Building houses without leave from Government ‘reckless’

Fianna Fáil chief says change conceded to his party during last year’s budget negotiations

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said reforms that would grant powers to local authorities to build more houses without getting permission from  central Government would be ‘questionable’. File photograph: Alan Betson

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said reforms that would grant powers to local authorities to build more houses without getting permission from central Government would be ‘questionable’. File photograph: Alan Betson

 

Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy has described as “reckless” reforms that would grant powers to local authorities to build more houses without getting permission from the Government.

Last year, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the change had been conceded to his party during that year’s budget negotiations, allowing councils to carry out €6 million housing projects without pre-approval.

Speaking to the Oireachtas housing committee on Wednesday Mr Murphy said the benefits of such changes are “questionable”, since there would be a “loss of oversight” and “uncertainty around value for money”.

The Minister told Sinn Féin housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin that “on review, we might actually think this might be a reckless way to approach capital spending through the local authorities”.

Later, Fine Gael sources said they had agreed last year to examine the issue of greater powers for councils as part of a spending review being carried out by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

However, they were not characterised in this way by the Fianna Fáil leader in his budget speech last year, when he claimed that FF had “secured agreement” on the matter.

Fianna Fáil housing spokesman Darragh O’Brien criticised Mr Murphy over the policy. “We agreed this last year, that’s my biggest issue. We met with Paschal Donohoe about this. I don’t believe what they’re saying, they’re trying to fob people off on this,” he said.

Accusing the Government of “bad faith”, he said Mr Murphy is one of the biggest blockages to housing construction.

Planning applications

Meanwhile, An Bord Pleanála has reported that it dealt with 32 per cent more planning applications last year, compared with this year. In all, it received 2,734 applications and adjudicated upon 2,847, including ones held over from 2017.

The planning board missed its statutory obligation to decide applications within defined periods, however, falling from 64 per cent in 2017 to just over 40 per cent as a new IT system was bedded down, said chairman Dave Walsh.

By year’s end, however, the pace of work had accelerated again and it decided 600 cases in November and December alone – up by 36 per cent on the performance reached the year before.

The Plean-IT project is still in progress. Eventually, it will enable applications and appeals to be made online, linked to the planning systems of local authorities.

Major projects covered by the State’s Strategic Housing Developments which bypass local authorities and come straight to An Bord Pleanála were vigorously handled, according to the annual report released last night.

Thirty-nine cases were decided in 2018, all well within the 16 weeks allowed. In all, they covered permissions for more than 7,100 homes and nearly 4,500 student bed spaces.

A significant increase in such applications is expected this year, judging by the demand for pre-application consultations. Up to May, 41 valid applications were received. Twenty-three decisions have been made.