Social housing plan review planned

Local politicians hold counsel on new measures

Plans by Environment Minister Alan Kelly to give greater autonomy to local authorities in the delivery of social housing have been given a cautious thumbs up locally.

The Labour deputy leader is drawing up proposals to give councils “almost full discretion” to press ahead with social housing projects of under 20 units.

It's hoped the new measures will cut out a lot of the red tape local authorities currently face in terms of meeting social housing demands.

Under present guidelines, local authorities must submit detailed proposals for housing projects to the Department of the Environment, apply for capital funding and justify all spending, with repeated reviews throughout the process.

One of those leading the charge for councils to be given greater freedom is Fianna Fáil's Seamus Butler.

He says while the plans promise plenty, much would depend on how the new guidelines are implemented.

“We (Council) were given a three year rolling fund of €7m for refurbishments to properties that were unoccupied and needed to be brought back up to scratch,” he explained.

“But each time you had to go out to tender and then that tender had to go back to the Department (of Environment) for approval which could take months and months.”

The Fianna Fáil councillor said that the issue was systemic.

“What we have at the minute is just ludicrous. And it also shows that we have one of the most centrally controlled governments in the world,” Cllr Butler added.

“It's like something you would see in North Korea.”

The Longford businessman said while he welcomed the Minister's change of heart on the matter, further clarity on the issue was still needed.

“It will hopefully free up local councils to go out and get a sum of money from the Department and spend it in an efficient and rapid manner.

“I welcome it wholeheartedly but the devil will be very much in the detail,” he warned.

Longford County Council Cathaoirleach, Cllr Gerry Warnock followed suit.

“I would welcome any devolvement of powers from central to local government, of course,” he stated.

“But in no uncertain terms would I be able to support the privatisation of social housing.”

He also called for a cessation to any further social housing in Longford for the time being, saying the focus should be directed towards Older Persons Dwellings and specialist housing for people with special needs.