I thank the committee for the invitation to give evidence on this important topic. I am the director general of Engineers Ireland. I am accompanied by Dr. Kieran Feighan, a past president of Engineers Ireland and a chartered engineer. He is joining me in representing our institution at this morning's meeting.
Engineers Ireland is one of the oldest and largest representative bodies on the island, with more than 25,000 members. This membership incorporates all disciplines of engineering, including consulting and contracting organisations, the public sector, semi-State bodies and educational institutions.
Earlier this year, we published The State of Ireland 2019: A review of housing and infrastructure in Ireland, copies of which I have with me. The report's findings are based on the deliberations of an advisory group of engineers and other housing professionals from the public and private sectors. At the launch of the report, we were pleased to get the perspectives of many stakeholders and we hosted a panel discussion that included Mr. John Moran, chairman of the LDA. The report covers five core housing issues, the first of which is "land and supporting infrastructure". We note that urban land redevelopment offers major potential to meet housing demand and to rejuvenate areas of our towns and cities. The State is a significant landowner and should play an active and transformative role in land management.
In this context, there was very strong support among our expert advisory group for the establishment of the LDA. Indeed, one of our key recommendations in our report is to, "Actively manage public land, ensuring the Land Development Agency has a strong mandate and sufficient capacity to coordinate the development of State lands and to assemble strategic land banks from a mixture of public and private lands." Engineers Ireland therefore welcomes the general scheme of the Land Development Agency Bill 2019, which establishes the LDA on a primary legislative basis. We have five recommendations for the Bill, generally relating to head 8, covering the objectives of the LDA, and head 9, covering the functions of the LDA. I will outline each recommendation briefly.
The first recommendation is on clarity on institutional relationships. There are many State and Semi-state organisations involved in or related to land development activities. Indeed, the complexity of the interactions between the landholdings of these bodies partially gave rise to the LDA. Much greater clarity is needed in regard to the hierarchy of objectives, powers and compellability that will govern the interactions of the LDA with a range of State, semi-State and local authority bodies. These include existing local authority functions in planning and land disposal, the potential functions and powers of directly elected mayors, and the statutory role of the National Transport Authority in regard to the integration of transport and land use planning in the greater Dublin area and nationally.
Second, on a co-ordinated approach to infrastructure development, the LDA has major potential to embrace a cross-departmental approach to land management and development. A key constraint to land development and housing construction, however, is the availability and capacity of infrastructure, for example, transport, electricity and water infrastructure. Currently, there is a clear lack of co-ordination in the planning and delivery of infrastructure, with responsibility shared across many bodies. Engineers Ireland has consistently called for a single infrastructure unit, or national infrastructure commission, for the prioritisation, procurement and co-ordination of all key public infrastructure projects.
Third, on compulsory purchase orders, we strongly support the view that the LDA should have sufficient powers to carry out its mandate efficiently and effectively, and we believe these powers should include the power to purchase land compulsorily. Even if these powers are used infrequently, they send an appropriate signal to the market.
Fourth, on having an explicit focus on developing sustainable communities and quality homes, the general scheme of the Bill contains references to supporting the implementation of the national planning framework and having regard to the policy of the Government on proper planning and sustainable development. These references do not go far enough. We are in a climate emergency. Developing sustainable communities must be a fundamental objective of the LDA, added to what is in head 8, subhead 2. For example, LDA-developed communities should have excellent public transport links, highly energy-efficient housing and recreational amenities, and they should promote biodiversity.
Fifth, with regard to resources and professional competence, the LDA should directly employ qualified professional construction specialists, including chartered engineers, so that it has the in-house skills and expertise to manage the buildings, infrastructure and land assets, and liabilities of those assets, on its register. These competences will enable the LDA to maximise potential for sustainable housing development, but also the strong element of asset management that could be crucial in fulfilling its objectives. Furthermore, if the LDA is to provide professional services to relevant public bodies, as stated in the general scheme, these competences will be crucial.
The potential for the work of the LDA to transform Ireland's approach to land management should not be underestimated. However, the LDA must have a strong legislative mandate and should be well governed and adequately resourced with funding and expertise to grasp fully these opportunities for environmental, social and economic transformation.