Council justification for emergency powers in question over housing delays

Need for cost-benefit analysis on projects slowing down new homes, council chief says

There were several “obstacles” holding up the delivery of extra public housing, Owen Keegan told the Department of Housing. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire

There were several “obstacles” holding up the delivery of extra public housing, Owen Keegan told the Department of Housing. Photograph: David Davies/PA Wire

 

Dublin City Council’s reliance on emergency powers to progress housing projects will not be justifiable if sites continue to face delays, council chief executive Owen Keegan has told the Department of Housing.

The requirement, under Department of Public Expenditure rules, to draw up cost-benefit analyses (CBA) for individual social housing developments is causing delays building homes, Mr Keegan warned the housing department.

The letter, sent on January 25th, was released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

The council has been using emergency powers to fast-track housing projects and to get contractors on sites quickly. However, in his letter Mr Keegan said “we will not be able to continue to justify reliance on emergency planning powers if the completion of CBA studies causes significant delays”.

The council chief was writing to John McCarthy, department secretary general, to tell him the local authority had failed to meet its housing building targets last year.

Housing charities

Of targets to build 1,045 homes, both the council and approved housing bodies such as housing charities delivered 850.

Dublin City Council expects to directly deliver even fewer homes this year, down from 247 in 2018 to 187. The council has also said it expected to lease or purchase 60 fewer homes for social housing this year, down from 231 to 170.

There were several “obstacles” holding up the delivery of extra public housing, Mr Keegan said in his letter.

The local authority was “concerned regarding the requirement to undertake cost-benefit analysis (CBA) studies on major schemes, given the potential this creates for delay”, he said.

Under Department of Public Expenditure rules, public projects costing more than €20 million must first undergo a detailed CBA, which can take months to complete.

Mr Keegan questioned the need to complete the cost-benefit studies for every individual large housing project, and suggested housing and Department of Public Expenditure officials look at changing the rules.

He also complained about the lack of timelines from the department on the planned redevelopment of older social housing complexes.

Demolished

The local authority is leaving units empty in flat complexes that have been earmarked to be demolished and redeveloped, Mr Keegan said.

“It is difficult to justify such vacancies without some indication of the probability of new redevelopment schemes being approved and the likely timescale,” he told Mr McCarthy.

“Opportunities to acquire land in the city council area are rare and there is considerable competition for sites.”

The city council owns 120 hectares of land, with plans to build housing on 90 hectares, Mr Keegan said. The majority of the council-owned land was in areas such as Darndale, Coolock, Ballymun and Cherry Orchard “where there is already a heavy concentration of social housing”, he said. As a result, the council planned to build affordable and cost-rental housing, rather than social housing, on these tracts of land, he said.