Question mark over funding for 700-bed student accommodation

A 700-bed student accommodation project on the country’s newest third-level campus depends on EU approval for a funding system, due to question marks over its effect on government debt.

Dublin Institute of Technology and the Grangegorman Development Agency (GDA) want to build the apartments within the north inner city campus where more than 1,000 students are already attending lectures since 2014.

However, institutes of technology have been precluded from borrowing, as to do so would add to general government debt.

Instead, DIT and the GDA propose that the project be funded almost entirely by the private sector.

They argue that this planned hybrid scheme is not a standard public-private partnership, and would not, therefore, add to government debt. But concerns were raised through the Department of Education by the National Development Finance Agency, an arm of the National Treasury Management Agency, which oversees government borrowing.

“These concerns related primarily to the treatment of the project by Eurostat, ie that it would be considered ‘on balance sheet’,” officials of the Department of Education told Housing Minister Simon Coveney in May.

In notes prepared for the meeting, released to the Irish Examiner under Freedom of Information law, it is stated that the finalised model would be presented to the Central Statistics Office and ultimately to Eurostat for consideration.

“It is hoped that the model developed is accepted by the CSO/Eurostat as being ‘off balance sheet’. Depending on the outcome of this, there is potential for this to serve as a model for other student accommodation projects,” Mr Coveney was told.

While the GDA and DIT have since begun discussions with the CSO, the likely outcome, or how long an ultimate decision will take are unclear.

Department of Education secretary general Seán Ó Foghlú told John McCarthy, his counterpart at the Department of Housing, that eight other institutes of technology have land available for student accommodation development. They are: Athlone, Cork, Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design & Technology, Galway-Mayo, Letterkenny, Limerick, Tallaght, and Tralee. The Government’s Rebuilding Ireland housing strategy said in July that a funding mechanism will be established to help institutes of technology develop their student accommodation capacity.

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