Planning and Development (Amendment) (20 per cent Provision of Social and Affordable Housing) Bill 2021: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Planning and Development Act 2000 to delete the sunset clause which affords an exemption to developers who secure planning permission before 2026 to provide 20 per cent of the relevant land or houses for social and affordable housing.

I can assure the Leas-Cheann Comhairle the original Title of the Bill was much shorter but apparently it was not legally correct, which is why it is more of a mouthful.

Rising house prices have been a feature of governments in this State for 30 years. When Fianna Fáil was last in Government, during the Celtic tiger period, we saw house prices rise by a factor of almost 200% over that period and in Dublin by over 400%. Since 2013, exactly the same thing has been happening. The latest data we have from the Central Statistics Office, CSO, property price register, published yesterday, show that from 2013, which was the bottom of house prices post recession, we have almost seen a doubling in prices both in Dublin and State-wide for houses and apartments. The most recent figures show that State-wide we have seen an increase in the past 12 months of over 9%, with over 8% in Dublin, and an astonishing increase across the Border counties of 16% in real house price inflation.

The reason for this is not solely Covid nor the actions of the private sector. The primary reason for this is the policies pursued by Government over many years, namely, an over-reliance on the private sector to meet social and affordable housing need, underinvestment in social and, particularly, affordable housing, and inflationary measures such as the help-to-buy scheme, dramatically increased by Fianna Fáil when it took office, and the highly controversial though yet to be finalised shared equity loan scheme, both of which, almost any economist worth his or her salt will tell us, will continue to push house prices up further. There is no question that after Fine Gael with Enda Kenny, Fine Gael with Leo Varadkar and now Fine Gael with Mícheál Martin as Tánaiste - I apologise, I meant as Taoiseach, but it is so hard to tell these days what his actual role is - what is very clear is house prices will continue to rise.

At the same time, the Government's recent housing plan has a paltry proposal for the direct delivery of affordable homes by local authorities, approved housing bodies and others over the next number of years. It is saying it may deliver approximately 2,200 affordable homes to rent or buy next year, possibly 3,400 the year after and then maybe moving up to 4,000 in 2024 and 2025. That is nowhere close to the volume of genuinely affordable homes to rent or buy that working people, whether they are first-time buyers or those who have lost their family home due to relationship breakdown or indeed due to repossession after the crash, actually need.

What is even more shocking is that when we read the text and the fine print of the Government's new housing plan, despite the Minister with responsibility for housing, Deputy Darragh O'Brien's claim he was going to restore Part V in the Planning and Development Act, which provides for 20% social and affordable housing in all private developments, which was reduced to 10% as a result of changes by Fine Gael, and which the Minister was going to restore to 20%, what he has actually done in his housing plan is give an exemption for any private landowner who bought land between 2015 and 2021 and who has yet to apply for planning permission. That means if you are Cairn Homes, Hines or the Ronan Group, you are responsible for Poolbeg, Clonburris or wherever, and you have not yet put in planning permission, then you have a free bye-ball from now until 2026 whereby if you put in your planning application, you will only have to deliver 10% social housing. Consequently, not a single affordable home for working families to rent or buy will be delivered on any of these schemes. This is from a Government that says it represents a fundamental shift in housing policy towards the State. What this get-out clause or sweetheart deal by the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, for large landowners and developers really represents is a continuation of the same failed policies of Fine Gael.

The Bill before us today, which we intend to introduce using our Private Members' time next week, is a very simple one. It removes that exemption. It says that, from the passing of this Bill, any landowner making an application for a private housing residential development will have to provide 20% social and affordable housing. Thus we will get the 10% social housing we would otherwise get and we get the 10% affordable housing. Killian Woods, writing in the Business Post, who broke this story two weeks ago, estimated that thanks to the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, we are throwing away 10,000 genuinely affordable homes between now and 2025. Those are not the actions of a Government serious about affordable housing. Those are not the actions of a Government that represents working people. It is another sign of a Government that is kowtowing to the lobbying interests of large landowners, developers and institutional investors. I will not stand for it, nor will Sinn Féin. That is why we are moving this Bill.

Is the Bill being opposed? The Bill is not being opposed.

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.