I thank the Chair and members for inviting us to appear. I am joined by my colleague, Mr. Phelim O’Neill, head of land at the Land Development Agency. We will do all we can to assist the committee with its pre-legislative scrutiny of the general scheme of the Bill. I will provide members with an update on what the LDA has done in its start-up phase regarding the sites in our initial portfolio and the significant progress it has made in other areas since it was set up one year ago. I will also outline our plans for the remainder of 2019 and into 2020.
Our challenge over the past year has been to balance moving as quickly as possible to accelerate the delivery of new homes in the short-term while building from scratch a new and significant Government agency with the appropriate governance, staff, structure and strategy to have what we consider to be a transformational and beneficial impact on land availability and housing supply in the long term. We are fortunate to have a supportive and experienced board of directors and chair, who have provided the LDA with the oversight and direction it needs since they were appointed in January of this year. The board has provided the growing executive and staff team on the ground with clarity of focus. That focus is on opening up land for the development of new homes and providing affordable housing options for our citizens.
On home delivery in the short term, our focus has been on the eight sites in our initial portfolio and identifying the best route to deliver homes and support development on these sites in as expeditious and sustainable a way as possible. With that in mind, we have advanced preliminary feasibility work on the eight sites, which have the capacity to deliver approximately 3,000 new homes. One challenge was that the sites were quite raw and there was little or no work done on advancing the development process on them prior to the LDA becoming involved. We have completed the initial feasibility work and, as such, professional teams have been appointed to advance planning applications for three of the sites, including in Skerries in north County Dublin, where approximately 250 homes will be delivered, on the site of the former St. Kevin’s Hospital in Cork city which should yield approximately 200 homes, and at the former Devoy Barracks in Naas, County Kildare, which should yield approximately 200 homes. In addition to the eight initial sites, the LDA is working on a ninth site in partnership with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. We anticipate it will deliver approximately 600 social and affordable homes in Shanganagh, Shankill, south County Dublin. The design work is well advanced and we aim to lodge the planning application before the end of the year. Based on current information, we expect construction to start in late 2020, subject to the approval of the planning authority and the elected members of the county council. In parallel with our work on the four sites I mentioned, further design teams will be appointed in the coming months. We aim to have an ongoing pipeline of planning applications and construction starts.
Although the formal legal transfer of sites is to take place upon enactment of the Bill, the LDA has had full access to the sites in order to allow it to complete any necessary work in advance of their development. The legal transfer has not held us up. The transitionary period to which I referred is supported by pre-transfer agreements with landowners being put in place, as per the Government’s decision on the transfer of the lands. This will help to ensure continued co-operation and smooth the way for the legal transfer upon enactment by performing as much of the upfront legal work as we can
We are continually looking for new opportunities beyond the initial portfolio. In this respect, we are working well with local authorities and other State bodies in regard to accessing additional land. As members may appreciate, accessing this land is never straightforward, particularly where there are existing operations and uses on the land. However, I am confident the LDA will gain access to additional State lands in the coming months and over the long term. It is difficult to identify these lands in this statement due to negotiation sensitivities which I hope members will understand, but I would welcome the opportunity to update the committee on progress on a regular basis. In terms of ongoing opportunities, of particular importance is that the proposed legislative mandate to identify relevant public lands using the wording in the draft Bill and to advise Government on their management is a key enabler for the LDA.
On the provision of affordable homes, of perhaps greater significance than our short-term delivery of units is the development of mechanisms to make accessing homes more affordable. We are interested in innovation in respect of all housing tenures and make no secret of our ambition to develop scalable and more affordable renting mechanisms and platforms. We are supported by our emerging partnerships with local authorities. We are equally ambitious about meeting and, often, exceeding the 40% minimum social and affordable requirement on all sites. For example, our aim is to provide 100% social and affordable homes on the Shanganagh site I mentioned. We consider this a real statement of intent and a concrete example of the impact we are looking to make in the short term. Our work in this area can help capitalise on, and provide scale to, the emerging affordable or mid-market rental platform being championed at the site on Enniskerry Road, County Dublin. Our long-term ambition is that affordable rental homes become a viable and available option for citizens, as is the case in other European cities such as Vienna.
Making a long-term impact is of paramount importance. Although there is an urgent requirement to focus on short-term need given the scale of housing supply pressures, we must also look at the long term. In light of the historically volatile nature of our housing market, we cannot afford to lose sight of the importance of measures that will have an enduring and stabilising effect in the long-term. The overriding motivation for the establishment of the LDA was to engender this long-term stability, utilising a wide range of tools, including more effective usage of State-owned lands, targeted deployment of State capital and other measures. This, by its nature, is complex work and many of its benefits will only become visible and tangible over time. However, I hope members will agree that it is no less important for that.
A key component of our work in this space is the development of long-term strategies for the LDA’s activities in our main city locations. This is a multi-year project that will allow us to focus our resources effectively within these locations to avoid haphazard decision making, such as where we might be interested in acquiring or opening up land at appropriate times in the economic cycle, and to support our national objective of compact and sustainable growth. Other work supporting this long-term benefit includes the development of a State lands database. This will give the State, for the first time, a comprehensive repository of information on the lands within its control and provide a valuable tool for managing the State’s interests in a cohesive and co-ordinated manner. The first major deliverable from this activity is expected in the coming months and focuses on State lands in Galway. We hope it will provide us with a prototype which can be used as a pilot for developing the database nationwide.
On building a new organisation from scratch, we have had to design and build the operating and institutional platform of the LDA, which is an entirely new organisation, in a way that will create a valuable asset for the State. This requires a skilled and experienced staff base, as well as procurement frameworks and other processes and procedures to allow it to operate as efficiently as possible, and in addition to governance structures to ensure robust oversight and accountability as a public body. With this aim, the board assembled comprises a wide range of relevant skills and experience, with private sector and public sector knowledge. The board, with Mr. John Moran as chair, was formally constituted in January. We have also made significant progress in hiring the right mix of skills to carry out the agency’s duties on a day-to-day basis. From a standing start, we have hired 11 direct employees with another due to start next week, all of whom are experienced professionals with detailed knowledge of property, finance, human resources, operations and organisational development.
We will likely double this resource base over the coming year.
We have put in place new governance structures and operational platforms that will serve the agency’s needs, levering best practice from other State bodies and the private sector. This will add momentum for the LDA to the deliver on its objectives, while also providing for effective oversight. To complement our in-house staff, we have assembled a series of frameworks for engaging with external providers of professional services, such as architects, project managers and other essential partners. This has allowed us to harness the external knowledge we need in an effective and cost-efficient way. Professional service costs are an inherent feature of property development but, as custodians of State resources, we will constantly seek to manage these costs in a way that ensures value for money.
I will conclude by assuring the committee of our commitment to meeting our ambitions and reiterating our intention to make a tangible, beneficial and lasting difference to the housing market. While 2019 has been primarily about putting in place the building blocks necessary to achieve this, I am confident that 2020 will be the year in which the LDA will be seen to make a visible and tangible impact. I am conscious that we cannot achieve our aims without the ongoing support of this committee and our other stakeholders. I thank the committee for the support it has shown to us so far and I look forward to continuing to work with members constructively to achieve our shared goal of accelerating the delivery of new homes, as well as the creation of liveable communities in a manner consistent with our compact growth objectives. A major part of that work includes members' scrutiny of the general scheme of the Land Development Agency Bill, which is essential to give the LDA the tools it needs to deliver the success we collectively want it to achieve. My colleague and I will be happy to take your questions.