Update Wicklow County Council Meeting 5th September 2022 – Part One
The following update provides an overview of some of the decisions and discussions at todays Wicklow County Council meeting. As with all Council and Municipal District meetings there is a lot of discussion and views expressed by members. To try and adequately outline all of these would be extremely difficult, what I will do is to try and give a sense of the discussions had, present both sides of debates where possible and outline my view. As always if anyone wants any additional information, please do not hesitate to give me a call and I’d be more than happy to meet up.
Regarding todays meeting, in addition to standard items such as Disposal notices and approving minutes of previous meetings there were a number of key pieces that are important to highlight. This update (Part 1) outlines three pieces which I feel will be of interest to you, namely;
1. Taking in Charge
2. Affordable Housing
3. Changing Places
‘Taking in Charge’
The process of ‘taking in charge’ an estate or road means exactly what it says. The Council must formerly ‘take in charge’ an area for it to become the responsibility of the Local Authority to maintain.
Wicklow County Council has a policy in place which outlines the process of taking in charge of private housing developments (i.e. A development of two or more houses), and the completion of developments.
For all private housing developments, the following elements of a development will be considered by the Council for taking in charge:
Roads and footways
Surface Water Sewers
Public lighting (taken in charge separately)
Liability and responsibility for the above elements of a development will remain with the Developer until such time as Wicklow County Council has taken them in charge.
Generally, consideration will be given to taking a development in charge subject to the following:
The development is an authorised development.
The development has been constructed in accordance with the planning permission granted and recommendations for site development works for Housing Areas (published by the DOEHLG).
The planning permission has expired, or the housing development has been substantially completed for a minimum of 12 months.
If there is a development that you would like to be considered to be taken in charge, please let me know. Today I was delighted to propose The Friary, Church Rd. to be included. A number of developments across the rest of the County were also proposed by fellow Councillors.
I receive so many queries about Affordable Housing, Social Housing and Private Housing. As someone who has worked in the sector for most of my career I have a good understanding of the various schemes, and the challenges both in providing housing and accessing it. As we all know it is one of the biggest challenges facing our communities at the moment and there appears to be no quick solution.
It is a topic that many have a view on, and there are many different views!
Some believe it is simply a supply issue, but when some developments are put forward for specific areas it gets more complicated. Schemes are rejected because of environmental concerns, impact on existing homes and scale. Funding can also be a challenge. Big investment groups are willing to build but they want to rent to have a return on their investment, this can be challenged because people want to buy which can impact the availability of rental units. Developers who want to build to sell need to be encouraged to do so, however some planning requirements can discourage this and make is financially unviable. For those that want to buy, there is a frustration when housing is built or leased solely for social housing. When you are years waiting on social housing there is a frustration when everything built is for private purchase.
In my humble view there has and will always need to be a range of housing options so that everyone can have a place to call home. There needs to be a balance in the type of housing provided. Getting this balance right is the issue.
Affordable Housing is part of the solution and today we looked at the process that will be used to decide who will be selected when the first development comes available.
The draft Scheme of Priorities for Affordable Housing was considered by the Housing and Corporate Estate Strategic Policy Committee at a special meeting on 25th August 2022. The SPC provides an opportunity for some Councillors and members of the community and relevant sectors to look at a proposal before it comes to the full Council. Queries can be raised and debated. I currently sit on this SPC.
The adoption of a scheme of priorities is a reserved function (Section 11(4) – Affordable Housing Act 2021), this means that it is the role of the Councillors to adopt it. An executive function means that the officials get to decide on a matter and the Councillors do not have the deciding say but generally can express a view.
Prior to notifying the public that it intends to facilitate the purchase of affordable dwellings under affordable dwelling purchase arrangements a local authority must make a scheme of priorities. This scheme of priorities will be used to determine the order of priority where demand exceeds available housing.
Wicklow County Council has made an application to the Department for funding for an affordable housing purchase scheme. If successful, this would see an affordable purchase scheme (constructed by the local authority) launched late 2022/early 2023 with delivery of units in Q1 2023. As such a scheme of priorities is now required.
The first ever scheme in Wicklow is proposed in Wicklow Town and will consist of 36 homes.
This proposal was warmly welcomed by the vast majority of Councillors who like me know there is a huge demand for this scheme and many more such schemes to come into the County. How the scheme is managed is laid out in legislation and there are restrictions. One issue I raised first at the Housing SPC and was raised again today and relates to how priority of applications will be managed.
The legislation allows for the Council to choose to go with 30% for those living or with a defined connection with Wicklow & 70% Wicklow and all other Counties applicants, or 100% Wicklow all other Counties applicants.
We proposed the first option to try and help those living in the County to have a better chance of accessing the scheme.
Using a date of application as a factor for considering who is successful or not was a real issue for debate. I also raised this at the SPC as I was concerned that it might disadvantage those who had difficulty applying to the scheme online or perhaps who were late to hear about the scheme application date.
This view was shared by nearly all Councillors. The current legislation requires that the 70% of homes above or 100% if we had opted for that, must use this ‘date’ criteria. There is also no system in use to determine a lottery system for the 30% at present. There was a call to amend the scheme and to request a lottery be included to the Minister for all homes. The Chief Executive and Director of Housing confirmed that this would delay the scheme and could not be put in place for 70% of the units as current legislation does not allow this.
As this matter had already been discussed and debated at length at the Housing SPC and the Wicklow Municipal District meeting, and due to the delay, I was not in agreement to support this motion. Instead, I voted for the scheme to proceed. Changes can be made to this scheme of priorities again in 6 months which is likely to be the timeline for the next scheme, and this was agreeable. What needs to happen now is for us to work on putting a system in place to allow a lottery system and to support the Council officials to do this. It is my intention to work hard on this over the coming months.
In the next few weeks Councillors will be invited to a workshop where the full details of this scheme and the application process will be outlined so that we can support our communities in the process. It’s a small first scheme, but I am really encouraged to see these schemes becoming a reality and can’t wait to see a scheme in Bray, which is currently being examined at the Rehills land, Lower Dargle Rd.
Changing Places requirements for events
A motion submitted by a number of other Councillors and I was put forward to the members today seeking their support. The motion called on all event organisers, organising events in excess of 5,000 attendees, be required to provide a permanent or temporary changing places facility. I was delighted to see the support of both the members and the Council officials. There are some legal issues to work through. Such a request cannot be made legally binding under existing legalisation however a comply or explain approach will be used. It’s the beginning of making events more inclusive for everyone in the community, lots more work to do on this issue but its moving in the right direction.
Update Part Two will issue tomorrow and will focus on the Chief Executives Report for the last two months. As always get in touch if you need any additional information.