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Ministers Finneran and Cuffe publish National Housing Development Survey

Published on Thursday, 21 Oct 2010

Ministers Finneran and Cuffe publish National Housing Development Survey


Mr Michael Finneran, T.D., Minister for Housing and Local Services, and Mr. Ciarán Cuffe, T.D., Minister of State, with Special Responsibility for Planning, Sustainable Transport & Horticulture', today (21 October, 2010) published a National Housing Development Survey and outlined actions arising from the initial analysis of the survey.
The report (a synopsis of which is available here) has been prepared by the Department of the Environment Heritage and Local Government, working closely with local authorities, the National Building Agency and the construction industry and involved a survey conducted by the Department’s housing inspectors of all housing developments of two or more dwellings built or granted permission in the last few years that had commenced by the time of the survey (which was conducted from May to September 2010).  The survey establishes a proper evidence basis for further action by Government and local authorities in relation to planning, housing, building control and other matters towards resolving the emergence of unfinished housing developments.
In summary, over 2,800 housing developments were identified where construction had commenced but had not been completed, and these developments translate into over 180,000 housing units for which planning permission is granted.  Of these, over 120,000 dwellings had commenced construction, and 77,000 dwellings are completed and occupied.  A further 33,000  homes are either completed and vacant – (23,000) or nearly complete (requiring, for example, final fit-out and connection to services –(10,000)) – this equates to the total amount of “real” overhang of new un-occupied houses.  A remaining 10,000 dwellings are at various earlier stages of construction, from preliminary site clearance to foundations up to wall plate level.

Minister of State Finneran emphasised that “The houses that matter, from a housing market perspective, are new unoccupied homes and second-hand homes currently for sale and, while there are industry level estimates of second-hand properties for sale (of around 50,000 homes), the market has lacked clear and independent data until now on the number of new unoccupied homes.  Even at the current very low levels of housing demand and construction activity (of 26,500 housing units completed in 2009), the total number of vacant units either completed or nearly completed is roughly equal to 18 months’ construction output of new housing at 2009 levels.  The key outcome here is that we now have the evidence base to deliver policy and action in solving the problems that can arise on housing developments due to the wider construction and economic downturn.”

Minister of State Cuffe outlined that “This comprehensive survey of over 2,800 multi-unit housing development sites in every city and county provides a clear picture of the extent and scale of unfinished housing developments across the country, the types of issues arising, and the basis on which a clear package of actions to address and resolve both systemic and individual issues can be developed.”  The Minister went on to say that “ armed with this clear evidence as to the full extent of what we’re dealing with, we are already initiating an action plan which will address planning, housing, building control and other matters relating to these unfinished housing developments.”

In publishing the results of the survey, the Ministers announced immediate plans for the establishment of a high-level Expert Group comprising key stakeholders (central and local government, the banking and construction sectors, NAMA, along with members of the professional architectural, planning and engineering institutes) to advise on practical and policy solutions to ensure satisfactory completion or resolution of unfinished housing developments and the Group will hold its first meeting in the next couple of weeks.

An immediate task for the Group will be to finalise a Best Practice Guidance Manual for Managing and Resolving Unfinished Housing Developments for issue as a consultation draft to local authorities, key stakeholders in the house-building sector and the general public in the next three weeks. The draft guidance is intended to stimulate further discussion and input with a view to publication of a final version of the document early in the new year and as a comprehensive code of practice with buy-in from developers, the financial institutions and local authorities in managing and resolving unfinished housing developments.

The Minister are also advancing a number of crucial interim actions, namely:
• ensuring that the relevant agencies (Health and Safety Authority and local authorities) are working effectively together in ensuring that developers and landowners (or their representatives / successors) are discharging their obligations in relation to ensuring that unfinished housing developments are safe from unauthorised access (e.g. from children) and from anti-social behaviour;
• pooling of best practice experiences among local authorities in progressively solving site-specific problems (through the multi-disciplinary Expert Group on Unfinished Housing Developments); and
• establishing Unfinished Housing Developments Teams within City / County Councils to prepare prioritised actions and assist in developing Site Resolution Plans in conjunction with the developers / banks / receivers / NAMA.

While issues of a legislative nature will be also be looked at by the Group, planning authorities will be considering their increased powers and flexibility under the new Planning and Development (Amendment) Act, 2010 to the deal with unfinished housing developments, such as widened powers to taking certain developments in charge.

The Ministers are confident that through this concrete analysis and clear plan of intensive work, that the Government is demonstrating its commitment to work with all the stakeholders in the housing construction sector to collectively address problems raised by unfinished housing developments, especially for the people living in such developments, and thereafter to rebuild overall confidence in the housing developments and the wider housing market – a critical step on our path towards economic recovery.

As outlined, in parallel with the publication of the survey of unfinished housing developments, a group of expert representatives is to be appointed to advise the Ministers of State for Housing and Planning on practical and policy solutions to difficulties that have arisen on unfinished housing developments and in relation to ensuring the satisfactory completion and or resolution of such developments.  Draft terms of reference and prospective membership of Expert Advisory Group on Unfinished Housing Developments are outlined as follows:

Terms of Reference
(1) To advise the Ministers of State for Housing and Planning on actions to ensure the effective management and resolution of unfinished housing developments and with a particular focus on:
• identifying the respective roles and responsibilities of key stakeholders in the  resolution of unfinished housing developments;
• measures to ensure the security of unfinished developments from unauthorised access and or anti-social behaviour during the remainder of the construction period;
• ensuring the provision of effective securities for the satisfactory completion of developments;
• facilitating the provision of adequate working capital to enable the resolution of housing development sites;
• addressing building control certification issues that may have arisen on part constructed developments;
• considering the scope for alternative uses for completed, unoccupied developments;
• finalising a concise Code of Practice on the above the matters; and
• whether legislative, regulatory and/or policy changes are warranted and if so, what the scope of such changes should encompass.

(2) To report to the Ministers on the above and on such other issues as are relevant to the subject matter no later than 31 January 2011.

Prospective Membership
Senior representatives from the following organisations are proposed to be invited to be members of the Advisory Group, which will be chaired by Mr. John O’Connor, Chief Executive of the Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency (HSCA):

• Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government
• Construction Industry Federation / Irish Home Builders Association
• City and County Managers Association
• National Asset Management Agency
• Irish Banking Federation
• Health and Safety Authority
• Irish Council for Social Housing
• Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland
• Irish Planning Institute
• Society of Chartered Surveyors
• Institute of Engineers of Ireland 

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