Friday 9 December 2016

Simon Coveney stakes reputation on fixing the housing crisis

Now Fianna Fáil threatens to pull plug on Government over neglect of renters and first-time buyers in plan to kick-start home-building

Published 20/07/2016 | 02:30

Fianna Fáil has starkly warned the Government it will pull the plug if the most ambitious housing plan in the history of the state results in failure.

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The party has cited "glaring omissions" in Housing Minister Simon Coveney's 'Rebuilding Ireland' document.

It warned the minority Government that the plan fails to adequately address the rental crisis and the challenges facing first-time buyers, or impose a moratorium on repossessions.

However, Mr Coveney says that he is staking his reputation on the plan getting the housing market back to "some sort of normality" by 2019.

'Rebuilding Ireland' sets out its main target as "ramping up" the delivery of housing to a point where 25,000 new homes are being built every year.

The minister has promised to end the practice of homeless families staying in hotels next year.

However, Fianna Fáil's housing spokesman Barry Cowen has warned the 115-page plan does not go far enough.

"The plan is not complete, that's for sure. The rental sector and first-time buyers have been long-fingered," he said, adding that the establishment of a review into student accommodation was pointless.

Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen Picture: Tom Burke
Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen Picture: Tom Burke

"There are gaps in this strategy that have to be filled. We will make proposals to fill them in the event of them not doing so.

"If after that process we still feel this government can't address this crisis of course we're going to have to look for another government to do it," Mr Cowen said.

Read More: Analysis: Minister has all the responsibility - but without the authority

Speaking in the Dáil last night, Mr Coveney responded to criticisms, saying: "It's not the perfect article. If there are mistakes in it we'll correct them. But it's a very good start."

The plan is divided up into 'five pillars' dealing with homelessness, social housing, construction, the rental sector and vacant properties.

The minister said 47,000 social housing units will be built over the next five years - although this factors in 35,000 units promised by former minister Alan Kelly in 2014 under the Social Housing Strategy. Just 75 of those have been built to date.

"The biggest new idea in this whole plan, apart from money and house delivery, is an ambition to create mix-tenure development," Mr Coveney said.

"You're not going to be able to spot the difference between what is social housing and private. That is how we create diverse, vibrant communities with different incomes levels and different needs."

Read More: Minister is accused of 'playing with figures' in action plan

The minister added that for a period, construction rates will have to rise to between 30,000 to 35,000 new houses a year in order to make up for the deficit of recent years.

Nama will be charged with providing at least 20,000 new homes.

"It's a really important ambition, and we're going to go after it," Mr Coveney said.

Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe confirmed that his department has sanctioned a €200m infrastructure fund to fast-track roads, bridges and other amenities.

A total of €5.3bn has been set aside for capital expenditure over five years.

"This is the number one priority for government in terms of spending and it's my job to deliver on that," Mr Coveney said.

His department is currently "head-hunting" 10 people who will oversee different aspects of the plan.

Mr Coveney refuted the suggestion that the construction sector - which is still reeling from the economic collapse - does not have the capacity to hit the targets.

"There was a time when we were building 90,000 housing units in Ireland. Since then we've seen the numbers working in construction dramatically decrease but many of them haven't gone that far.

"Many are in the US, they're in the UK. Some are a long way away like Sydney and Canberra. But certainly the industry tells me that if it makes financial sense for them to build houses they'll build them again," said Mr Coveney.

President of the Construction Industry Federation Tom Parlon told the Irish Independent there are "thousands" ready to take up work.

Irish Independent

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