herald

Sunday 8 December 2019

Hundreds of homes on hold as €20m projects get tangled in red tape

Darragh O’Brien has urged clarification of CEA guidelines
Darragh O’Brien has urged clarification of CEA guidelines

The development of hundreds of new homes has been hit by delays as local authorities get tied up in red tape.

Rows between Government departments and a lack of clarity on spending rules have hindered several major projects, the Herald can reveal.

The issue is specific to developments costing more than €20m that would be capable of providing significant relief in urban areas, especially Dublin.

Local authorities must provide a 'Cost Effectiveness Analysis' (CEA) on large schemes to the Department of Housing - but councils have not been given definitive guidelines on how to produce such a report.

Struggled

Correspondence released to Fianna Fail shows Dublin City Council (DCC) has struggled to comprehend the layers of bureaucracy when trying to get social housing schemes off the ground and has now hired consultants to help staff compile reports.

Among the projects affected are 158 homes on Dorset Street and 134 on Constitution Hill.

Cost analyses were submitted for both schemes last August, but were later judged insufficient. DCC officials said they were unaware what the Department of Housing wanted.

At present, some 1,789 proposed social housing units in Dublin are within schemes above the €20m threshold.

"Hundreds of homes have been caught up in red tape instead of getting bricks and mortar in the ground," Fianna Fail's housing spokesman Darragh O'Brien said.

The Department of Housing said there was "a process of ongoing engagement" with councils that "should not be interpreted as refusing approval or delaying projects".

"Rather, the Department has made every effort to assist the progression of local authority projects by facilitating the CEA preparation concurrently with the development of schemes through the various stages."

Documents released under Freedom of Information show both the Public Expenditure and Housing departments knew of problems late last year.

In January, officials in Housing said Public Expenditure needed to get "on the same page with regard to what we are asking DCC for".

It was agreed in February that the system for appraising projects needed to be "further streamlined".

However, the Department of Public Expenditure told the Herald it is still working with the Department of Housing "with a view to producing clearer CEA guidelines for social housing developments".

A housing official said their department was "currently preparing detailed sectoral guidance to support local authorities on the appraisal process for social housing projects". In the past, such projects needed a 'cost benefits analysis' but due to the difficulty in assessing social housing's monetary benefit, it was decided they should be assessed on a wider criteria.

DCC said it is involved in an increasing number of housing schemes costing over €20m.

"We work closely with the Department Of Housing and Planning on this issue and we are satisfied the process is operating smoothly and delays will be minimised," an official said.

Consultants

Mr O'Brien said spending checks should ensure value for money and effective delivery - but the documents show "misunderstandings, delays and an over-reliance on external consultants by local authorities".

He called on Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy to intervene so that CEAs are not "clogging up the system".

The Dublin Fingal TD said "red-tape delays are dragging back badly needed development around Dublin and will start to have an impact around the country if they are not resolved".

"The Department of Housing has been discussing a streamlined CEA process for over a year, yet it has not been finalised despite the housing crisis. This has meant critical housing projects have been stuck in a bureaucratic mud for months

"The minister has to get to grips with the red-tape delays that he has allowed to strangle developments and ensure a streamlined process is put in place."

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