I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Peter Burke, to the House.
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage
I am grateful for the opportunity to bring the Land Development Agency Bill 2021 before the Seanad. This Bill is a key priority for Government and establishes the Land Development Agency, LDA, on a statutory basis. It sets out the core goals of the LDA to undertake strategic land assembly and to effectively utilise public lands to build affordable homes and sustainable communities.
A number of amendments were made to the Bill by the Dáil and I take this opportunity to highlight some of them. Part 9 of the Bill deals with the delivery of affordable housing on relevant public lands by a developer, including the LDA. It requires the developer of the lands to enter into an agreement with the planning authority to deliver an agreed percentage of affordable housing units for cost-rental or affordable sale, known as a Part 9 agreement. Significant amendments have been made to Part 9 to align it more closely with the Affordable Housing Bill 2021 as this Bill was drafted prior to the Affordable Housing Bill 2021 being published. A provision has now been included to ensure that affordable housing delivered on relevant public lands by the LDA or another developer for purchase or cost rental will be provided fully in accordance with the provisions of the Affordable Housing Bill 2021.
In summary, there are three options for a developer to deliver affordable housing on public land under this Bill: the housing can be designated and leased as cost rental under Part 3 of the Affordable Housing Bill 2021; the housing can be transferred on completion to a planning authority under Part 2 of the Affordable Housing Bill 2021; and the housing can be transferred on completion to the ownership of relevant applicants as nominated by the local authority under an affordable purchase direct sales agreement under Part 2 of the Affordable Housing Bill 2021. I consider this to be a more transparent way of delivering affordable housing on relevant public lands.
The rent for the cost-rental units will be designated in accordance with Part 3 of the Affordable Housing Bill 2021. Where the units are to be sold as affordable purchase to a local authority, the basis for calculating the cost of the unit, if bought from the LDA by a local authority, is clearly specified in Part 9 of the Land Development Agency Bill 2021. This approach will also ensure that if any provisions in the Affordable Housing Bill 2021, including its regulations, change in the future they will automatically apply to any developer of relevant public lands, including the LDA, under a Part 9 affordable housing delivery agreement.
Part 9 has been also amended to provide for 80% affordable housing on relevant public lands in urban areas with a population greater than 150,000, that is, the cities of Dublin and Cork. Section 75(4) of the LDA Bill states that there shall be a specified percentage and section 75(11)(a) specifies that this is 80% for population centres over 150,000. This provision, alongside a further 20% social and affordable housing to be provided under the revised Part V arrangements being introduced in the Affordable Housing Bill 2021, will ensure that there will be 100% affordable and social housing on such lands in our largest cities. It is a minimum of 50% on public lands in other locations in addition to the 20% Part V. The Bill, when published, provided that where a local authority is disposing of land to the LDA, the provisions of section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001 would not apply. This provision in section 58 of the LDA Bill has been amended so that section 183 will not apply where the land has been zoned for housing.
It is appropriate that section 183 will not apply where the land has been zoned for housing as the local authority has, in effect, designated it as appropriate for housing. In the case of local authority lands, it remains the position that it is up to the local authority how best to determine how best to deliver housing on their own lands. Where a local authority wants to dispose of land to the LDA that has not been zoned for housing, the section will continue to apply and the consent of the elected members will be required. I also want to make it clear that the section remains in place for all other local authority land disposals.
The primary role of local authorities as housing authorities will not be altered in any way by this legislation. The LDA will complement that work by providing services to local authorities, at their request, under section 15 to develop large scale complex sites for housing, including social housing. In such projects, the land will predominantly remain in local authority ownership.
I will now outline the main provisions of the Bill in which there are ten Parts.
Part 1 deals and sets out the purposes of the Bill.
Section 2 outlines the purposes of the Bill which, in summary, are to increase the supply of housing in the State.
Section 4 provides the definition of relevant public lands and relevant public bodies which are key definitions for this legislation. Relevant public land is all land in a town with a population greater than 10,000 that is owned by a relevant public body. A relevant public body is a body listed in either Schedule 1 or 2. This Part also provides that the Minister can issue directions to the LDA regarding the performance of its functions.
Part 2 deals with the establishment of the LDA as a designated activity company, DAC, under the Companies Act. It will also facilitate €1.25 billion in equity investment in the LDA from the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA’s, Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF. This Part also deals with the establishment of the board, appointment of the CEO and staff.
Section 14 sets out the functions of the LDA.
Section 15 provides that the LDA will provide services to local authorities, when requested by a local authority to assist them in the development of large-scale, multi-tenure sites for housing and urban development in population centres in excess of 30,000. This will assist with the construction of increased affordable and social housing on local authority-owned sites, including Traveller-specific accommodation and underpins the strong collaborative working which we have seen between the LDA and local authorities to date.
Section 16 provides for the appointment of the board of the LDA. The Public Appointments Service, PAS, Stateboards.ie process for the recruitment of the LDA’s chair is currently under way.
Sections 18 and 19 provide that the LDA will be accountable to the Committee of Public Accounts and other committees of the Oireachtas.
Section 21 deals with the staffing of the agency and also provides for the making of a superannuation scheme by the LDA.
Part 3 deals with the funding of the LDA. The National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2014 will be amended to provide for the capitalisation of the agency through an equity investment from the ISIF of up to €1.25 billion. The LDA will also be able to engage in borrowing up to a limit of €1.25 billion and ministerial consent will be required for LDA borrowing. The initial shareholding in the LDA will be €100 million, with the Minister of Public Expenditure and Reform holding shares with a value of €99 million and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage holding shares with a value of €1 million. Part 3 also provides that the LDA will not be able to enter into capital commitments above a certain level without ministerial consent.
Part 4 provides that the LDA will be able to form subsidiary DACs for the purposes of carrying out its functions. These subsidiaries will be subject to the same level of governance and accountability as the LDA parent company and their published accounts will also be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The formation and winding up of such subsidiaries will require the consent of both the Minister and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.
Part 5 deals with the dissolution of the existing LDA and the transfer of its functions to the new entity.
Part 6 deals with financial reporting and public accountability of the LDA. The accounts of the LDA and its subsidiaries will be prepared in accordance with the Companies Act and will be submitted to the Comptroller and Auditor General.
Part 7 deals with the establishment of a public lands register and arrangements for the acquisition of land by bodies to the LDA.
Sections 50 and 51 provide that the LDA will establish a register of relevant public lands to identify land in urban population centres in excess of 10,000 that may be suitable for housing. This register will be publicly available on the agency’s website.
Section 52 provides that the agency will report periodically to Government on land on the register and will include information on such lands assessed by it to be fit for use for the purposes of this Act. Under section 54, the Government having considered such a report can direct that land of a Schedule 1 public body can be acquired by the agency.
Section 53 provides that where a relevant public body is seeking to dispose of land it must offer it for sale to the LDA in the first instance.
Section 55 provides that where the LDA is acquiring land from relevant public bodies under this Part 7, it will be acquired at market value, taking into account the fundamental requirement in respect of the development of houses on public lands under Part 9. An amendment was made on Committee Stage in the Dáil to include a definition of "market value", which is an accepted technical definition that is used by persons valuing land including the Valuation Office, which will undertake most valuations of land under this part. In order for any valuation of land or property to take place there must be an accepted understanding of what market value means. This definition of "market value" already appears in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's Circulars 11/2015 and 17/2016. In effect, this is an affordable land value which in reality will be a minimal price. I reiterate that when land is being valued under Part 7 it will take into account the proposed use of the land, which will be to deliver significant levels of affordable housing as well as Part V housing. As stated, this will be 100% social and affordable in Dublin and Cork.
Section 57 provides that where the LDA is acquiring land from a local authority under Part &, the provisions of section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001 will not apply. As already mentioned, this provision was amended on Report Stage in the Dáil to provide that where a local authority is disposing of land to the LDA that section 183 will not apply only where the land has been zoned for housing.
Part 8 deals with compulsory purchase order, CPO, powers for the LDA. It is intended that the LDA will primarily purchase private lands for site assembly purposes through agreement with landowners. Part 8 provides that the LDA will have appropriate CPO powers to purchase ransom strips of land, where required, for the purposes of its public functions.
Part 9 deals with the provision of affordable housing. Section 75 provides that where a developer, either the LDA or another developer, is developing relevant public lands that there will be a requirement to enter into an agreement with the planning authority to provide a certain percentage of affordable housing on the lands in line with provisions of the Affordable Housing Bill. Section 77 provides that the Minister may vary the percentage of housing and may also set different percentages for different geographical or administrative areas.
Part 10 deals with amendments to other Acts, including adding the LDA to the list of State bodies empowered to act as development agencies under the Planning Acts. Part 10 also provides that freedom of information, FOI, will fully apply to the LDA from establishment day and also provides that records held by the dissolved LDA body will continue to be subject to freedom of information requirements.
I look forward to our debate on the Bill's provisions. I thank Senators for their attention. I apologise for the delayed start.
That is perfectly okay. I thank the Minister of State for his contribution.
I propose to share time with Senator Kyne, if that is agreeable. We will have five minutes and three minutes, respectively.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for bringing this Bill before us, which seeks to formally establish the LDA. The latter has the potential to be a very useful tool in the delivery of large-scale residential projects across the State, particularly in the main urban centres. Any individual or party that is serious about tackling the supply issues in housing should warmly welcome the establishment of this agency, which will bring significant additionality to the work of local authorities that have been empowered to deliver vast quantities of affordable housing, be it affordable-purchase homes or cost-rental homes through the Affordable Housing Bill. I use the word "additionality" very carefully because it is not a case of replacing the role of local authorities, as some have suggested in the lead-up to this debate. In fact, the resources the LDA will be able to bring to the table will assist local authorities in master planning and the technical preparation of sites. In addition, what the Government is doing in terms of the provisions included in the Affordable Housing Bill is empowering local authorities to deliver affordable-purchase homes and cost-rental homes in association with approved housing bodies. We are going to see those ambitious targets being set out by the Minister in the coming weeks under the new Housing for All plan.
The LDA must identify a number of additional sites in early course.
We know that the LDA has been working on master planning and developing nine sites in recent years. What I would like to see the LDA doing in early course is identifying the next 19 sites in urban centres across the country, including in my county of Waterford and especially in the city. That would signal an intent by the agency to step up the delivery of large-scale units across the country.
I will address some of the main points and provisions in the Bill. We must examine whether the allocation of €1.25 million and the lending capacity for an additional €1.25 million is sufficient capitalisation for the agency. The Minister of State might comment on that.
I saw the beta version of the register of relevant public lands on the LDA's website, which is provided for in the Bill. There is a mapping tool for local authority areas. The city of Waterford was included. It will be a very useful tool for all urban populations of more than 10,000 to see where the public land assets lie, with whom and how they can be progressed in early course. There has been some comment on the CPO powers not going far enough. I believe negotiation is always the best way of resolving issues but it is appropriate that the LDA has the ability to acquire ransom strips.
I am conscious that I must hand over to my colleague, Senator Kyne, but I wish to briefly refer to market value. As the Minister of State identified, it is a technical definition as a result of state-aid rules. What we are looking at here is an affordable land value in terms of transfer which will result in minimal to no cost on a transfer. People keep referring to market value, but when one considers that 100% of a site in Dublin or Cork will be utilised for social and affordable housing, that will result in minimal to no value.
My final point before I hand over relates to sections 56 and 183. I welcome the fact that the Bill provides that where a local authority identifies land for recreational purpose, for example, in a development plan that the executive cannot go over and above the councillors to transfer the land. It only applies in the case of residential land. That should not be a factor because if councils have land in their armoury that is zoned residential, local authorities will have the resources to be able to develop that. I will hand over to my colleague.
I welcome the Minister of State. I acknowledge the work of all colleagues on the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill in the committee. I also acknowledge the work done previously by the then Minister, Eoghan Murphy, to establish the LDA as an entity and to put it on a statutory footing. It is hugely important legislation that effectively acts as a game-changer for strategic lands across the country.
I can point to my area of Galway and the strategic lands at Sandy Road and the Dyke Road at Galway Port. The city council is engaging with the LDA on the development of affordable housing in those areas. They are hugely important, strategic lands at the heart of Galway city within easy commuting distance by walking and cycling. It is a right and proper use of these strategic lands. I acknowledge the importance of the LDA to try to move the situation forward, develop master plans and bring the projects through the planning process, which we expect to see next year for both the Dyke Road and Sandy Road, and the appointment of multidisciplinary design teams to prepare these master plans and go for planning permissions.
I certainly hope the planning process through An Bord Pleanála will not unduly delay these vital projects and people will have the ability to submit their views. I have, however, expressed my concerns many times in this House regarding planning applications for all types of projects, whether they relate to housing, transport or greenways, being delayed and tied up. The people who suffer are those who are waiting for affordable cost-rental homes, which are key and at the heart of the LDA project.
I welcome the Bill and the potential within it in terms of acting to develop homes. It is all about providing and increasing the supply of affordable cost-rental homes across strategic sites. I look forward to the Bill's development and its progress through the House.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. For those outside of the House, it is worth saying that the Land Development Agency is a commercial, State-sponsored body and has been created to co-ordinate land within the State's control for more optimal uses with an appropriate focus on the provision of housing.
I am particularly delighted that again, even today, I read in the national press that the Land Development Agency is currently seeking procurement and bidders to develop 600 affordable and social homes at Shanganagh Castle. This is a large tract of land that was sold with the involvement of the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Senator McDowell. It has lain idle for a long time. It is an amazing site, on a public transport route beside wonderful amenities, and is one of the sites that are ready to go. I thank the Minister of State and all those involved for that.
The Shanganagh Castle site shows, as many of my colleagues on the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage who are present will agree, the good and constructive work that has been done by the executive and members of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and the Land Development Agency, who pulled everything together. This case shows what can be achieved through dialogue. Dialogue has not always taken place, however. We have chief executives in local authorities who do not have the same commitment to engaging. We all know that.
I have tabled a number of amendments, which I will deal with next week. I acknowledge the work of the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, representatives of which appeared before the joint committee and sought our support. I have committed to supporting the AILG and I will table all of the amendments it has proposed. Hopefully, we can tease them out next week.
One of the big issues for the AILG is section 183 of the Local Government Act. The Minister of State and Senators might ask why the association is so hung up about this section but it is an important one. What does section 183 do? It requires the chief executive to prepare a report for the elected members showing if there are any restrictive covenants and historical or other issues concerning sites, and to provide maps and certainty about ownership. What is important is that this is put to the elected members who can then decide to dispose of a site. If they fail to dispose of a site or make a decision within a certain time, the chief executive can automatically dispose of it. The most important point about section 183, however, is that it provides conditionality for the elected members. I have been involved in many section 183 disposals. I cannot recall members every opposing one. We teased them out and had many arguments before attaching certain conditions to them. That is very important. There was some debate about conditionality with regard to Shanganagh Castle and interesting legal advice was provided for the members in that regard. For this reason, I can understand why elected members do not want to see this particular section.
I wish to speak to the Minister of State about the land aggregation scheme, with which he may be familiar. Under this scheme, local authority chief executives acquired land at great expense, having decided it would be suitable as a land bank at some time in the future. We must be very careful when we use the words "local authority". I am talking about the executive of a local authority, not sitting county councillors. In my local authority, the land acquired did not have water services, electricity or other infrastructure. Some of it was halfway up a mountain. Millions of pounds were paid for it. Members can speculate all they like about the reasons or who owned the land, why it was bought and why public money was used. It should not have happened. All local authorities under previous administrations were asked if they would consider sending these lands back into the land aggregation scheme. The Department rejected most applications to the scheme - why would it want these lands? - and they were, therefore, sent back to the local authorities.
These local authorities are now paying only interest on these sites. Many of the problems associated with these sites were because of executives and not elected members. None of these executives got fired and no one got sacked. That is common. A person would be fired in the private sector. We are now suggesting that we will empower the non-elected executive of these councils to dispose of lands, albeit I take the Minister of State's point that they are zoned residential, without any reference to or veto for the elected representatives. I do not necessarily believe that is the right way to go. I would have liked all these disposals to go to a section 183 and where one fails for the Land Development Agency, there would be a third-party arbitration scheme. We should have insisted that all disposals still go through the section 183 regardless of the LDA and if there is a dispute, it goes to a third-party arbitration appeals process. That would have been fairer.
The Minister of State is committed to empowering local authorities. He spoke very eloquently recently about the elected mayors. We will, therefore, take Limerick as an example. If we have an elected mayor in Limerick next year, that elected mayor will not have any function. The executive - the men and women in the room next door - will be making decisions unknown or perhaps known to the elected member. The elected mayor we are empowering in Limerick, however - hopefully, there will be elected mayors all over the country in time - will have no veto on behalf of the people. If, therefore, we are really empowering local city and county councillors, we must give them that power and function. Through their representative body, the AILG, they have asked us to put a case forward. I note that one of the Government Senators has tabled an amendment. I believe that is really important.
Generally, I am supportive of the Land Development Agency. I believe it is a good agency. I want to be positive. Its database and systems, to which Senator Cummins referred, are amazing. They are wonderful tools, which have shone a light on places we never knew. We know we have health authority, railway and harbour company lands. We have lands all over the place. We have Defence Forces lands in very sensitive locations, which will be challenging but must be looked at. We have Thornton Hall and lands all over this country and we need to do something about them. We need to use them constructively with regard to housing. I would go as far as to say that in time, we will have to look at using the Land Development Agency to secure lands for enterprise and schools. I see the Land Development Agency being the old - dare I say it - land agent. It will be the central hub and knowledge of all our lands in this State and at least they will be accounted for. It will tidy up title and mapping. We will know who owns the lands and they will feed into our local development plans and country, regional and national plans. I believe, therefore, that is good.
There is an issue with regard to valuation, which I believe we must look at. We can no longer have Dublin city valuers valuing land for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and vice versa. I do not believe the Land Development Agency is about a land grab. It should focus on the delivery of housing. The reality is that we need to go back and focus on the delivery of houses. I gave the elected members and their organisation, the Association of Irish Local Government, a commitment. I have tabled the amendments. Hopefully, we will debate them. I would like to think we might consider accepting some of them. I thank the Minister of State very much.
I thank the Minister of State for coming into the House with the Land Development Agency Bill 2021, which the Fianna Fáil Party is obviously supporting. It reflects the result of the general election in 2020 when people voted for change, and particularly for change in the Government's and State's role in the provision of housing. The electorate then quite legitimately asked why we have such a housing crisis of supply and affordability when we have so much land; why the State is not providing affordable homes; why local authorities are not empowered to deliver affordable homes; and why they are not providing affordable homes both to purchase and rent.
I am delighted to say the Affordable Housing Bill 2021 passed in the Dáil yesterday with cross-party support, albeit that the Social Democrats and a small minority of others for some reason did not support the provision of affordable housing by the State.
I commend all the other parties and Independents who supported the Affordable Housing Bill, which is the most comprehensive affordable housing Bill in the history of the State. The Land Development Agency will be put on a statutory footing once this Bill is passed and it will be charged with assembling and managing productively all State-owned lands. As others have said, the database it has been compiling is impressive. It exposes the extent of available lands to the State that are not in productive use for the provision of affordable housing. We are determined to reverse that situation. We will reverse it through the Affordable Housing Bill and the Land Development Agency Bill. I very much welcome the commitment to 100% public housing on the public lands that are being identified as being suitable for housing in Dublin and Cork and a minimum of 70% social and affordable housing in every other location. That is important. It was not good enough for us to give the local authorities the power to deliver affordable homes to purchase and rent alone. We need to support them by ensuring any of the available lands have a designation for affordability and for public housing.
The fact that the Land Development Agency initially will have €1.25 billion of capital gives it a good working capital base and there is the potential to increase that up to €2.5 billion. Senator Cummins has already mentioned that scale is important. There are nine sites and 4,000 houses already in train, which is welcome, but we need housing on massive scale and housing on a significant scale within the next 12 to 24 months and beyond.
It is welcome the Land Development Agency is being set up as a development agency. I have seen in my constituency the way a development agency such as the Grangegorman Development Agency was able to assemble lands. In that instance, it was HSE lands and city council lands and it is now a world-class leading university campus. The Land Development Agency as a development agency will have similar powers but, critically, it will not have planning powers. That is important also. We have spoken about the powers of elected members to our local authorities. We have also spoken a great deal about the powers we are giving them under the planning and development Bill to control the making of their development plans. In their development plans they get to determine what lands are zoned for housing, recreational, industrial and other uses. Our local authority members are those who are closest to their communities. They are the people who understand best what their community needs in terms of housing. It is the local authorities, if we are all honest about it, that have the tradition of providing housing not only for those who need it most but for their own communities. It is important that under the development plans, our local authority members will determine how lands will be used in each local authority area. This legislation will then further determine other State-owned lands as held by the Departments of Defence, Education or Justice and will ensure that in Dublin and Cork, it will be 100% social and affordable housing. The development agency, as has been demonstrated in Shanganagh, will work to support local authorities where they have designated and zoned their own lands for housing and will provide them with expertise and capacity, which is important. I speak as a former local authority member who has been greatly frustrated by the fact that local authorities were not previously empowered to deliver affordable housing. Now that they will have the power to deliver affordable purchase and cost rental housing, our elected local authority members are both ambitious and capable of delivering for their communities. I believe this agency can help them.
I want to refer specifically to section 183. The president of the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, Mary Hoade, made a comprehensive presentation to the Oireachtas joint committee. That association demonstrated how close its members are to their communities. They argued strongly for the removal of section 183. We have all spoken to the Minister of State and I know all my Fianna Fáil colleagues have spoken to him and to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, on this issue.
It remains a significant point of contention for us. We accept section 183 is only being removed when it comes to lands zoned for housing and that it will not apply to every other piece of land designated and zoned in a development plan. We strongly believe, and want to see it in the legislation or in the regulations, that if lands are transferred without applying section 183, a timescale should be put on the Land Development Agency to deliver housing on those lands. That is the only reasonable approach. It is the only acceptable approach for our local authority members. I ask the Minister of State to come back to me on that point.
We support the Land Development Agency. It has significant potential. It will be accountable to the Oireachtas and its committees and to the Minister of State and the Government. It has adequate funding to commence with but we want there to be scaling up of development and for the agency to be ambitious. We want to ensure our local authority members are supported and resourced in order that they can use the Affordable Housing Bill and the Land Development Agency's capacity to deliver in every local authority around the country.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House again. He must be sick of looking at us. Between the Minister and all the Ministers of State with responsibility for the housing sector, he has been in the House a great deal as we approach the end of term.
I am supportive, in principle, of the Land Development Agency Bill before the Seanad. The Bill was initiated in the Dáil but, in practice, the Government did not accept amendments to the Bill from the Opposition on Committee Stage and was not prepared to work with us on them. Unfortunately, our party will be voting against the Bill on Second Stage in the same way as we voted against it, in its eventuality, in the Dáil.
We all accept the Land Development Agency is to use public land, effectively, to get houses built. We are fully supportive of the concept of a development plan to develop public housing on public land. It has been our party’s policy for a very long time. If the Land Development Agency works as it should, and works as a true State-run public developer, it should supply public housing on public land and create a long-term secure mechanism for proactive management of the State’s land to solve the housing crisis, both today and into the future, and deliver social and affordable housing.
I am encouraged by some of the amendments accepted by the Government in terms of the delivery of public housing on public land but it is very limited in terms of the population centres to which it will apply. For example, it will not apply to Limerick which has a severe social housing crisis. An aspect that concerns me is the amount of the Bill that will be included in regulation and that it will be left up to the Minister. For something of this significance, the principles under which it operates must be copper-fastened in legislation. While I might be encouraged in some respects by some of the movement that has happened, we do not know who will be in ministerial office in the next Government or in ten or 15 years' time. There is a danger in the long term that public land could be sold off and used for private developers.
I want to touch on the issue of affordability. A fundamental flaw in the Bill, and it is perhaps even more of a fundamental flaw than with respect to the Affordable Housing Bill, is linking of what is affordable and affordability. Specifically in this Bill, what will be provided will be linked to market rates. I am specifically referring to the land that will be available at or below market rates.
An affordable home should be affordable to buy or to rent and what a person pays should amount to about one third of his or her income. The concept and definition of affordability and how that will work in the context of public land should be enshrined in the Bill and this should have been done in tandem with the Affordable Housing Bill 2021. I worry that the LDA could end up as a mechanism for the privatisation of large tranches of public land, with windfall profits for agents, while delivering the bare minimum of 50% and a welcome 20% of social housing. I again acknowledge that the Government has moved in that regard. The arguments I am making, however, are not just for how the LDA is going to be in the short term, but how such a body will be structured in the long term.
This Bill addresses the idea of market value in that section 53 provides that where there is a dispute, the Minister should prescribe the manner in which the market value of the relevant public land should be determined. Under section 76, housing pursuant to section 73 must be below the prevailing market price or rent, but, equally, it fails to make any provision for how far below the market price or rent the cost of the housing should be. We must provide for these aspects now and not allow the door to be opened for manipulation in respect of true affordability and value. Again, that is an element which worries me.
I welcome an approach such as that taken by the Minister in the Affordable Housing Bill 2021, where he specified the parameters of affordability. It is being delivered on in places like Lusk, for example. It is a concern, however, that this might not always be the case. We also then see certain developers arguing that the 10% affordable stipulation be provided in respect of €600,000. Equally, at the Irish Glass Bottle site, affordability is going to be in the region of €450,000. That is why it is so important that we define "affordability" in the Bill in the context of land and for the housing that will eventually be available, tie such aspects to changes in people's incomes and find a mechanism for doing that.
Under the Bill before us, the Minister will have an astounding amount of power regarding the determination of the prices of land and affordable housing. We must have some control over the power the Minister has to potentially transfer land of significant value from public to private ownership. I am also concerned about the LDA's lack of accountability. This Bill explicitly removes the role of local authorities in examining and scrutinising deals involving land acquisition from local councils, as set out in section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001. However, I welcome the clarification that this change does not involve land which has been zoned for housing.
Those of us who have been members of local authorities understand the significance that the power of section 183 has for local authority members. An example relates to where I was able to use this power in respect of land disposal in my area of Dublin 8 to deliver one of the first parks ever created there and where the management of the local authority wanted to sell the land concerned to developers. It was going to happen, but I was supported by my colleagues across the council chamber who recognised the need for green spaces to balance the high density of construction in that area. The members of the local authorities had the power to intervene in such cases. The park I referred to has been packed during the pandemic because such a green space was badly needed by many people.
The consistent removal of the powers of local councillors is very unfair. As Senator Fitzpatrick said, we must be able to trust the members of our local authorities because they are as ambitious and as focused on housing as we are and as are the officials in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.
It is, with regret that I will not be supporting this Bill. I believe in the concept of a State development agency, but we must enshrine affordability and accountability in the Bill and ensure that the Minister does not have too many powers in the context of such a body. This issue centres on public housing on public land and on delivering affordable housing, not just in the short term but in the long term of the next 50 to 100 years.
I welcome the Minister of State.
It is not an easy task trying to deal with housing. I welcome the Bill. It is definitely progress. Housing in Ireland is a complete mess. On top of the existing crisis, the pandemic has meant it has not been possible to build houses for more than a year, while there are also now issues with accessing materials. We could spend the whole day playing the blame game but the basic point is that we must deal with housing in some way.
The establishment of the Land Development Agency is progressive and timely. It would have been great if we had done this 20 years ago, but it is happening now and better late than never. It was good that all three parties in government agreed on this agency as part of the programme for Government. We also agreed that it will be covered by the Freedom of Information Act, which is good. In addition, we agreed that we would try to provide houses at an affordable price and also on the concept of cost rental for the first time in the history of the State. People talk about affordability, but they forget that is what we are trying to do. We care as much about affordable housing as does anybody in the Opposition. It is ridiculous to say otherwise.
The cost-rental model is of great importance. Over the years, we have put pressure on people to become house owners because of the lack of trust in tenure. Historically, there has been a major issue with freedom of tenure, which was one of the three F's long ago. We are only starting with the cost-rental model. It will set an important precedent in allowing people to become long-term renters and pay the cost of building the house, without a private builder making loads of money. Renters will pay the cost of the house and have fixed tenure, so they will not have to worry in that regard. I was one of the stressed out renters who never know how long the contract will last.
This is a positive day. It is a shame that people cannot see when progress is being made and we cannot have a little space for positivity. That is what people in Ireland need now. They must have some faith that we are trying our best here to come up with some solutions. The Land Development Agency is finally going to properly identify how much public land exists and then decide what to do with it. For the most part, no private houses will be built on this land. In two cities, 100% of it will be used for affordable, cost-rental and social housing, and 70% of it will be used for this purpose everywhere else. That is a huge reason to celebrate today. It is so frustrating that every time something good happens, there are complaints and questions about why it not this, that or the other and why free houses are not being provided for everybody today.
We must live in the reality of the challenge we face. For the first time, affordable, social and cost-rental housing will be built on 70% of all public land all over the Twenty-six Counties. In addition, 100% of all public land in the cities of Dublin and Cork will not be used for private housing but for affordable and cost-rental housing. Therefore, let us celebrate this Bill, try to make progress and give people hope. Despite all the challenges we faced during the Covid-19 pandemic, including the lack of houses that were built, which was nobody’s fault, we start here today with a positive Bill. Let us move forward in a positive direction, working together in government and opposition, to finally start solving the housing crisis by having proper cost rental, increased social housing and public land used in a correct way.
This legislation comes to the Seanad having passed all Stages in the Dáil. I am sure the Bill will pass in this House as well, given the Government's majority and the support coming from some Members of the Opposition. It remains my view and that of Sinn Féin that the most cost-effective and fastest way to deliver a large volume of social and affordable homes is through the delivery of public homes on public lands by local authorities, approved housing bodies and community housing trusts.
The basis of our position is that if local authorities are starved of funding and the ability to build homes, the way to reverse that situation is not to set up another quango. The answer, instead, is to adequately fund local authorities to build public homes on public land. The LDA was set up by the former Deputy and Minister, Eoghan Murphy, and has staff, offices, etc. I urge the Minister to essentially split the LDA into two separate functions.
One would deal with land management and the other would involve an office located in the County and City Management Association, CCMA, that would assist local authorities with the delivery of housing plans. In our view, there is an urgent need for a non-commercial State agency to have responsibility to ensure the best strategic use of all public lands. Such an agency should have comprehensive CPO powers, a significant land acquisition budget and the political backing of the Government to transfer land from one Department or agency to another, or to local authorities, so it may be used in the best way. In particular, the agency should be a driver for increasing the stock of local authority land in every county for public housing delivery.
Rebuilding Ireland committed to establishing a housing delivery office within the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Its purpose was to assist in speeding up the delivery of social housing through assisting councils with their project pipelines. While the office was established, it was not a success and, at the end of 2019, it was transferred from the Department to the CCMA. As we are aware, however, it is hampered by the continued existence of the Department's overly bureaucratic four-stage approval process. We are also aware that the procurement process adds about 18 months to the development time alone for social housing projects. Moreover, the office does not have enough staff to work with local authorities to meet their housing targets.
Ultimately, we do not need another housing quango; we need local authorities to be adequately funded to deliver social and affordable homes, whereby we provide housing delivered based on local need and local democratic decisions, as outlined by Senator Boyhan. We have failed to support local authorities to do what they do best, that is, build public housing on public land. The answer, therefore, is to fund local authorities adequately, not set up a quango to do exactly what we have prevented them from doing.
The Minister of State is hearing from everybody that everybody wants public houses on public land. Like Senator Moynihan, I had wanted a land development agency, or something close to it, for some time but I always believed that, for one to be successful, it would need to be a non-commercial State agency. The delivery of public housing on public land, as described by Senator Warfield, should be through supporting local authorities and through a non-commercial State entity. That combination is clear but there is still a fundamental misunderstanding at the core of the Bill, just as there was at the core of Government proposals over the previous term and the term beforehand. I refer to the fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship between the speculative market and supply. These are the philosophical points we probably will not have time to cover in our two-hour debate next week.
Reference has been made to addressing deficiencies in the housing market and the shortage of land where the market is experiencing a systemic housing shortage. Let us be clear: the market is not simply experiencing a housing shortage; in many cases, the market is driving a systemic housing shortage, and it has been encouraged and facilitated in this regard because market logic dictates that the narrowing of supply drives up prices. That is a known fact. We see it right now with vaccines. Artificial scarcity is being created so vaccines can be sold for more rather than addressing a human need. This is because the priority of investors is to get the best value.
Over five or six years, we have had a lot of housing legislation. It is always offering more. First, tax breaks were introduced. There were waivers on capital gains tax in the hope it would encourage supply. The easiest option was taken, and that often meant commercial property. Many commercial units are empty under the measure.
We also considered the strategic housing developments and we were told they were the issue and that all that was needed in respect of them was faster planning permission. More than half of the strategic housing developments that have received planning permission are sitting on it. There are vacant properties all over this State because a property can be rented out for more if the prices go up. Those are the market dynamics. Again, the Bill is trying to place them at the centre. In fact, they are acting as perverse incentives. Even the systemic lowering of standards, to which former Minister, Eoghan Murphy, contributed to, in some cases encouraged people to sit on a development because they knew that if they waited for a year or two longer, the standards might go down and more units could be crammed into the same space. Those are perverse incentives that have been created systemically.
It was, of course, the market that led to the property crash. Then NAMA again placed the interests of investors centre stage. That is why there is a commission of investigation examining the relationship between it and investors, particularly regarding the Project Eagle portfolio. When NAMA had all the housing, it worked with investors. That is why I will ask the Minister to ensure the new agency will not commence until we have what is promised for September, the long-awaited publication of the final report of the commission of investigation into NAMA. Let us learn from the previous time we had a State agency with a large portfolio of property. Let us make sure the mistakes are not being set up to be made again. Let us wait for the report to inform the detail of how the new Land Development Agency might work.
I am going to highlight three or four key issues, including the role of local authorities. Others have spoken eloquently about this. Others, on all sides of the House, have experience of the power and importance of section 183. As was mentioned, this is not simply associated with housing because it also relates to issues such as accessibility, the needs of the community for whom access is a concern, and matters related to how a development will fit into the fabric and vision of a local area plan or local development plan. The section is important because local authorities know the balance of housing needs in their area and what is required. I hope the Minister of State will listen to his colleagues on section 183 because there is a big difference between locations of individual developments and how they fit into the fabric and meet the needs of plans. I am even thinking of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the particular demographic breakdown and needs in a local area and its local area plan, or, indeed, the connectivity requirements. There is a lot to be thought about. I am referring to the intelligence and insight to be had from the section 183 conditions attached to disposals. The provision is still in the Bill. It is still a concern.
If the LDA wants to complement the work of local authorities, it needs to relate to local development plans. There is concern that many of the new local development plans may be delayed so it is important that if local authorities are in the process of developing a new local development plan, the vision for the next five years be considered. The agency should not simply work off a previous local development plan when a new and different one may be in process. That will be important.
On the question of the 80%, there is a concern that it may be varied by the Minister. It is not a guaranteed 80% because section 77 permits the Minister to vary the percentage unilaterally. That is a concern. The 80% is not a proportion of public housing because much of it will be public only for a few moments before it is sold as affordable housing and direct provision accommodation. Crucially, if it is cost rental, it can be private cost rental. That is the concern. Again, the market would be involved and those concerned would be allowed to have cost-rental arrangements, possibly on public land, and get equity returns. They would take the property out of public ownership.
It becomes a private asset at the end. We do not know what mix we might have because it is a commercial speculative asset. Private equity firm cost rental is glorified leasing and it is making those same mistakes. It is leasing which local authorities were pushed into when they should have been supported to build and buy.
I will come back to public land. I will make a final point on shares, which I think is important. It is unacceptable that there is provision in the Bill to allow the Ministers to dispose of shares in this company. They must be held publicly, in trust and in perpetuity, and there should not be any danger that Ministers could choose to effectively privatise the Land Development Agency. I urge that that be addressed.
Like Senator Moynihan, I welcome the Minister of State. Senator Moynihan said she is almost tired of seeing the Minister of State and the senior Minister in the House. That is reflective of the Government's commitment to addressing issues around housing. Senator Garvey pointed out well the broad range of issues. We are talking about legislation that will unlock unused public lands for housing, an affordable rental scheme and a council-led affordable purchase scheme. All of this is combined with the highest social housing budget in the history of the State. That shows clearly that the Government is strongly committed to addressing the housing issue.
I read with interest the interview published this morning in The Currency with Ed Brophy, the recently retired special adviser to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. The interview was conducted by Stephen Kinsella. He talked about how the incrementalism of Government is often a problem in terms of decisions being taken. In this case and for this Government, there is clearly a whole-of-government approach to housing. It is an issue we want to see addressed and the reason my party went into Government. My party has a strong tradition of wanting to build homes and communities. Unlike some Opposition parties, we support the aspiration of an individual to own his or her own home. That continues to be important.
Senator Higgins's criticisms reminded me of the phrase once ascribed to Garret FitzGerald: "That's fine in practice, but will it work in theory?" Too often, there is an obsession around ideology. Our obsession in this House should be about mechanisms to ensure we combine the best of the public and private sectors to deliver homes and communities.
I say to Senator Warfield that we all want to see public homes build on public lands but the best thing the Senator can do is encourage his Sinn Féin colleagues on local councils, including most recently in Bray, to stop opposing the building of social housing. It is another example of ideological talk in these Chambers and failure to deliver on local authorities across the country. I agree with Senator Moynihan about trusting our local councillors. I trust them. I know that Government, particularly Fianna Fáil, councillors want to see homes built. We are working in government to put in place the mechanisms, including through the Land Development Agency Bill, for this to happen. Our councillors at local level are voting to provide it. We are not being hypocrites in this regard.
There are a couple of things the Minister of State might consider during the course of the legislation. The membership of the board of the agency and knowledge of the type of individuals that go on the board is dealt with in section 16(6). The Minister of State might consider adding the word "design", so it is not just the knowledge of construction, the market and so on but also of design. Part of the problem we often have in large-scale development of housing is a lack of emphasis on design. Senator Moynihan is right that we are not just designing housing but communities. Frequently, when we see trouble arise in estates, it is because of poor design at the start. As the Land Development Agency starts to grow, I would love to see it have an experienced team of architects to advise local authorities and so on. We need a clear design function on it. I welcome the commitment to investing in research in that area.
There are clear mechanisms. It is important the Land Development Agency is accountable to the Oireachtas. It could be considered that a number of members of the board would come through an appointments process set out by the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Such an arrangement exists in other areas, including, as Senator Warfield and I know, with regard to appointments to the board of RTÉ and BAI. That is done through the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sport and Media. We could consider looking at a number of appointments to the board coming through the Oireachtas committee. I commend the legislation. It is part of an overall package of work the Government is committed to bringing forward. I ask the Minister of State to consider that greater emphasis be placed on the design of these estates.
I am sharing time with Senator Buttimer.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
I welcome the Minister of State back to the House. He is here nearly as often as the Senators. He could be taken for a Senator if he came in any more often. I wish him well with this Bill. I have mixed feelings about it. We have a lot of State control in the country. Too much State control, in my view, is not a good thing. We have seen where NAMA failed miserably. It was the biggest land development agency in the world and it failed to deliver housing in this country. The whole NAMA situation is shameful. When it was set up, the late Brian Lenihan said there should be 25,000 units per year. That was not delivered. NAMA had the land and, in many cases, the houses, but it failed to deliver and failed the people.
I have a fear in relation to where local authorities request assistance from the Land Development Agency. We have seen this time after time when the local authority contacts the Department looking for assistance and nothing happens. It is fobbed off. In this case, the local authority in towns with populations of more than 30,000 can request the assistance of the Land Development Agency. It can look for assistance in design, money and everything to provide housing and to go into joint ventures. It will not have enough money to satisfy every town. We will be on the merry-go-round again, like with water services and sewerage. You are waiting and waiting and then you are fobbed off. Will the Minister of State make it clear that there will be an open, transparent structure in place and the local authorities will know exactly how long they will have to wait for the assistance and the money? Other than that, I welcome the Bill. I ask that the cost of the Land Development Agency be taken account in relation to unit costing so it is not just fobbed off and paid for by the Department.
I welcome the Minister of State. This is important legislation. It is about ensuring we deliver affordable housing on publicly-owned lands. The hypocrisy of those voting against this Bill should be laid clear for everybody. They are opposing the sale and building of housing on public lands for citizens of our country.
This is what the Opposition is doing in opposing the Bill. As has Senator Burke, I have misgivings about the LDA but I welcome the change that gives more power to local councillors and I thank the Minister of State and the Minister for doing this as it was not in the original Bill.
In Cork, we have a wonderful site at St. Kevin's with a proposal for 266 new homes. It is an ambitious project that must be delivered. The Minister of State was in Cork this week and I commend him on that visit and the work he is doing regarding a particular project. The synergy between the local authority, the executive, our councillors, the Department and the LDA must be about working together. Senator Burke is correct. I believe NAMA was a gargantuan error and it made significant errors and we must learn from it with the Land Development Agency.
If I heard Senator Warfield correctly in his contribution, he said he was opposed to another quango but I thought, and I am open to correction, he asked to have two new quangos created instead of one.
Senator Buttimer heard me wrong.
That is fine, and I did ask for clarification because I was surprised he wanted to have a second new tier.
Split it into two.
"Split it into two" was the phrase he used and I am glad he clarified it. Housing is a generational issue. We must build more houses. There was an audit and mapping exercise done on State lands by the LDA. Please let us not have more procrastination. Let us have delivery. Let the Minister of State's legacy in the Department be one of acting, building and creating a platform for people to be able to have their own homes. This is a good Bill with regard to what we are trying to achieve. I have my reservations but I am prepared to give it a chance. We must build the synergy between local authorities, our elected members, the executive and the Department.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit arís go dtí an Teach. I broadly support this Bill, as I did the recent Affordable Housing Bill. As I said then, the scale of the housing problem is such that the Oireachtas should be willing to make serious direct interventions to tackle it, and to give the Government the benefit of the doubt when it seeks to do so.
The Bill establishes the Land Development Agency as a commercial State entity. Its objective will be to assemble land for development and to utilise State and public lands properly, and, using that land, to implement the affordable purchase and cost-rental schemes envisaged under the Affordable Housing Bill. I support all of these aims.
This Bill has proved controversial, not least among city and county councils and councillors themselves. Legitimate concerns have been expressed that it represents a further erosion of local democracy, taking reserved functions out of the hands of councillors. There are also concerns about the accountability and transparency of how the agency will operate, and whether oversight by the Ministers with responsibility for housing and public expenditure is sufficient. In a way, these concerns mirror those expressed at the time of the establishment of NAMA in 2009, another agency that was taking major decisions in the public interest, albeit on an infinitely larger scale.
I share all of these concerns. What we need is more local democracy and more decisions made locally in the communities affected by them but the reality is that many councils have repeatedly failed to address adequately the housing problem in their functional areas. The failings of Dublin City Council in this regard are nothing short of appalling for the local authority of a modern European city. That council seems to spend most of its time debating whether to display the Palestinian flag, or vanity projects such as the white-water rafting white elephant, or pie in the sky issues such as a four-day working week for its staff, which was the latest flight of fancy discussed at its meeting this week. This is what is on the agenda of an elected local authority of a city that cannot adequately house its own population. Can we blame central government for intervening?
There are two primary reasons for the failures of local authorities in recent years. I say this with fraternal affection for my colleague, Senator Warfield. One reason is the deliberate obstruction of large-density housing projects by the Sinn Féin party. The party says that it is not doing so deliberately and cites what it says are legitimate objections each time. However, the reality is that no matter what the project, Sinn Féin councillors always manage to find reasons to oppose it.
The developments are either too large or too small, or they do not have enough social housing, or they are the wrong mix, or there are objections to the use of publicly-owned land by private developers, and so on ad infinitum. Even Goldilocks found a bowl of porridge to suit her eventually. It is impossible to accept that these are genuine objections and not part of a deliberate and concerted strategy to prolong the housing crisis for political gain. I have a funny feeling that if Sinn Féin were elected to government in the near future, new orders will be issued - and many new orders I might worry about - to its councillors by the armchair generals, and we would see a sudden increase in the number of developments being approved.
The greatest reason for the dysfunction of local government are the so-called reforms of the system rammed through by the Fine Gael-Labour Party coalition in 2014. The amusingly-titled Putting People First plan, implemented in the Local Government Reform Act 2014, slashed and burned town councils, reduced the number of local representatives and rebranded city and county managers as chief executives. The net effect was to continue the centralisation of power in unelected management and to continue the paralysis in decision-making. Having failed to improve the effectiveness of local government in the last attempt, these problems will just not be solved in the short term. While I accept the concerns raised by councillors about the lack of oversight and the usurpation of their powers, the nature of the housing shortage is such that we urgently need to take bold steps and soon.
As the Bill aims to increase the availability of land for housing, I want to raise an issue I have raised several times in recent weeks, namely, the vacant site levy. I have submitted an amendment to the Bill for Committee Stage and I pressed a similar amendment during Report Stage of the Affordable Housing Bill. The vacant site levy is not working. It is not generating any revenue worth talking about for councils and nor is it freeing up land for development. Meanwhile, there are many vacant sites that are not being registered or levied because the rules on what qualifies as a vacant site are so complicated and vague, leading some councils to not even try to implement it.
The Minister has a lot to think about these days so I will just remind him that what I have been proposing is that we simplify the operation of the levy by introducing an element of self-assessment, placing an onus on landowners to register their own sites, and by bringing within the definition of a vacant site properties on which planning permission for the development of multiple residential units had been granted but where development has not commenced. This would help get a more effective vacant site levy. It would help lead to more sites being developed. This is the kind of proposal that could have broad cross-party support. I acknowledge that on Report Stage of the Affordable Housing Bill in this House, the Minister of State said a wider review of the levy is under way and he assured me that proposals such as that which I put forward would form part of that review and I welcomed it. I intend to keep the issue on the agenda, however.
Before I begin to speak on the Land Development Agency, I want to say that I agree with Senator Mullen on the vacant site levy. At this stage, we all agree it is not fit for purpose. How it is applied in the various local authorities differs and there is no consistency. It does not do what it was intended to do.
I welcome the opportunity to speak on Second Stage of the Bill and I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Having served on the housing committee in the previous Dáil I was there when the heads of the first Land Development Agency Bill came before us. At that time, I had serious reservations about the Bill and how it was formed. What was presented originally in the Bill was completely different to what we saw on Committee Stage in 2019. In fairness to everybody involved in the legislation, they have listened to what Members have said until this point. What is before us now is significantly different to what was laid before the House initially.
The Minister of State mentioned the phrase "market value" and the Opposition love to hang onto such phrases. The Minister of State gave a fair description of how it is working out. While it might start at market value, the obligations in delivering affordable housing, cost rental housing and social housing will have a huge impact on land. I am glad to see the legislative provisions on this have been changed.
Another element is public land for public housing. In fairness, the Minister of State has more or less delivered on this, particularly in Dublin and Cork where it is now 80%, with 20% under Part V. It is now delivering 100% public housing on public land.
We also need to give things time to work and to see whether they work out. As I pointed out through amendments a while ago, we need private housing in some localities. We need that mix in communities and to get the right balance. Building 100% public housing on public lands is not always the best option. We sometimes need to have a mix.
I will move on to section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001, which my colleagues have all mentioned. We are all on the one page in this regard. I acknowledge and recognise the work done in this regard and the amendments that have been made. The provision now only relates to land zoned for housing. While I encourage the Minister of State to see if a bit more could be done for local authorities in this regard and to see if it can be pushed out a bit more, I understand why the provision is needed, as my colleague referred to earlier on. As a Senator from Wicklow who was a Deputy for Wicklow in the previous Dáil and who has served on the local authority in Wicklow for 12 years, I know that when something lands on one's desk in one's own county, one understands it better. What happened in Wicklow on Tuesday night and how Sinn Féin voted in Bray shows nothing other than hypocrisy of the worst kind. I am sick and tired of listening to Deputy Brady's megaphone politics. On Tuesday night, his two councillors voted against 18 social housing units on public land. Sinn Féin does not want social housing on public land. The hypocrisy in which Sinn Féin engages time and again must stop. I have served with Deputy Ó Broin on the housing committee and, while I have respect for him, the hypocrisy of the Sinn Féin Party must be called out for once and for all.
The Land Development Agency Bill 2021 represents another avenue to deliver housing and must be welcomed. It is now a matter of multiple choice. Housing may be provided through the local authority, approved housing bodies or the LDA. We have multiple avenues through which to deliver affordable, social and cost-rental homes. I have concerns about the legislation. I always will and always should because we should always question legislation that comes before us. In my own business, I sometimes have to say that things are not working out. We have had to amend this legislation since it was originally launched. If we can keep the legislation under review, we can identify aspects that are working and others that are not. We should not be afraid to come back and change the legislation.
I will share my time with Senator Ward. The Minister of State is very welcome to the House. I am very supportive of this Bill, which puts the LDA on a statutory footing. It is good news, especially for Dublin. There are two principles that are central to tackling the housing crisis, and we are working on them. These are accessibility, whether through affordability measures or social support, and stock and supply. We will not have a healthy housing system without both. They are inextricably linked. The Land Development Agency Bill 2021 and the Affordable Housing Bill 2021 will provide a significant framework and step change. The Land Development Agency is about scale and supply and unlocking State land to build affordable homes and sustainable communities. It is an agency which will develop significant housing developments on lands owned by the State. Increasing the supply of homes will have a knock-on effect on affordability and increasing the supply of sites will reduce the cost of housing.
There are two stories in housing. There is one where councillors continuously vote against housing projects based on catchy sound bites masquerading as ideology and another where bids to build 600 social and affordable homes in Shankill are being sought by the LDA in partnership with the local authority.
Some 200 of these homes are to be social housing, 91 are to be sold to low and middle-income workers under the forthcoming affordability scheme and 206 are to be cost-rental units. This is part of a master plan which includes a gym, a crèche, a space for co-working, cafes and shops. We need more of this. It is really reassuring to hear that this kind of project is going to be scaled up. It is not about building disaffection but about building homes.
I completely agree that the LDA has to work alongside and complement local authorities and local authority members. Nobody knows their area better than councillors. It would be welcome to allow them as much input as they can give. I believe in the importance of local county development plans, which are crafted by and consented to by local authorities, and that we should learn from the mistakes made in respect of strategic housing developments, which circumvented those plans. I welcome the Minister of State's reassurances with regard to section 183 to the effect that existing zoning will be respected. With regard to flexibility, it is great news that while developments in Dublin will be 100% social and affordable housing, including the 20% under Part V, the model in general requires a minimum of 50% plus 20%. We need fewer sound bites and more solutions.
I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I will touch on just a few points. With regard to section 51(1), which I believe was section 48 in the original Bill before being amended in the Dáil, I pay tribute to the Minister of State and the Department. I wrote to the Department and to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on this matter. It was initially proposed that local authority members would have to give every possible assistance to the Land Development Agency, which was deeply inappropriate. I note that the Government put down an amendment in the Dáil in this regard, which was a welcome reaction to the objections of many councillors around the country. In my own area of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, Councillor Jim Gildea has done an enormous amount of work during the term of this council and the last council to promote the development of the lands at Shanganagh in the Shankill area to provide for a whole range of different housing models. He has been in touch with me about this, as have other councillors in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. I very much welcome the reaction to the representations made on that issue. I welcome the change to what is now section 51.
I agree with those other Members who have talked about the general reduction in the powers of local authority members. That is regrettable. It has not only arisen under this Government or the last Government but goes back to the passing of planning and development legislation in 2000. We have successively stripped away powers from councillors, the people who make decisions that are informed at a local level. The executive of the council is never going to knock on a constituent's door to ask what he or she thinks about something but councillors do that all the time. There is a failure to recognise the important value they bring to the process and the role that they have. In that regard, I have misgivings about section 58, which deals with section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001. I heard what Senator Cummins said about this earlier and Senator Currie has just raised the same issue. I wonder about the wisdom of stripping from councillors the power to decide on the disposal of land. However, I also recognise, as I said earlier, that this has now been limited. I accept the work the Minister of State has done with Senator Cummins to address that issue and to make the proposition more reasonable.
I was reluctant to interrupt the Senator in case councillors were watching. The next speaker, as per the list, is Senator Murphy.
The Minister of State is welcome to the House. He, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Government have really put a lot of work into the Affordable Housing Bill which, despite all the recent brouhaha, was voted through with 101 votes while only eight Members voted against it. I hope the public will take heed of that. For whatever reasons, the Social Democrats voted against it while others abstained. When I think of the brouhaha in the media in recent days from some of those who abstained, I ask myself whether it is a propaganda war.
As I said earlier during the debate on the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Bill 2021, there are one or two people in this House who constantly say they are passionate about climate action. Every Member of this House, not just those on one side, is passionate about solving the housing problem. It is not just one section. I admire Senator Mullen's contribution today, which was honest and forthright. I invest much time in trying to sort out housing issues, as do many other Members. There is an absolute commitment to getting this done. As Members of the Oireachtas, if we cannot solve this and put a roof over people's heads, we do not deserve to be where we are. There are huge contributions coming from all sides on this matter. I welcome the fact that so much time is given to it because that is only right.
Senator Warfield is a good colleague and a friend. He is a gentleman. However, the reality is that there are too many objections, particularly from Sinn Féin councillors, to housing developments. Senator Casey referred to what happened recently in Wicklow. It amazes me when one of Sinn Féin's Front Bench spokespersons - not Senator Warfield - goes on television and says this does not happen. It did happen, all over the place. Sinn Féin cannot speak out of both sides of its mouth on this issue. That is the reality. I do not mean that in a personal way against Senator Warfield.
As has been stated, the purpose of the Bill is to give legislative underpinning to the Land Development Agency, which was previously established on an interim basis through a statutory instrument. I fully agree with most of the comments made by the Government side. I again bring people's attention to section 183 and the good way we in which can engage with local authority members and take their knowledge into account. They are not going to run amok. They know well what needs to be done here and they will make a very valuable contribution. We should keep that in mind at all costs.
The Affordable Housing Bill went through the Dáil last night. That was a very important decision. Now we are dealing with the Land Development Agency Bill. I can say with full confidence that we will see a major change in how housing is developed in the months and years ahead. Many people who have struggled, and are struggling, with high rents will be able to afford a house because of everything the Government is doing. I am not saying that everything that comes from the Opposition is negative and critical, but much of it is. Let me make this quite clear. Many people and politicians are investing much time and are doing a lot of work on this, in all the Government parties. Our party meets about this issue constantly and puts in hours upon hours late at night when nobody knows about it. That is being led by Senators Fitzpatrick, Casey and others. I am sure other parties are doing the same thing.
We have to solve the issue of housing. We think of it as a problem in the major cities but as Senator Dolan will know, in rural areas such as Ballinasloe and parts of Roscommon houses that were available for rent at €600 or €700 per month have gone up to €1,200 or €1,400. The Minister of State will know that from his own part of the country as well. It makes perfect sense to bring in schemes, such as those that will now come in under the Affordable Housing Bill, that will put people in houses where their mortgage payments will be far less than they would have paid in rent. I am confident for the future. We are on the right track and we have to have a little patience for this to work. Maybe some members of the Opposition are scared that we are on the right track, that we are going to make progress and solve this. We have two major issues in Ireland at the moment: Covid and housing. I expect that all politicians, no matter what side of the House they are on, would take into account the two crises with which we are dealing. Of course everybody's point of view is very important but we should not be obstructing progress that needs to be made.
I am sharing time with Senator Seery Kearney. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Today we are dealing with the Land Development Agency Bill. It is great to see it. This Bill is going to develop and regenerate publicly owned lands for affordable housing.
That is what it comes down to, in a nutshell. I welcome the clarity the Minister of State has given on section 183. He has stated very clearly that it will only not apply where land has been zoned for housing. In other words, the only place it would not be implemented is in county development plans where the local authorities have indicated that the land is there for housing. Senator Murphy referred to certain areas of Roscommon and east Galway where we do not have large urban centres - at least not yet. Hopefully we will soon but many of our centres have populations of under 10,000. How can we capture the tracts of land in our areas on the public land register? I am thinking in particular of lands owned by the HSE. We have an awful lot of land from Bord na Móna as well but that is probably not as suitable for housing, although it is suitable for many other things. As far as I am aware, the ESRI maps on the website show State-owned lands. Will the public land register reflect the ESRI maps and areas outside those large urban centres? What resources could the Government offer to support local authorities? For example, Galway County Council is the second lowest funded council in the country. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has indicated that supports will be offered in the form of project teams for the directors of housing within local authorities. How will the LDA be able to support county councils where there are not urban centres over 10,000 with resources?
I thank the Senator. That was very efficient. I ask Senators to bear in mind that in order to complete the speaking list we have to be efficient.
What can I say? Much has been said here today, as well as in the Dáil. I have read over the debate on this Bill in the Dáil and I have no doubt that during Committee and Report Stages in this House much will be said to create misinformation, spin and nice little sound bites to be posted on social media about the LDA, which will not do anything to advance real people getting into real houses. The Government is working together and ensuring people have affordable and social housing in the two great pieces of legislation that are going through the House, namely, the Affordable Housing Bill, which was passed last night, and this Bill.
This Bill is a game changer. I am very proud that this agency was born under a Fine Gael Minister, who brought this idea forward. We are now putting it on a statutory footing. A little bit of spin goes on in that regard as well. I am terribly fond of Senator Fitzpatrick but to use the Jim Mitchell version of the famous phrase, if you keep telling lies about us one of these days we will start telling the truth about you. There are cost-rental initiatives here that are now coming into fruition, as we said they would. I am very proud of them. I am very anxious that they come to fruition, especially in my home area of Dublin South-Central, where there are tracts of land in Cherry Orchard, Bluebell and the CIE works. There are tracts of land there about which there have been plans for years but they have not come to fruition until now. The pressure and structure of the LDA is going to allow that to happen. The combination of the Affordable Housing Bill and the Land Development Agency Bill will bring those projects to fruition. It is important that happens with a sense of urgency. The fact that Senators comment on how frequently both the Minister of State and the Minister appear in this House is a testament to that urgency and the commitment of the Government to ensuring that real people are in real houses. The pilot cost-rental scheme in Emmet Road is going to hit the ground running very soon. We have so many initiatives that are not about spouting ideology, voting against housing or setting up cynical websites like LDA Watch, which promotes press releases from political organisations opposed to housing.
It is not that cynical an obstruction and delay. This is about supply. I am very proud to support this Bill.
I welcome the Minster of State and I welcome this Bill. Section 13 sets out the functions of the LDA, which are to develop and manage relevant public land and, thereafter, other lands for "the provision of housing for the public good". It is acknowledged that there is a shortage of new housing being developed and, in particular, housing that is affordable in certain areas. There is a requirement in this Bill that a proportion of any housing provided on public land and former relevant public land be made available for affordable housing by the agency and other agencies that may require such land. This Bill will increase the supply of affordable and social housing by establishing the LDA as a publicly owned commercial State body that will be accountable to the Houses of the Oireachtas through the Committee of Public Accounts, as stated in section 17. I agree with Senator Byrne's proposals regarding nominations to the LDA coming through the joint Oireachtas committee. That is a very positive proposal.
The Government is assigning the LDA a key role in the delivery of housing, while also assisting local authorities by developing on public lands not used heretofore. The Bill comes about on foot of a commitment in the programme for Government, which prioritises health, housing and climate action as the three key pillars of our coalition. The climate action Bill went through earlier today and the Affordable Housing Bill was signed last night. I concur with Senator Seery Kearney in remembering former Deputy Eoghan Murphy, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government who introduced the Land Development Agency Bill a number of years ago. It is a very simple concept that has been complicated by the Opposition because, unlike Government, it does not want the housing situation resolved because that will take away the opportunity for the usual sound bites about vulture funds, developers, etc.
If you have a problem with your teeth, you go to a dentist and if you want a wardrobe in your house, you go to a carpenter. To get your car fixed, you go to a mechanic. Developers build housing and infrastructure that is needed. It is their profession and career and what they have experience in doing. Nine sites have been opened up or are on the way, and 4,000 houses are currently on track with more to come. It is important that we create sustainable and well-planned communities and that the focus is not on high-density development but on building homes in such communities that will have sufficient open, public amenity spaces and are close to all public services, be they education, health or transport.
I share the views expressed regarding NAMA, which was not a success. We saw situations a number of years back where houses were demolished and, indeed, housing stock disposed of at cheap sale prices. I also believe that any decision we make must be made in conjunction with those who operate on the ground and who know best, namely, elected representatives in local authorities throughout the country. They are the voice of the people and are elected by the people. Any decisions that are made, must be made in conjunction with members of local authorities.
I thank all the Senators for their contributions. At the heart of the role of the LDA is ensuring that we make a step change in how we manage State lands and take a long term strategic land management approach to provide a more sustainable approach to housing delivery at affordable levels. This is part of a wider suite of measures the Government is implementing as part of its housing for all mission to improve overall supply and bring forward new initiatives on affordable housing.
From listening to the debate, it is apparent that there is major consensus across all sides of the House that we should ensure public lands not required for other purposes should be used for housing. I want to be clear that the decisions the Government will make on transferring public lands to the LDA will apply to those lands already in the ownership of the State. This is clearly what is set out in Part 7. This will be a very transparent process as details of public lands will be available on the register on the LDA website and the reports to Government by the LDA will also be published.
In the case of local authority lands, it remains the position that it is up to local authorities to determine how best to deliver housing on their lands.
Under section 15 of the LDA Bill, local authorities can request the assistance of the Land Development Agency to manage the development of large-scale complex sites and the LDA will generally be required, by statute, to give assistance in this regard. A number of people have raised concerns about section 183 in that process and I hear them fully. I am firmly of the belief that local authority members should have maximum power. In my role as Minister of State with responsibility for local government, every day I try to give local authority members more power. It is interesting to note that was not the case in the original Bill, so this is a change that has been made. I will bring Senators' views back to the Minister in connection with that issue. On the residential aspect, the Minister has conceded that land zoned as residential is the only aspect where section 183 can be changed. I will absolutely raise all concerns regarding that with the Minister.
Separately, where local authorities no longer require land for their own purposes, as I mentioned, similar to other public bodies, including commercial bodies, they must give first refusal to the LDA before selling to the market. It is only in circumstances where land is already zoned for housing that section 183 of the Local Government Act would not apply, as it is moving land from one public body to another to deliver housing. These provisions support the role of local authority members, allowing them to work in partnership with the LDA to deliver on complex sites. They will need to be able to avail of a centre of excellence, which will also be developed through the LDA in delivering housing in key urban areas.
The LDA will be a powerful land management agency. While its immediate focus will be on developing housing on public lands, in the longer term it will assemble strategic land banks from a mix of public and private lands, making these available for housing and bringing essential long-term stability to the Irish housing market. I also welcome the positive commitments and comments today on the prototype that the LDA's land register already has available on its website.
I will follow up on a few other specific issues. On the land valuation for public land being sold to the LDA, I want to reiterate that while the LDA will pay for such land, and the price will take into account the proposed use of the land, it will also deliver significant levels of affordable housing in addition to Part V housing.
Many Senators referenced the affordability requirement in the Bill. As I said in my opening comments, the Part 9 provision has been amended to ensure that there is 80% affordability on relevant public lands in Cork and Dublin cities. This, when taken together with Part V housing, will ensure that there will be 100% social and affordable housing on these sites. The affordability requirement will be set at a minimum of 50% in all other areas, which will be effectively 70%, including Part V. This housing will not be linked to market rents or market prices, as was referenced by some during the debate, but will be delivered in accordance with the Affordable Housing Bill in relation to the cost rental and affordable housing purchase schemes.
Quite the opposite of the LDA being a vehicle for divestment of public lands to the private sector, the LDA, as a fully State-owned agency, represents a far more active and impactful role for the State in the land development market, including utilising public lands more efficiently. The LDA is mandated to replenish and assemble land banks, including by way of acquisition from the open market, which means that certain privately held lands may become publicly owned in the future. It is also important to note that ministerial approval is required under section 57 of the Bill for the LDA and its subsidiaries to sell land. There is no question of any mass sell-off of public land or housing to be developed on those lands.
The LDA marks an important step for the State in actively managing its own land for the common good. As has been referenced, we are all about trying to ensure as much public housing on public land, and affordable housing for all our citizens, as possible. On finances, as has been pointed out, the LDA will receive a cash injection of €1.25 billion and can borrow up to €1.25 billion. The point about the LDA budget has been well made by some Senators, including Senator Cummins. We need to be serious about this and put the maximum possible amount the State can afford into the Land Development Agency because it will be a key driver of social and affordable housing in our State. We need to give it maximum support so it can carry out all its activities in the best interests of all our citizens.
I acknowledge a long-standing Member of the House, Senator Ivana Bacik. It looks like she will have a major result today. She has made a huge contribution to this House and it is not before time that she has been elected to the Thirty-third Dáil.
I wish her the best.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive responses, as always. On his final point, he echoed the sentiment of everyone in this Chamber. Senator Bacik is very popular and well regarded here.
- Ahearn, Garret.
- Burke, Paddy.
- Buttimer, Jerry.
- Byrne, Malcolm.
- Carrigy, Micheál.
- Casey, Pat.
- Conway, Martin.
- Cummins, John.
- Currie, Emer.
- Doherty, Regina.
- Dolan, Aisling.
- Dooley, Timmy.
- Fitzpatrick, Mary.
- Garvey, Róisín.
- Lombard, Tim.
- McGahon, John.
- McGreehan, Erin.
- O'Reilly, Joe.
- O'Reilly, Pauline.
- Seery Kearney, Mary.
- Ward, Barry.
- Wilson, Diarmuid.
- Gavan, Paul.
- Higgins, Alice-Mary.
- Keogan, Sharon.
- Moynihan, Rebecca.
- Sherlock, Marie.
- Wall, Mark.
- Warfield, Fintan.
When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The House stands adjourned until 9.30 a.m. on Monday, 12 July 2021, in the Dáil Chamber in accordance with the order of the Seanad today.