SPC 1 - Minutes
Minutes of Strategic Policy Committee 1 – Housing & Corporate – held on Tuesday, 8th June, 2021 at 10.00 a.m. in The Council Chamber, County Hall, Riverside, Sligo
- Councillor Arthur Gibbons (Chair)
- Councillor Declan Bree
- Councillor Gino O’Boyle
- Councillor Tom Fox
- Melinda Swann, (PPN Environment)
MEMBERS ATTENDING VIRTUALLY:
- Pippa Black (PPN Social Inclusion)
- Alan McMenamin (PPN Community & Voluntary)
- Councillor Martin Baker
OFFICIALS IN ATTENDANCE:
- Mr John Moran, A/Director of Services
- Mr Joe Murphy, Senior Executive Officer
- Mr Sean Martin, A/Senior Architect
- Mr Jimmy O’Brien, I.S. Project Leader
- Mr Frank Moylan, Senior Planner (virtually)
- Mr Mark Cummins, A/Senior Executive Engineer (virtually)
- Pamela Andison, Administrative Officer
- Ms Aine Carr, Meetings Administrator
- Ms Mary Farrell, Assistant Staff Officer
Apologies were received from Karl Kelly, Business Pillar.
As the chair, Councillor Gibbons, was delayed in arriving to the meeting,
It was proposed by Councillor O’Boyle
Seconded by Councillor Fox
and agreed ‘that Councillor Bree would chair the meeting in the interim’.
MINUTES OF MEETING OF SPC1 HELD ON 13TH APRIL 2021:
It was proposed by Councillor O’Boyle
Seconded by Councillor Fox
“To confirm the minutes of the Meeting of the Strategic Policy Committee 1 – Housing and Corporate – held on 13th April, 2021”.
MATTERS ARISING FROM MINUTES:
Councillor O’Boyle asked if RÁS/allocation scheme would be covered in this meeting and J Murphy, SEO, replied that there is a draft menu of items that the SPC could consider over the next number of months on the Agenda and this matter could be taken under the allocation scheme heading. Councillor O’Boyle was in agreement with this.
VACANT HOMES ACTION PLAN:
F Moylan, Senior Planner and M Cummins, A/Senior Executive Engineer, Planning and Enforcement Development addressed the meeting on progress on the implementation of the Vacant Homes Action Plan prepared by the Planning Section in 2018. M Cummins summarised the contents of a report which had been circulated to the members in advance of the meeting. He advised that the vacancy survey carried out by Sligo County Council, showing a vacancy rate of 2.5%, was in line with the Geo Directory figures which showed that there were 192 vacant dwellings in the Borough. The Council has been engaging with the owners of the long term problematic vacant homes to inform them of options / incentives that are available to bring these homes back into use. He stated that 2 properties had been acquired to date using the CPO process where it had been established that long term vacancy was as a result of title issues. He also said that of the 192 vacant homes, 81 were not registered on Land Direct and 28 were registered to vacant home addresses which presented difficulties in terms of following these up. The other 83 property owners were registered at a different address which were followed up. The enforcement section will continue to carry out inspections and identify owners of identified vacant properties in 2021 with a view to bringing these properties back into use.
M Swann asked if there was a dedicated team dealing with the implementation of the vacant homes action plan. M Cummins replied that it was overseen by himself, and there was a technician employed on a part time basis together with a graduate planner and they also had the use of the GIS Officer of the Council.
Councillor Fox stated that many property owners were not aware of the incentives available to assist them in bringing their properties back into use and asked if there was a way of publicising these incentives. M Cummins replied that the Department of Environment place adverts in all national newspapers and when vacant property owners are written to they are provided with a booklet outlining ‘repair and lease’, HAP, long term leasing, RÁS, etc.
A McMenamin asked about timeframes for bringing properties identified as vacant back into use. M Cummins replied that there are no timeframes set down, the properties are privately owned the Council’s role is to inform them of options / incentives that are available to bring these homes back into use and encourage this. The ultimate power that the Council has is the CPO process but this would generally be a last resort.
Councillor Baker queried if anything could be done with a property when there was a title and the person was in a residential home with no family around. M Cummins replied that there had been changes to the Fair Deal Scheme where houses can be leased or rented out while the person is in the home without adversely affecting the scheme they are on.
Councillor Bree expressed concern that the CSO identified that 19% of houses in the Borough were vacant in 2016 and the Council’s figure indicates that approximately 2.5% are vacant and this is a huge difference. He said that the last meeting of SPC1 was informed that 299 properties were vacant and at this meeting the members have been informed that 192 properties are vacant to the end of 2020. There has been a 33% reduction in our figures. Councillor Bree also queried how the survey is carried out.
M Cummins replied that the survey had been carried out in 2019 and that due to Covid the next survey did not take place until 2021. He said that quite a few of the properties that had previously been identified as vacant became occupied. Builders who were ‘sitting’ on properties for future work got around to carrying out works to bring some of these vacant properties back into use and this explained the difference in the two surveys. Regarding how the survey is carried out, M Cummins said that a walkabout is done through every housing estate and information is sourced from local knowledge in the areas. Councillor Bree asked for the members to be provided with a list of properties but not a list of the owners of the properties that have been determined to be vacant and M Cummins in reply said that they were advised under GDPR that even the addresses were considered to be private information and could not be shared but that the members could be provided with a map showing occupied and unoccupied properties. It was agreed that this map would be provided to the members.
Councillor Fox asked if the Council were engaging with owners of vacant properties in rural areas in the same way. M Cummins informed the meeting that to date Sligo Borough was the focus but when that was complete, they would be focusing on Tubbercurry, Ballymote and other rural areas.
Councillor Bree thanked F Moylan and M Cummins for the report.
QUESTIONS SUBMITTED BY SPC1 MEMBERS:
It was agreed to take item no. 8 (b) on the agenda in order to allow F Moylan and M Cummins to leave the meeting.
Question submitted by M Swann:
“What level of environmental impact assessment is in place for each type of development application? If the planner could specify level from retrofitting an old house (i.e. are there bat surveys etc.) to new housing developments. I would like to propose also that Housing introduces a blanket ban on pesticide use on grasslands in housing estates, as well as promote more 'Don't Mow let it Grow' campaigns for the housing estates with contractors and furthermore work with the roads department to add wild seed into newly planted areas rather than just planting grass seed as has now been done along the N15.”
A report on this from the Planning Department and the Housing Department had been circulated to the members in advance of the meeting:
‘An Environmental Impact Assessment is required to be undertaken by the planning authority where the proposed development is considered to be likely to have significant effects on the environment. Examples of projects that would require EIA are certain power stations, airports, railways, ports and in relation to housing – those developments of 500 dwellings or more.
With regard to bats, planning authorities are required to take account of the presence of protected species, including bats, when considering applications for planning permission and may refuse applications on the grounds of adverse effects on these species or if an assessment of the impact of the development on protected species is inadequate.
On the Capital Housing provision, new green areas and open spaces will be designed with Biodiversity in mind in terms of native plant choice, and design of the landscaping; these will be prepared in consultation with the Parks Section and Housing Maintenance Sections. The extent of works and the associated capital housing budget for same is subject to approval by the Department.
The Council seeks to minimize the use of both pesticides and herbicides in its Housing Estates. The Council will continue to promote 'Don't Mow let it Grow' campaigns in its estates. Planting along roadways is a matter for the Infrastructure Section of the Council and the motion will be forwarded to its Director for consideration’.
Councillor O’Boyle asked if tenants could be informed about the ‘Don’t mow Let it grow’ campaign and if discussions could take place with residents’ committees.
HOUSING DELIVERY 2017-2021 – UPDATE:
J Moran, A/Director or Services, said that an updated report on Housing Delivery 2017-2021 had been requested at the previous SPC1 meeting and a more detailed breakdown showing the figures in each Municipal District had been requested by Councillor Fox. Councillor Bree welcomed the updated report and Councillor Fox thanked the executive for the clarity of the report.
COUNCIL LAND BANKS:
J Moran, A/Director of Services said that the report on land banks had been requested at the last meeting and the report had been circulated outlining the various lands in the ownership of the Council showing the zonings and the potential yield from them.
M Swann queried the location of the land bank at Carney which is now scrubland and asked if there was any way of getting new land that was just greenfield sites. She queried the Council building houses on it seeing that the site is a nice biodiverse area.
S Martin replied that as part of the planning process, the Council must do a screening exercise to see to what degree the scrub has taken hold. If it is valued and there are strong mitigating factors, the Council must do an assessment of the site. He also said that the items that were raised under landscape, etc. would be incorporated into the Council’s housing schemes.
A McMenamin said that there are a number of sites identified as having potential, such as Cranmore, and he asked if the Land Development Agency had an option on those sites. S Martin replied that those sites would be too small for the land development agency. He said that there were 9 sites concentrating in Dublin, Cork and Limerick that the Land Development Agency would be focusing on and there wasn’t any land in Sligo that the Agency were interested in.
The Chair, Councillor Arthur Gibbons, arrived to the meeting at 10.40 a.m. He apologised for being late and thanked Councillor Bree for chairing the meeting in his absence.
SLIGO HOUSING AND DISABILITY STEERING GROUP PRESENTATION:
Ms P Andison, A/Administrative Officer, presented a report on Sligo Strategic Plan for Housing People with a Disability (2021-2025) which had been circulated to the members in advance of the meeting. She informed the meeting that the plan was a statutory requirement and was produced by the Sligo Housing and Disability Group which was made up of Sligo County Council, approved housing bodies, the H.S.E and the disability sector including famly carers, wheelchair association, Disability Federation of Ireland. She outlined the contents of the plan to the meeting.
The Chair thanked P Andison for the presentation and hoped to see the action plan being delivered. He stressed the help that could be afforded by our own Disability Consultative Committee in achieving the objectives within the plan.
A discussion then took place on the presentation given by P Andison.
Councillor Bree joined in thanking P Andison for the detailed presentation. He said that decongregation seemed to be proceeding relatively successfully with Cregg House and Cloonamahon, but queried if it was the case that we have to have 3 or 4 in each house because we don’t have adequate housing or is it that they are incapable of living independently. In reply, P Andison said that assessments of individuals were carried out by multidisciplinary teams to ascertain what abilities they have to live independently or if they were likely to need support. She advised that it was likely that many of them would not be able to live independently.
In reply to A McMenamin’s query on whether there was more need now for ‘Housing First’ and more houses required, P Andison said that there was a waiting list which was now closed as there were enough applicants on it who required one bed properties. She said that it would be opened again at the end of the year but she stressed the continuing need for housing first and emphasised the shortage of and continued high demand for one-bed properties.
A McMenamin also asked for an update on the review of the housing adaptation grant Scheme. J Murphy, SEO in reply said that he was not aware of any review taking place but would find out and would circulate details to the members.
Councillor Baker also welcomed the report and emphasised the importance of the housing adaptation grant for persons with a disability and he expressed concern that the Council had a problem with staffing for house grants. He said that the Council now had only 2 clerks of work and previously had 5 and asked that more staff be provided.
Councillor Fox also welcomed the report and said that the figure of 14.6% was high compared to the rest of the country and it was important that the views of the disabled were listened to.
The Chair queried if the high figure of 14.6% was related to the fact that County Sligo has two institutions namely Cregg House and Cloonamahon and he was informed by P Andison that this was the case.
P Andison advised the meeting that if any member had any suggestions for the Strategic Plan to submit them to her by 11th June, 2021.
J Moran, A/Director of Services went through the draft work programme circulated setting out a menu of suggested items for agendas of future SPC1 meetings. Councillor O’Boyle proposed the adoption of the Work Programme which was seconded by Councillor Fox, and agreed.
Presentations: it had been agreed at the previous meeting that Threshold would be invited to the September 2021 SPC1 meeting via Zoom.
The Irish Wheelchair Association requested to make a presentation and it was agreed that this would take place at the meeting in December, 2021.
A presentation by the Self Organised Architecturewas listed as an item of correspondence for this meeting. It was agreed that this presentation would take place in March, 2022 .
QUESTIONS SUBMITTED BY SPC1 MEMBERS:
Agenda Item 8 (b) - Question Submitted by Councillor Fox:
“Noting that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will provide funding to Sligo County Council to refurbish and re-let 52 vacant local authority homes in Sligo in 2021, can I ask for a list of where these properties are located”.
A copy of the response by J Murphy, SEO, had been circulated to the members.Councillor Fox thanked J Murphy for the report which contained very positive news for funding for vacant homes. He asked if the Council had any plan in place for properties above business premises as there was an opportunity to provide housing. J Murphy replied that the Council is always on the lookout for suitable properties but there can be difficulties with properties with no back garden. Older properties were also more costly to refurbish.
Councillor O’Boyle queried if there was extra funding being provided for the shortfall of over €400,000 which had to be funded in 2021 from the Council’s own resources. J Murphy in reply said that the Council had ongoing funds to meet current vacancies but funding from the Department had reduced considerably and this would prove problematic. This year the Council had a shortfall of €400,000 and this can be met but in 2022 there would be difficulties as to how the Council would fund our vacant houses. He said that the cost of returning a house to use is on average €20,000. The Department have informed the Council that it is the Council’s responsibility to fund them.
Councillor Bree queried if the average cost of €20,000 was similar to the cost in other counties and in reply J Murphy said that the figure could be checked in the Service Indicator figures from NOAC. Councillor Bree also queried how the properties get into such poor condition and if it was due to short supply of rent collectors.
J Murphy said that some properties were in poor condition because some tenants do not look after them or due to the age of the property. He said that if the Council want to re-tenant the house, renovation costs will be incurred.
S Martin said that sometimes work that tenants would have done in good faith in making adaptations would have to be undone for new tenants and this would also lead to the large sum involved in refurbishing.
In reply to Councillor O’Boyle’s query regarding the void scheme, J Murphy said that once a house is returned to the Council, it is refurbished and the Government allow the Council to access funding each year for these houses.
Councillor Fox emphasised the importance of landlords liasing with tenants, explaining the terms of the lease and calling to households to get issues resolved.
A report was circulated on the number of heat pumps installed by Sligo County Council which had been requested at the previous meeting – the report was discussed and noted.
J Moran brought to the attention of the meeting a request from the Irish Congress of Trade Unions to submit a new nominee to SPCI - Pascal Connolly – to replace Pat Fallon who was going to be standing down. He informed the meeting that this would be put forward to the next full Council meeting for ratification.
The Chair stated that Pascal Connolly would be a huge asset to the SPC1 and he thanked Pat Fallon for his input to the SPC 1 and wished him well in his new venture. All the members wished to be associated with the good wishes to Pat Fallon.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS:
Councillor O’Boyle wished to extend credit to the Council’s housing staff for the new housing scheme at Fr O’Flanagan Terrace and Councillor Fox wished to be associated with this.
In reply to a query from Councillor O’Boyle regarding the RÁS Scheme, J Murphy, SEO, said that a review of the Council’s Allocation Scheme was a matter for the members to decide and any changes to the RÁS Scheme could only be done as a review of the allocation scheme. He said that a revised allocation Scheme had been brought to a previous SPC meeting but the review was never completed. The Council could now re-present a review of the allocation scheme to see how the RAS element could be dealt with.
Councillor O’Boyle then proposed a review of the allocation Scheme and J Moran said that it could be included as an item on the agenda for the September meeting. Councillor Bree said that the allocation scheme may only need to be amended with regard to RAS and not reviewed. He added that an Oireachtas Committee had been considering a scheme for circulation to local authorities and it might be worth checking this with the Department.
In reply to a query from Councillor Baker regarding thresholds for persons buying out Council houses and proceeds from tenant purchase, J Murphy said that proceeds from tenant purchase goes into the Council’s internal capital receipts and can be used for further housing.
Councillor Baker whilst praising the housing staff said that an extra clerk of works was needed as the Council were falling behind on in house grants. In reply J Murphy said that he was not aware of any staffing issues for in house grants, that the Council received approval from the Department for over €560,000 and works are ongoing to appoint contractors to do those works. He said that it would be kept under review and if there were any issues, they should be brought to his attention.
In response to a query from A McMenamin regarding the breakdown of the spend of rental income, J Moran, A/Director of Services said that a report was not to hand but it could be prepared for a future meeting. The Chair said that if any member was looking for figures, the request should be sent in before the meeting.
The Chair thanked all the members for attending the meeting and Councillor Bree for chairing the meeting in his absence. He said that it had been a very progressive meeting and he looked forward to the next meeting on 7th September, 2021.
END OF MEETING:
The business of the meeting concluded at 11.50 a.m.
Meeting Date 08/06/2021