Ireland
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Housing Agency scheme has made ‘little to no progress’ in developing half of the sites in portfolio, audit finds

An audit by the State’s spending watchdog has found a scheme run by the Housing Agency to build social housing on former council-owned land has made little to no progress developing half of the sites in its portfolio.

A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) said “no viable development options” had been identified for 39 of the 73 sites the Housing Agency took over to build housing.

The report said agency officials had assessed that more than 5,000 social housing units could be built on the land, but progress had been made on only a number of sites.

The sites were transferred from local authorities under a 2010 scheme, where councils could offload land they had previously borrowed to buy and faced difficulty making loan repayments following the financial crash.

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The C&AG report said 13 years after the scheme was set up almost half of the sites had “no development plans or proposals for delivering social or affordable housing”.

The report said while the Housing Agency had engaged with local authorities, other State agencies and housing bodies, “no viable development options have yet been identified” for 39 sites.

It added that “relatively little progress” had been made by the Housing Agency to build on the land in the past four years.

The State body had sought expressions of interest from not-for-profit housing bodies to build homes on 15 of the sites, but the report said “no suitable proposals were received”. At present, 14 of the plots of land are leased to farmers, while one site is leased to a GAA club.

To date, 676 social housing units had been built across 14 sites under the scheme, it said.

The report was one of a series of audits into public spending published by the C&AG on Friday.

Another report raised issues with two schemes to retrofit homes to make them more energy efficient.

The State auditor said there appeared to be issues with the standard of retrofits, where about half of retrofits inspected afterwards required further work.

The report said while inspections were targeted and so may not be representative, they indicated a “substantial risk of non-compliant work” being carried out under both schemes.

It noted there was an underspend of €170 million last year, which the Department of Environment said was due to delays in ramping up the retrofitting schemes. Another report criticised the roll-out of a new finance system in the Civil Service, over delays and other problems.

The move to a single finance system across all Government departments was “significantly behind target”, as well as having run €10 million over budget by the end of 2019, it said.

The report detailed that €62 million had been spent on the new system by the end of last year, with the budget for the project increased to €95 million amid delays.

Last year the secretary general of both the Department of Finance and Department of Public Expenditure reported that staff were “dissatisfied with the system’s performance and functionality” after it was introduced.

Correspondence from the two senior officials said concerns with the new system went beyond “expected teething problems”.

In response the National Shared Services Office said some of the problems had been resolved quickly, while others would require a “costly rebuild” of the new system if introduced.