.

"There is no system more broken than the system of housing in this country. The system is completely broken and needs to be rebuilt," he said.

Building levels in Ireland continue to lag well behind the level needed to meet housing needs.

Figures published yesterday by the CSO show construction output in Ireland increased by 13.6pc in the first quarter of this year, compared with the same period in 2015. However, the CSO added the increases were being measured against "an unprecedented low base".

Construction Industry Federation director general Tom Parlon said more needed to be done to ensure supply met demand. "We want to see this momentum continue throughout the year and call on the Government and the new Minister for Housing to support our industry via increased infrastructural investment and related policies."

Last night, Mr Coveney vowed to deliver 25,000 houses per year - well ahead of the 2020 target set out in the Programme for Government agreed last month.

A mix of initiatives would be deployed to boost building of starter homes. Mr Coveney said 27,000 planning permissions are currently granted in Dublin but only 4,400 of those are being used.

The minister said a special infrastructure fund would be set up to speed up projects like roads, bridges or power supplies, which may be delaying building.

Mr Coveney said more public land must be availed of for building starter homes, as a site for a €300,000 house in Dublin costs almost €60,000 at present. He pledged to look at a reduction in levies and other tax costs for building.

"Ultimately, we will need 35,000 houses to be built every year for the next 10 years to make up for the absence of building over the last decade. I believe that target can be reached once we get over initial blockages," he said.

Irish Independent

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