I realise that this Bill constitutes the final stage of Government policy begun in 1985 or, perhaps, earlier. Its provisions create three new local authorities to replace Dublin County Council. Many people are sad that Dublin County Council, set up as an administrative authority in the 1890s, is about to be abolished. In some respects I am inclined to the view that local government around Dublin needs more power delegated by the Department rather than more local authorities.
While many provisions of the Bill are welcome others give rise to many queries, for example, whether they will lead to increased efficiency or even greater confusion than at present. Under the present system there had been very little co-operation between councillors representing the city and county of Dublin although there was co-operation and co-ordination at management level. Sometimes it was hard to see it but theoretically it was there under the city and county manager. Obviously there has to be co-ordination. The various services such as housing, roads, sewerage and water have to be provided at individual council level but others will have to be provided on a regional basis where they will be looked after by one authority and contracted to others.
At the beginning of the century Dublin people lived in very overcrowded conditions. We have now moved from that trend and the population of the city and county has grown considerably during the past century. People sought improved living standards and moved to the developing suburbs. For many years that resulted in the city boundary being extended so that houses were always built in the city. Eventually people worried that, if the trend continued, the county would shrink. The county council fought back and asked that these boundary changes be scrapped.
The last major change in the early 1950s led to a considerable number of extra houses being built in the city area. Since then, Dublin Corporation, which has always been under pressure to house its citizens, has had to buy land and build houses in the county. We also had boundary changes in 1985 and, overall, the city lost ground. They gained some places such as Ballymun in my own constituency but they lost Baldoyle, Sutton and so on and overall there was no great change.
Following the last major change in the 1950's Dublin Corporation bought land in the county and built on it. It gave some to private builders so that there would be a good social mix. In all Dublin Corporation built 11,000 houses in the county area for which it obtained approval from the county council and the Department of the Environment. At present 7,500 of those 11,000 houses are tenancy dwellings with the rent paid weekly. The remainder are being bought out by the tenants. The 7,500 houses comprise about 40 per cent of the total corporation housing stock, excluding flats. The bulk of the vacancies arise in the county.
Most of the corporation housing tenants in the city area have been there a long time. They rarely move from the area with the result that very few vacancies arise. When they do there is enormous demand for them. If these 11,000 houses had not been built by Dublin Corporation, the equivalent of five or six Ballymuns would have been the only option open to it.
As city councillors the part of the Bill about which we are concerned is section 35 and the Third Schedule. I should like to comment on the two main aspects: land and housing. Housing falls into the 7,500 rented dwellings category and the balance are tenant purchase houses. Most of the 3,500 tenant purchase houses may have been fully bought out at this stage, I do not have the figures. Deputy Seán Kenny gave the housing waiting list figures earlier. Dublin Corporation has just over 5,000 on its housing waiting list and in excess of 7,000 on its transfer list whereas the county has only 2,400 on its housing list. If all these houses are transferred to the authority in which they exist how will the city provide housing for its citizens in future?
Opening the Second Stage debate the Minister spoke about being fair in whatever arrangement was arrived at. If you have to hand over everything there is nothing fair about that. For a start Dublin Corporation will be at the loss of the rent from the 7,500 dwellings. The point has often been made that there is no net revenue from local authority dwellings and that we spend more on maintenance than we collect in rent. That is true but it is caused by many factors. As we discovered in 1988, if you sell half the houses maintenance costs are not halved because roads, parks, water, sewerage and so on are all charged against the maintenance budget in Dublin Corporation. Even when half the houses are sold many of those bills remain. When we say we spend more on maintenance than we collect that is not true. By and large the houses in the county are relatively new, built about 20 years ago. They are in better condition than many of the older houses in the city and there is a net revenue from them.
Dublin Corporation built in the county because land was not available to cater for housing needs. I accept that small infill sites are being developed but this depends on the funding available from the Department. One can certainly build in the inner city but not on the scale of ten years ago when we built 1,500 houses per year. Now that the Department is giving more money to the corporation it is looking at sites. Most of the plans submitted to us are in respect of small schemes, they involve professional work and absorb much of the time of the corporation officials.
We do not want to go back to the situation which prevailed at the turn of the century, people cannot be asked to live in overcrowded housing accommodation and we cannot adopt the European style of building high rise dwellings. People in Ireland do not like to live in dwellings which are 15 or 25 storeys high.
Regardless of what happens, the houses in the county will have to be available solely to the corporation or through some type of joint list for a number of years to allow time for a replacement scheme. We cannot allow this to turn into something like the sale of the century. If houses are transferred to the county some money must be handed over to allow the corporation to acquire sites and build replacements within the city area. The Bill refers to a scheme being set up. The managers will have a meeting to make arrangements and next year or the year after they will be told whether there will be a cash handover. That seems very strange as ideally, all that should have happened before the legislation goes through. As somebody said, the dowery should be known before the marriage takes place.
The second category is where tenants are buying their houses from Dublin Corporation under the tenant purchase scheme. At present 3,500 tenants buy their houses from Dublin Corporation which in turn funds its capital works and refurbishment programme from that money. There is no logical reason to change the present arrangement as it would involve unnecessary bureaucracy. It would be wrong to take the money from Dublin Corporation and there is no logic in interfering with the present arrangements under the tenant purchase scheme.
There are no Dublin County councillors in the Chamber this morning, but having listened to them I accept they have a genuine gripe about housing. They represent constituents who are Dublin Corporation tenants in the county areas. They believe the channels of communication between county councillors and the corporation are not good. There is probably some validity in that assertion. Dublin County Council has houses in Ballymun and Santry and I have experienced the reverse situation although on a much smaller scale.
The land banks are a different matter. There is no sense in forcing Dublin Corporation to hand over its lands in the county areas. The corporation has over 1,800 acres of land in the county, I understand the county council has a similar amount and that a couple of hundred acres is in joint ownership. There have been times in the past when Dublin County Council and Dublin Corporation agreed that land should be taken into public ownership and, as neither was able to buy it on its own, it was felt that the best thing to do was to take the land into joint public ownership. They always cooperated in matters of that kind. The corporation land bank is valued at £40 million and it is obvious that, as the county owns 1,800 acres, it has more than it needs for its short term use. Why is it suggested that corporation lands should be handed over? I know county councillors are much more experienced than city councillors at making land deals and they have pulled many a stroke when rezoning land for developers. Is it proposed that the corporation's land be handed over so that the county councillors can continue with the fun and games of land deals? The Department has criticised the decisions on rezoning yet it appears to take the side of the county council by handing lands over to it — that is the way city councillors see it. We must also ask if the county council will be free to dispose of these assets which the corporation originally acquired from its own funds. If this land is handed over to the county council, ratepayers in the county council area will benefit. It appears that if the land is handed over instead of being acquired by statutory order, the county council will be free to dispose of it.
I hope the proposed regional authorities will be given real powers, otherwise they will be just talking shops. Under the present arrangement there is a lack of co-ordination and with four authorities it could be far worse unless the regional authorities have real power.
Recently the city councillors went on a bus tour of the city-county boundary areas. Many councillors do not seem to know where the boundaries, are but others seem to be acquainted with them. The itinerant sites, some official but mostly unofficial, are sited on the boundaries, which creates problems. There is a similar problem with Dunsink tiphead which is located a couple of hundred yards inside the county boundary. The county council is not very worried about this because it does not have houses nearby but the corporation houses are very near it. I wish there was provision in this Bill which would allow any local authority to demand a say in the running of any facility within half a mile of its boundary.
A recent trend is that people want to live in the city. However, if we stop furtheir development in the county area all the development will take place in the city. I accept some sites have to be developed but church land and lands belonging to institutions, green areas around Glasnevin and Drumcondra — I could rattle off six or seven institutions — have all been sold recently for development. It is now getting to the stage that there will not be a blade of grass in the city, that is going from one extreme to another. Certainly we have to develop derelict sites but we should not build on green field sites. I know that Dublin people still want to live in the suburbs and we should foster that trend.
City councillors are worried about the fact that under the Bill there is neither a system of arbitration nor appeals system against decisions. Having built up a land bank and a portfolio of houses over the years councillors feel very strongly that they should not be taken from the corporation and if there is some arrangement in future years for the transfer of this property there should be a system of arbitration and appeal so that justice will be seen to be done. Otherwise the city ratepayers may take the matter to court.