Local councils must be forced to take action to address housing crisis
Published 07/06/2016 | 02:30
To say that local authorities are under-performing in housing provision is an under-statement.
The lack of progress is appalling. It beggars belief that an entire arm of the State has just 26 homes under construction more than a year after projects were approved.
It's not just city and county councils which have questions to answer. Has the department been tracking progress? Has it been in contact with the chief executives of local authorities seeking progress update reports?
And why did the previous housing minister, Paudie Coffey, see fit to claim that projects approved in May last year were "shovel ready" when they were clearly no such thing?
We are in the midst of a housing crisis. It cost the State €25m last year to house people in emergency accommodation in Dublin, in what is perhaps the worst value for taxpayer's money.
But yet houses are not being built. Just 72 were constructed by city and county councils last year, from a total of 12,666 - that means the State built just under 0.6pc of the total. What an achievement.
Part of the reason is the complicated approval process which must be undertaken by councils. The first stage (capital appraisal) is the initial approval where the council outlines the project, sets out how it meets a housing need and provides an estimated cost.
The second stage - the position where many of these projects are at - is developing a detailed design and securing Part 8 planning approval. This approval is required for local authority projects, and is faster.
The third stage involves a pre-tender cost check by the department, and the final stage - Stage 4 - comes after tenders have been received.
However, there is a fast-track approval process for projects of 15 units or less costing no more than €2m.
Around 70 projects currently have 12 or fewer units, but yet few local authorities are choosing to use the fast-track, single-stage approval process.
Why? Because there's an element of risk. If there are delays and there are cost overruns, the local authorities are stuck with the additional costs.
But what does it say about the councils that they don't have sufficient confidence in their ability to deliver units that they won't use this process?
The other main stumbling block is the planning process, which can be lengthy and subject to nimbyism around social housing. Delays here can add to costs.
Housing Minister Simon Coveney has previously outlined plans to give chief executives greater leeway in approving projects.
"When you look at the money allocated and the number of schemes with Stage 1 approval, the pace at which they are proceeding has been far too slow. There is a need here for a sense of urgency," he said.
Whatever about progress to date, this low rate of delivery cannot be allowed to continue.
Chief executives must be forced to take responsibility, and face sanctions, including dismissal, if they fail to deliver.
In the private sector, homes are delivered quickly because there's a compelling economic reason to do so.
In the public sector, there's an even greater impetus - taking families out of crummy hotels and B&Bs and providing them with a home.