Sunday 19 November 2017

Just 19 out of 73 sites in 'mini-Nama' have housing projects in the pipeline

By mid-2016, two-and-a-half years after the scheme closed, no housing units had been completed. Stock Image: PA
By mid-2016, two-and-a-half years after the scheme closed, no housing units had been completed. Stock Image: PA

Cormac McQuinn and Alan O'Keeffe

Just 19 out of 73 sites taken over by a "mini-Nama" scheme to help debt-ridden local authorities have housing construction projects in the pipeline.

Questions were raised at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) about the apparent lack of progress to develop the sites three years after the Land Aggregation Scheme closed.

It allowed councils to offload residential development land, with outstanding debt, to the State.

By mid-2016, two-and-a-half years after the scheme closed, no housing units had been completed, the Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, told the PAC.

He also said that at the time, 93pc of the sites had either no proposed development in place or the sites had not yet transferred to the Housing Agency.

Fianna Fáil TD Shane Cassells said it was positive this "mini-Nama" scheme got "bad land deals" off the books of councils.

But he asked Department of Housing secretary general John McCarthy why there has been a three-year delay in building houses on the sites, given the seriousness of the housing crisis.

Read more: 'We demand answers' - Councillors hold 'closed meeting' to examine why 446 NAMA homes were rejected

Mr McCarthy said use of the sites was determined by the availability of resources and he said that "significantly greater amounts" of funding had only become available since 2015.

He said that 659 housing units on 19 of the sites were now "in our construction pipeline".

Elsewhere, Housing Minister Simon Coveney announced that the European Investment Bank (EIB) is backing a €405m social housing investment programme.

The EIB financing of €200m is being matched by the Housing Finance Agency (HFA) here.

Under the plan, it is expected that 1,400 homes will be built and a further 700 properties will be upgraded.

Mr Coveney made the announcement at a development of 68 homes in Beaumont, Dublin, which were funded under a previous HFA/EIB deal.

Earlier, homeless charity Simon Communities proposed taxing vacant properties as a means of opening up some of the 200,000 empty units for use.

Spokeswoman Niamh Randall said it was "unacceptable" that 198,358 homes lie empty.

She pointed out this was 27 times the number of people in emergency accommodation - 7,167 men, women and children.

Mr Coveney said his strategy for getting vacant properties back into use would involve incentives rather than penalties.

He said measures he had already implemented were "starting to work".

He said the Government had committed €140m to a repair and leasing initiative to encourage property owners to bring empty properties back into use for social housing. He also said the Housing Agency has been given €70m to purchase vacant properties.

Irish Independent

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