Housing charities call on Government to speed up projects

Clúid warns of three-year delays in developments due to red tape and lack of planners

Local authorities  supplied 9,000 housing units last year and  9,000 are at an advanced stage. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Local authorities supplied 9,000 housing units last year and 9,000 are at an advanced stage. Photograph: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

 

The voluntary housing sector has called for Government action to cut the time it takes to complete developments.

Planning procedures, potential legal problems and staffing levels are blamed by Simon Brooke, head of policy at Clúid Housing, for causing delays of up to three years.

“Any organisation involved in house building has to have internal procedures and regulations. Even if [Minister for the Environment] Simon Coveney went around to all the local authorities and gave them €100 million it would still take two years,” said Mr Brooke.

Clúid is one of the bodies which will borrow from the Housing Finance Agency (HFA) to help fund its delivery of 1,500 homes over the next three years.

Mr Brooke described the 1.5 per cent interest rate offered by the agency as extremely generous. “Access to finance is the least of our problems. In relation to building and buying housing we don’t have to worry about money.”

However, he said estimated delivery times of two to three years for housing projects were unsatisfactory.

Legal issues

“Local authorities are having difficulties because even though they have been given the go-ahead to recruit new staff they still have to set up new [recruitment and housing supply] procedures [which] they haven’t done in about eight years.”

The Irish Planning Institute last year flagged this issue, lamenting a 37 per cent reduction in the number of planners employed by local authorities.

At the time, it warned the situation could lead to “planning delays” and missed opportunities in a rising economy.

The institute’s president, Deirdre Fallon, said there had been recruitment but it was not clear whether this was maintenance of existing staff or an increase. “There will always be planning applications and there will always be planners needed to keep that moving,” she said.

Planners are primarily concerned with an integrated approach to development and Ms Fallon stressed the importance of community engagement, which can take time.

Mr Brooke also said a recent change in the funding model for the housing charity sector had changed and a period of adaption to the new system was required.

Funding was previously provided in the form of 100 per cent grants. In 2010 that switched to a loan finance system. This, Mr Brooke said, was essentially a mortgage.

“What that means is that a lot of housing associations, including Clúid, had to take a lot of time making sure they were happy with the risk being transferred to them,” he said.

According to Eugene Cummins of the County and City Management Association (CCMA), the local authority sector has already supplied 9,000 housing units last year with another 9,000 at an advanced stage.