With just over €78 million at its disposal Laois County Council has set out its stall and agreed on its spending priorities for next year.
In addition to its revenue budget the local authority also has a projected capital allocation of a further €140 million over the next three years.
The sources for the Council’s current budget funding for 2020 is over two-thirds direct grant funding from Government at just over €55.5m; a further €14 million comes from commercial rates and the balance of €9m from the local property tax (LPT).
Not surprisingly, top of the Council’s shopping list is housing.
Despite frustratingly long lead in times between planning, design and build – often in excess of 18 months – there are encouraging signs that the Council are making headway in making more social housing available.
Laois County Council expects to spend approximately €55 million on a housing construction programme over the next three years and a further €5m on a housing acquisition programme. In recent years it has been faster and more economical to purchase houses directly off the market than to go the construction route.
The Council’s housing programme is on course to deliver over 1,000 homes in the period 2018 to 2021, which is well ahead of the target of 627 which had been set down for Laois by the Department of Housing and Local Government.
The new homes are being delivered through a blend of measures including direct build, leasing, turnkey, and acquisitions. The Council is on course to provide new homes for 135 families within 2019.
The overall total of new homes provided by Laois County Council in the past 5 years is 726, with a further 314 planned for 2020 and 400 scheduled for 2021, as they ramp up their building programme and additional resources are made available.
The Council has also used its powers under the Compulsory Purchase (CPO) legislation to secure 19 houses which had been abandoned or derelict. These are restored and returned to the social housing stock.
In addition the Council will have assisted over 1,000 applicants, cumulatively, to source and secure accommodation through the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) by the end of the year.
Accordingly, the local authority is on course to provide solutions to the housing needs of over 1,700 families in the 5-year period up to the end of 2019 and to 814 families in 2019 alone.
The housing section of the Council intend to continue a high level of activity next year and beyond with a strategy to purchase sites and lands in high demand locations.
Another such significant land acquisition on the Stradbally Road in Portlaoise is understood to be imminent and due to be confirmed later this month.
The Council have also determined to provide more homes to accommodate smaller family units and single person applicants reflecting the fact that 78% of those on the housing list. In total there are 780 are in this category on the Laois housing list.
Apartments at the former County Hotel
This is the kind of provision that is planned for instance on the site of the former County Hotel on Main Street in Portlaoise, which has been acquired by the Council to provide town centre apartments.
When questioned on the time-frame for the delivery of these apartments at a previous meeting the Director of Housing, Mr Michael Rainey informed the Council Chairman, Cllr Willie Aird that it could be up to 18 months before any actual construction would get underway on this site, as it’s an arduous process requiring four separate stages of approval from the Department.
Cllr Aird noted that the scaffolding going up around the disused premises had created the impression that building work would progress much sooner.
“I have two clients who each have their names down for one of those apartments,” he flagged to the Housing Director, adding, “One of them wants to be near the church, the other closer to his favourite pub.”
The Council plan to continue working closely with Approved Housing Bodies in the delivery of more homes with particular emphasis on the former Convent and CBS lands in Portlaoise, as well as at O’ Moore Place, Knockmay and Hepburn Court.
However, an indication that the progress on housing is not sufficient and not coming fast enough for some is the local authority provision in its 2020 Budget for homelessness and emergency accommodation. €642,500 is set aside in the 2020 allocation to prioritise the prevention of homelessness.
The 2020 Budget also provides additional finance for the maintenance and improvement of the Council’s own housing stock as this has been repeatedly sought by councillors. Over €3.3 million has been allocated in the revenue budget for next year to address repairs and maintenance of the Council’s 2,255 housing units.
In keeping with the wishes of the elected councillors in Laois the local authority has not increased either commercial rates or the LPT for 2020, as many other Councils have done so, along with hikes in other areas such as parking fees.