Other Questions. - Local Authority Funding.

Billy Timmins


5 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for the Environment and Local Government if he has received proposals from a local authority seeking funding for a pilot project scheme to purchase land at a green field site in order to develop a planned town to cater for the individual needs of that local authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9764/00]

I have not received proposals from a local authority seeking funding for a pilot project scheme to purchase land to develop a planned town. Local authorities are being encouraged by my Department to acquire the land required to meet the social and affordable housing output targets identified in the national development plan and more particularly to meet the target of 22,000 housing starts in the multi-annual local authority housing programme for the period 2000-03.

The Housing Finance Agency assists local authorities with loan finance for housing land acquisition. The cost of any land acquisition used for the development of local authority housing, together with any holding charges incurred for up to five years, is funded by the housing capital allocations from my Department. Broadly similar arrangements apply in respect of the other social and affordable housing schemes.

Any development of green field sites for housing or of "new towns" should have regard to proper planning considerations. Strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area were published in March 1999 and are currently being reviewed and updated. Similar studies are ongoing in the other major urban centres. These guidelines provide for a co-ordinated approach to land use, infrastructural provision and housing development.

I thank the Minister for his reply. Many developers have purchased large tracts of land, especially in the counties surrounding Dublin, including the Minster's county, over a long period of time in anticipation that they would be serviced. As a result they are dictating to local authorities what land should be zoned and developed. This is the case in my county. Ulti mately, these developers make large profits which are passed on to the consumer.

A question to the Minister.

Does the Minister agree that in view of what has happened in Kilbride in his county, local authorities should consider the idea of buying 200 or 300 acres on green field sites with a view to developing them for local authority and private housing? Does he also agree that if this were to happen it would not be necessary to make huge profits and would act as a fly in the ointment to developers because they would be unsure where to purchase land in the future? Drastic situations require drastic remedies and perhaps the Minister might be innovative in this area.

We are prepared to look at any proposals by local authorities or others to increase the housing supply. A proposal along the lines the Deputy suggested would have to fit in with the proper planning and development of an area. The strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area will influence and shape the development plans in Dublin, Kildare, Wicklow and Meath. It is not as simple as a local authority deciding to go into an area and buying 300 acres of land to create a town or village. As long as proposals conform to the development plans and to the strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area they will be considered.

Does the Minister think it is acceptable that land in south County Dublin, which had an agricultural value of £17,000 a number of years ago, will be sold this week for £17 million, as was reported in The Irish Times? Is it acceptable that the tract of land referred to in Kilbride, which was apparently bought for £6 million, is now worth £100 million? What measures will the Minister introduce to deal with that level of speculation in land prices which is driving up the price of houses and putting them beyond the reach of many families?

The Deputy will have an opportunity to discuss some of the measures I am introducing to provide land for housing at a reasonable cost during Committee Stage of the Planning and Development Bill next week. The land to which he referred in Kilbride will only be worth £100 million if the person concerned gets planning permission for it. That is not certain, particularly if people take into account the strategic planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area.

Does the Minister agree that there would be advantages from cost, social mix and servicing points of view in encouraging the clustering of development around villages rather than the type of scattered development we see in the countryside which is causing problems for many local authorities? Does he agree that it would be worthwhile for himself and his Department to look at means of encouraging local authorities to approach development on that basis and thereby have viable communities in small villages throughout the countryside?

Will the Minister look favourably at proposals if they comply with the guidelines on sustainable development?

I am in favour of any type of sustainable development or any proposal which complies with the proper planning and development of an area, although it does not necessarily need to come to me. What Deputy Dukes said is at the heart of what we are talking about in the strategic planning guidelines. The Deputy is right; it would be more effective, efficient and sustainable and a better use of resources if we concentrate developments on existing settlements rather than scattering them. We will encourage local authorities to pursue that policy.