On Monday 15 June 2020, 128 days after the General Election of 8 February 2020 and following weeks of negotiations the leaders of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party agreed a Programme for Government.
Below we look at the proposed measures for housing, energy and planning as they relate to the construction sector.
Social and Affordable Housing
Housing was a central theme of Election 2020 and it is of no surprise the provision of affordable housing is at the core of the Programme for Government. The parties recognise that everybody should have “access to good quality housing to purchase or rent at an affordable price, built to a high standard and located close to essential services offering a high quality of life”.
The Programme for Government provides for increased housing supply along with financial supports to:
- Increase the social housing stock by more than 50,000 to be built by local authorities, Approved Housing Bodies and State agencies with an emphasis on new builds;
- Focus on town centre renewal and development;
- Retain and expand the Help to Buy scheme for new properties and self-build properties;
- Extend the Serviced Sites Fund;
- Progress a State-backed affordable home purchase scheme to promote home ownership;
- Introduce reforms to Approved Housing Bodies to ensure they can access finance and move off balance sheet;
- Allow local authority discretionary funding to increase from €2m to €6m for social housing projects; and
Legislate to establish the Land Development Agency (LDA) which will work with government departments, local authorities and state agencies to assemble strategic sites in urban areas and ensure sustainable development of social and affordable homes for rent and purchase. On establishment the LDA will be tasked to conduct an audit of State lands and identify land banks in public ownership which are suitable for housing.
With the inclusion of the Green Party in negotiations much media attention focused on the commitment for a 7% annual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. However, green focused policies feed into all areas of the Programme for Government with a commitment to initiate a Climate Action Bill within the first 100 days of government, introducing five year carbon budgets. The elements of climate action related to housing and construction are:
- Retrofit at least 500,000 homes to a B2 energy rating by 2030 financed via local authority retrofit programmes, loan guarantee schemes and grants to owners of private properties;
- Pilot retrofitting schemes to be commenced in early 2021 in the Midlands;
Overhaul existing apprenticeships, traineeships and education programmes to upskill the existing workforce for new technologies and building methods;
- Install 600,000 heat pumps in homes that are already suitable for the technology by 2030;
- Implement a new National Energy Efficiency Action Plan to reduce energy use;
- Deliver at least 70% renewable electricity by 2030;
- Finalise and publish Wind Energy Guidelines having regard to the public consultation which has just taken place; and
- Develop a solar energy strategy for rooftop and ground based photovoltaics to ensure a greater share of electricity needs are met through solar power.
The Programme for Government also proposes a number of reforms to be introduced to the existing planning regime which include:
- A “use it or lose it” condition for all planning applications of ten units or more;
- The creation of an independent Building Standards Regulator to oversee building control nationwide;
- Review of the development levy process, rezoning system and planning permission conditions;
- Reform and consolidation of Compulsory Purchase Order laws;
- Strengthened enforcement of the Vacant Site Levy;
- No extension of Strategic Housing Developments beyond their legislative expiry in eighteen months’ time; and
- Review of the judicial review process and establishment of the Environmental and Planning Law Court.
The Programme for Government is ambitious as it proposes to increase the stock of social and affordable housing, support the construction sector through new builds, a programme of retrofitting and overhaul of existing apprenticeships, traineeships and education programmes, reform the existing planning regime, promote a green economic recovery, create jobs and make housing available at an affordable price and built to high standards.
The Programme for Government is to be approved by the respective party memberships of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party with a ratification process to be completed by Friday 26 June 2020. If passed, a sitting of Dáil Éireann will be held on Saturday 27 June to elect a new coalition government.