Labour TD Ann Phelan and Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy in a Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and Gaeltacht yesterday
You may recall a post from yesterday in relation to the construction work which has begun on the 22 modular homes being built by Western Building Systems in Ballymun, Dublin 11.
Dublin City Council awarded the contract to Western Building Systems even though the Department of Education last year ordered for investigations to be carried out at schools built by the firm, after Rush and Lusk Educate Together National School in Dublin – which was built by Western Building Systems – was found to have major fire safety defects.
This morning, Jennifer Bray, in the Irish Daily Mail [not online] reports that the average cost of building a home under the social housing scheme is €11,000 less than the €191,000 cost of each modular unit.
Further to this, yesterday Labour TD Ann Phelan fielded questions from Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy about the modular units at a meeting of the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and Gaeltacht.
Their discussion came after Ms Phelan introduced a policy directive, to remind the four Dublin planning authorities to utilise all powers available to them to find solutions to the social housing situation.
Specifically, Ms Murphy repeatedly asked Ms Phelan to outline what additional powers the policy directive will give the local authorities.
Ms Murphy had already left the meeting when Ms Phelan finally addressed the question of additional powers but Ms Phelan told the meeting that the new directive will allow the chief executives of the four Dublin local authorities to “dispense with the normal Part 8 planning process” in any situation they deem to be an emergency.
From the meeting…
Ann Phelan: “It is intended to have the first 150 of the units delivered in the Dublin City Council area with the city council expecting the delivery of an initial 22 units by December, a further 128 units to follow in quarter one of 2016 to a fast track procurement process and 350 units across the Dublin region by mid-2016. This compares with a timeframe of up to two years to provide conventional social housing units. In light of this, and to support the use of the fastest planning process, in order for the modular units to be in place as quickly as possible, [Environment] Minister [Alan] Kelly has indicated his intention to issue a policy directive, under Section 29 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, addressed to the four Dublin planning authorities. A draft policy directive has been prepared in this regard and, as required, has been laid before both houses of the Oireachtas. The purpose of the draft policy directive is to remind those planning authorities of the statutory provisions of Section 179 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, and the related part 8 provisions in the planning and development regulations 201, 2001 as amended.
These provisions set out the procedure for local authority-owned development, such as the provision of new housing developments. In the context of the starting of these functions and, in particular, the need to provide urgent social housing to meet the needs of homeless families, the draft policy directive directs these planning authorities to utilise all powers available to them under Section 179 as appropriate, for the purpose of finding solutions to the social housing situation, presently faced and accelerating the delivery of social housing developments, to address the urgent and increasing need for social housing accommodation in the Dublin region. Subject to Oireachtas approval, this policy directive will issue to the Dublin planning authorities, under Section 29 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, and the four planning authorities will be bound to comply with the directive. The legislative basis for a policy directive underpins and strengthens any policy direction the minister may wish to issue. The issue of a policy directive in the context of the delivery of social housing will underscore the importance of the expeditious delivery of this programme of modular housing as approved by the Government. It is essential that this programme is expeditiously implemented. From a planning perspective, this draft policy directive is aimed at doing just that…”
Catherine Murphy: “I doubt that there’s anything actually in this that the local authorities are not familiar with. I mean we are all aware of Part 8s and the other part, maybe you might tell us what additional powers are in this that the local authorities wouldn’t be already familiar with. And in fact I would say that there’s, it’s probably, if they’d known that they had to plan for this a year ago, you know, you wouldn’t be, you wouldn’t be talking about, reminding them of their powers…The modular housing, I’ve got to say, I have grave concerns about the modular housing because it’s, it’s not cheap. It’s somewhere in the region of €190,000 a unit, if I’m right. It has a lifespan of 60 years. So it’s not a temporary solution. So we are putting something very permanent in place and planning should be something that looks at a variety of different things, including the provision of housing, including how that relates to the other services that should be available including the cohesiveness of the community that’s going to be developed.
And I have got to say that we’re in an emergency situation and that forces sometimes a less than optimum response. I think if we go back to the 1960s and we look at the high-rise that was Ballymun, in retrospect, it wasn’t a great idea. We’re back in a crisis situation again here now and I think it’s important that the department outline how they perceive these houses will be a short-term measure for people rather than just saying they’re short-term. And what length of time people are going to be in them? I mean modular housing or system-built housing is used in other parts of the world and it’s perfectly good when it’s in the right location and when it’s of a good standard. But it’s the other things that go with that I’ve got to say that I’ve got concerns, I’ve got some concerns about. For example, if it had a dual function, we’ve 25,000 students for example, accommodated around the country and if, for example, you had a housing that doubled as for the second part of its function, if it was to be, for example, student accommodation, you may place it in a different location, you may get a different type of accommodation, if that was the case. But I think that is really important, that we don’t end up with identifiable ghettos. And I think that that’s critical.”
Phelan: “…We have to respond to the homelessness situation and we have to remind planning authorities of the statutory provisions of section 179 of the Planning and Development Acts that are 2015. Part 8 of the planning and regulations 2001 to 2015 in relation to local authorities own development and direct those planning authorities to use and utilise all powers available to them under the above provisions, as appropriate for the purpose of finding solutions to the housing situation and accelerating the delivery of social housing developments to address the increasing social housing need in the region.
And these are those modular homes, you know, they can be delivered quickly and they are suitable, you know, for families. I understand why, I do understand you know, what you’re saying, I do understand that your concerns but this is a response, an immediate response to try and do something about the situation that everybody. This actually, this directive should be welcomed, I think by the deputies themselves. That this is the Government trying to do something to alleviate what is a really bad situation, particularly in the Dublin area. You know, even if we were to take it into our own lives, I don’t think any of us would particularly like trying to house ourselves with families in hotels. So the modular housing is perhaps I suppose you could say, on the issue of, some of them are up to an extremely high standard as Deputy Murphy has said herself and it is used quite a bit, even for elderly, particularly across Wales and across Britain. But there is nobody saying that this is a long-term solution to these families. This is a short-term solution.
Modular, on the longevity of modular housing, they have a lifespan of 50 to 60 years, so you know it’s not that anybody is saying that these are permanent houses for these people. This is the Government responding to the situation that is going to arise at Christmas again this year, where we will have those awful stories of people who are homeless, you know, on our streets, and this is the Government responding to that. I think in a very, very quick way. Twenty two units in Ballymun, going to be delivered, you know, very, very soon. They will house 22 families. Dublin City Council awarded the contract last Friday. The units are to be ready for the 21st of December. Again, I think this is to be welcomed.”
Murphy: “Just to come back on some of those points… You didn’t tell me what additional powers are in this, over and above what that the local authorities wouldn’t have been readily, they wouldn’t have readily available to them. I think there’s an element of blame game going on in relation to the local authorities not delivering and the department appearing to crack the whip it looks like to me. You didn’t tell me how the modular housing is going to have a limited lifespan for the individuals who will go into them, that it won’t be permanent housing for them…”
Phelan: “The issue of the short-term to long-term issue, the families will be moved from modular housing to normal social housing as soon as possible and there will be an on-site family placement service to deal with this. So it will be modular to social housing. The whole issue of, you know, sustainable communities is a key aim in planning and development considerations, so nobody wants to see them turn into ghettos as Deputy Murphy referred to. This is a emergency response to an emergency situation which is homeless people… Deputy Murphy has left, she was asking about the extra powers that were being given to the local authorities. This directive, what we’re speaking about, this actually goes beyond Part 8. Their powers, under Section 179, 6B of the Act, under which a local authority chief executive can dispense with the normal Part 8 planning process for the local authorities owned development where a proposed development is necessary for dealing urgently with any situation which the chief executive considers is an emergency situation calling for immediate action. So it actually goes beyond the council’s own planning process where the chief executive considers that a situation is an emergency situation that needs to be called for immediate action. He can actually take that decision. So that goes beyond, they are the extra powers that Deputy Murphy is speaking about.”