Fianna Fáil publishes Bill to speed up access to vacant homes

Barry Cowen says Government will not oppose measures to allow families be housed

 Barry Cowen: “With the right policy instruments in place this could translate into over 20,000 additional residential units in a short space of time”

Barry Cowen: “With the right policy instruments in place this could translate into over 20,000 additional residential units in a short space of time”

 

The Government will not oppose a Fianna Fáil Private Members’ Bill that will speed up the process of making vacant homes available for families.

Fianna Fáil spokesman on housing Barry Cowen has said he will be seeking a quick passage through the Oireachtas of the Vacant Housing Refurbishment Bill 2017.

It proposes a way to speed up the planning approval and building control processes to allow the speedy conversion of vacant properties into habitable units.

In particular, it envisages a “one-stop-shop” for approving the refurbishment process. Under this plan an owner can apply to be included in the process. If accepted, the owner will receive a “works permit” that will replace a fire safety certificate and will verify compliance with building regulations.

It will allow owners to bypass some of the planning requirements, and also speed up the process in relation to others.

Publishing the Bill at Leinster House on Tuesday, Mr Cowen said he was not in a position to say how much time would be saved, but insisted it would be significant.

The party has focused in particular on “above the shop” units around the country which are currently vacant. He said they exist in large numbers, and pointed out that Dublin City Council recently estimated there were as many as 4,000 vacant spaces above commercial units.

Policy instruments

“With the right policy instruments in place this could translate into over 20,000 additional residential units in a short space of time,” said Mr Cowen.

Mr Cowen was accompanied by colleagues Wicklow Deputy Pat Casey and Waterford Deputy Mary Butler. While they insisted the process would be quicker, they said the Bill would mean no change in the necessity to comply with building regulations.

A section of the Bill also clamps down on illegal sub-divisions, over-occupancy and non-compliance.

It also establishes a new system where these changes made under the Bill will be certified by independent inspectors. This will replace the system of self-certification which is currently in place.

Mr Cowen said he would be meeting Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe to discuss housing aspects of the budget. Asked if he would still be pressing for reductions in VAT for construction, Mr Cowen said it was one of many suggestions that had been put forward by his party in this area.