With an election required in the spring, we asked the political parties/groups for their positions on four important issues – a National Housing Agency; stimulating contruction; land hoarding; and, opt outs from the Building Regulations. Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, and People Before Profit replied with answers.

Andrew Keegan People Before Profit

Andrew Keegan, People Before Profit

Andrew Keegan People Before Profit

Barry Cowen, Fianna Fáil

Dessie Ellis Sinn Fein

Dessie Ellis, Sinn Féin

Paudie Coffey Fine Gael

Paudie Coffey, Fine Gael

 

 

 

 

 

 

1) What is your position on the SCSI’s call for a National Housing Authority?

Paudie Coffey, Fine Gael (Currently Minister of State with Responsibility for Housing, Planning and Construction 2020).
I am not in favour of establishing a National Housing Authority; I believe that local authorities are best placed to manage their housing stock, from a maintenance and allocation point of view. Local authorities have their own funding mechanisms and receive funding from the Department of Environment to maintain and build social housing. Some local authorities are better than others at managing their housing stock and I believe that there is scope for a more effective asset management system for housing stock to be introduced -– this will bring consistency and efficiency in maintaining standards of housing across the country. We are working on a monthly basis with local authorities and the County and City Management Association (CCMA) to ensure that standards are kept in place and we have good quality housing for social housing tenants around the country.

Barry Cowen, Fianna Fáil
As policy-makers, we realise that there is a massive unmet housing need and demand.
We believe that the historically low levels of supply and new construction activity in the housing market was created by this Government, due to their introduction of ill-thought out regulatory changes since 2012 – under which the cost of building housing no longer bears any relation to supply and demand in the real economy – in addition to their failure to introduce any measures for enhancing the availability of construction finance.
We believe that the core issue exacerbating the supply crisis has been the absence of policy direction from the Department of Environment and from the Minister; it has not been due to a lack of powers for implementing policy. We therefore have no proposals to set up a new National Housing Authority, but intend to keep the idea under review.

Dessie Ellis, Sinn Féin
If problems with housing are to be minimised and eradicated in the future, we believe serious consideration must be given to the establishment of a Strategic Planning National Housing Corporation, which would be involved in all elements of the policy, design and planning process for meeting future housing needs. The corporation would bring together experts in architecture, finance, taxation, spatial planning, local authorities and government. In Government, Sinn Féin will proceed with the immediate exploration of establishing such a corporation.

Andrew Keegan, People Before Profit
We don’t currently have a position on a National Housing Authority; however, another Irish Water-type quango is no solution to the current housing crisis.

2) If elected, do you intend to stimulate construction in Ireland and, if so, how?

Paudie Coffey, Fine Gael
As Minister for Housing, Planning and Construction 2020, I have worked by driving a progressive legislative agenda since my appointment and seeing policies implemented that will increase supply. Since the Construction 2020 strategy was launched in 2014, some 20,000 more people are in work in the sector and the sector has expanded for the last 26 months. The number of houses completed in Ireland is increasing, but is still not enough to meet the acute demand that currently exists. We have taken a number of additional measures to increase supply in areas where housing demand exists and these measures will be implemented in the Planning and Development Bill that will be passed through the Oireachtas before the end of the year.
I believe that the housing sector is presently dysfunctional due to a number of factors and the issue of resolving it is complex. The sector needs to be continuously evaluated in terms of how we can make it sustainable again through necessary policy interventions at national level to ensure that we have a viable and normalised construction and housing sector in this country.

Barry Cowen, Fianna Fáil
Fianna Fail published our policy, Supporting Home Ownership: A National Housing Roadmap, setting out clear targets for social and private housing construction by 2021. This involves a €4.5bn investment, building 45,000 new social houses funded via the Strategic Investment Fund, Exchequer and Part V.
We will open up the Strategic Banking Corporation as a new home development bank. The bank will be empowered to issue bonds that are then used to finance private developers with viable projects. This additional competition will help to re-invigorate the banking system and inject badly needed funds into development projects.
With a host of measures to stimulate private construction, Fianna Fáil estimates that 150,000 new homes can be built by 2021, 45,000 of which are for social housing.

Dessie Ellis, Sinn Féin
If elected, over the period 2016-2021, Sinn Féin will build and deliver almost 36,500 social and affordable homes. We are committing €2.2 billion additional capital spend, over and above the Government’s capital commitments, for house build – because we realise the magnitude of this crisis.
Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 will be strengthened, removing opt-outs for developers to ensure 20% social and affordable housing on all new developments. We will, if elected, introduce legislation to empower the Central Bank to limit the interest rates that banks can charge.
We want to examine all tax reliefs with a view to reducing and eliminating those that encourage speculation on private property.
Sinn Féin would establish an Office of the Planning Regulator and ensure that recommendations are made binding on the Minister responsible. We would also establish universal design and lfetime adaptability guidelines, and incorporate them as a legal requirement for all new build houses.

Andrew Keegan, People Before Profit
We would declare a national housing emergency and launch a five-year programme to house 70,000 families and individuals in secure, permanent social housing. We would transfer 20,000 NAMA housing units to local authorities in year one of the programme. We would build 50,000 council houses – 10,000 a year over five years. This will cost €3 billion in the first year and a total of €7 billion over five years, but it will become self-financing by year six and into the future. This programme will also provide jobs in the construction sector and add to revenue receipts.

3) There appears to be a new type of hoarding of development land. Would you address this problem and, if so, how?

Paudie Coffey, Fine Gael
As Housing Minister, I passed through the Oireachtas the introduction of a new vacant site levy, which will allow Councils around the country to impose a levy on lands and sites that could be used for housing or urban regeneration. I believe that we must incentivise the use of lands, especially those that are serviced and can deliver badly-needed housing. We can’t have a situation where we have hoarding of land when there is such an acute housing demand in Ireland today. I have introduced measures that address the viability issues in relation to the construction of housing, i.e., a retrospective reduction in local authority development charges and a reduction in Part V social housing contribution from 20% to 10%.

Barry Cowen, Fianna Fáil
There is certain hoarding in urban areas in particular. To address this we are committed to introducing a vacant site levy to curb land hoarding and incentivise development. Proper use of the levy will encourage developers to invest in urban renewal projects and get the most out of precious space in high demand areas. We will also re-introduce the windfall rezoning tax to reduce the value of land hoarding. The Government’s recently introduced vacant site levy will not be effective as a means of kick-starting the housing market in the short term as it does not come into operation until 2019 and the 3% of market value rate may lack bite in incentivising developers (and their financiers) to develop a site. However, the major blind spot in this type of levy is the exclusion of the vast swathes of vacant sites in the ownership of local authorities and State bodies in cities across the country. We would include all State authorities in any vacant site levy.
While speculative land hoarding is a problem, we believe that the true deterrent to construction is the added cost of construction imposed by the ham-fisted regulatory changes introduced since 2012, especially the changes to SI9. For the 12-month period from the introduction of SI9 to March 2015, total commencements nationwide were down by more than 25% when compared to the 2013 level, which was itself a historical low.

Dessie Ellis, Sinn Féin
After many years of inaction, the Government has produced legislation for a vacant site levy but it could be a lot stronger and more effective in encouraging developers and property owners to sell or develop zoned land and sites for housing and related uses. The levy is set as an annual charge based on 3% of the value of the land/site. The Government has also proposed completely abolishing windfall tax, which is paid on profits from land sell-off when planning permission meant that your land had benefitted. When it was first introduced the Government set the rate at 80%, effectively halting the sale of prime land by placing the tax on profits too high. We do not agree with its abolition, but instead would like to see it operational at a rate akin to the marginal income tax rate of 40%.

Andrew Keegan, People Before Profit
We support a ‘use it or lose it policy’ whereby owners of unused, correctly zoned, development land would be subject to an annual levy.

4) Do you approve of the new facility for an opt out from the Building Regulations which allows for self-certification and if so, on what grounds?

Paudie Coffey, Fine Gael
I do agree with these changes – people who self-build are not going to engage builders who would take short cuts in the construction of houses that they intend to live in. I believe that the initial changes in SI9 of 2014 were too cumbersome and effectively became a barrier for self-builders to construct their own homes due to excessive costs associated with certification. I heard evidence of quotations from assigned certifiers of anywhere between €5,000 and €20,000 for inspecting one-off housing around the country. It is important to note that self-built houses must still comply with the Building Regulations and will be subject to local authority inspection rather than being obliged to hire an assigned certifier.
I believe the changes made in SI365 of 2015 made it affordable for people to build one-off houses and extensions again and I intend to enhance the local authority inspection departments so that they are fit for purpose and increase the level of inspections over time.
From next year there will be a reporting system back into the Department of Environment to keep track of all inspections that take place, and we will be resourcing local authorities over time to augment the amount of inspections across the country to ensure that building standards are being met in every type of dwelling.

Barry Cowen, Fianna Fáil
A strong regulatory structure is vital to ensuring a high quality of home build across the country. While there may be a greater recourse to liability introduced under the Building Control Amendment Regulations (SI9) ‘Assigned Certifier’ system, it is still a self-regulatory regime.
We believe that self-regulation and self-monitoring of building standards does not work and that independent State authorities need to have a greater role in inspecting new developments. However, the design of the Building Control Amendment Regulations is also irrational and costly, and is one of the key reasons behind the absence of new housing supply. The cost of compliance, and thus building, has increased significantly since 2012 and this has occurred without providing independent inspections, significantly improved building standards or better consumer protection. The high costs of Irish building control are unique. In the UK a self-financed system of building control, managed directly by local councils, costs just €730 per house, a fraction of the cost of building regulations introduced here last March.
Fianna Fáil proposes a National Building Inspectorate as opposed to the assigned certifier system, which would examine at least 40% of the buildings under construction. A system of licensing or registration of builders and information on builders should be shared amongst the relevant authorities with full prosecutions of any designers or contractors who are negligent in their duties. A building inspectorate (much like the National Car Testing system) with dedicated specialist staff and standardised systems, monitored by the local authorities, would be more cost-effective, easier to quality control and, ultimately, safer than the assigned certifier system.

Dessie Ellis, Sinn Féin
We would ensure that building regulation of house construction and renovation does not impede production of new units. Any changes to building regulations laid out in SI9 must only be made following full and transparent public consultation with all relevant groupings from local authorities, fire authorities, consumer bodies and professional and industry experts.
We would bring in a requirement for the statutory registration of builders that have demonstrated adequate experience and competency in their trade, thorough knowledge of the building regulations, and have kept up to date by continuing technical skill development.
The registration body would have responsibility for monitoring incidences and claims, and the power to remove incompetent and negligent builders from the register.
In addition to these costs before the house is even built, the new building regulations (SI9) are claimed to add in the region of €3,000 to €11,000 for self-building to be inspected at each stage. In other jurisdictions the local authority has responsibility for inspections and absorbs the cost. The new regulations in effect now mean that self-builds may only be completed in cases where there is a certifier willing to accept liability and inspect at each stage.

Andrew Keegan, People Before Profit
No. Our policy is to establish a national building control system managed by the local authorities, to inspect and certify building works at every stage of the building process.