Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach.
I thank all or most Senators for their contributions this afternoon. I thank Senator Boyhan for his amendment. It is well-researched and he has put forward an argument. He has gone through it and it is based on fact unlike a couple of the other contributions that supported his amendment. I know from the Senator and from the work he has done and continues to do in the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage that he feels very strongly about housing delivery and is supportive, in broad terms, of the Bill.
I will say one thing at the start before I address the specific issues, in that a comment has been made erroneously that I have not accepted amendments to Bills here. I have probably been in the Seanad more often in the past number of weeks than the Senator who made that charge. He may not realise that I have taken on board a number of amendments, both Opposition amendments and indeed changes and amendments from Government Senators. I have also done that in the Dáil. I do not want to be too precious about this but I want to set the record straight. There are multiple changes in this Bill itself which are reflected by the work of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Seanad and the Dáil.
The previous Bill, incidentally, in the last Oireachtas was only a general scheme, as has been said by Senator Casey. This is a revised version of what we are doing, agreed by Government and brought forward to the Oireachtas in the interests of using State land productively for the provision of homes for people. If people want to support that and if people believe that State lands which have been lying idle for years by State agencies - not council lands which I will address in a minute - should be used productively for the provision of affordable or social housing, they should vote for this Bill. If they do not vote for this Bill, they do not believe that.
In fairness, Sinn Féin’s Dáil spokesperson on housing made a point, and he is entitled to that view, which is that his party does not believe that a Land Development Agency of the State should be involved in residential building and should not build any homes. He went further than that where Sinn Féin also said that the Land Development Agency should not even plan for the building of homes. I accept what Senator Warfield has said he is not supporting the Bill, which is fine. The Land Development Agency then should not be involved in master planning or in any of that lending of its expertise to local authorities if the local authority requests it, as has happened in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown in Shanganagh where there is partnering on bigger sites. To be fair, that is a political position that a party or an individual is entitled to have. The fact then is that the main Opposition party only wants a Land Development Agency to just bring land together, have a look at it, put it on a register and farm it back out again. We need greater thinking and action than that to deliver the thousands of homes that we need.
Parking even the Covid-19 pandemic for the moment, we need on average of a minimum of 33,000 homes a year. This year we will probably deliver 20,000. Last year it was just 20,000 because of the Covid-19 disruption. Around half of those homes, to be fair to this Government and to the councillors across the country who supported housing schemes, were public and social homes. Other parties will have to stand over their record of what they have really done at council level in the provision of housing.
On some of the points that have been raised, we are putting councils back at the centre of delivering homes. I want them to be the main deliverer of not just social but, as Senators Casey, Cummins, Fitzpatrick, Dolan, Seery Kearney and all of my colleagues, together with Senators Gallagher, Murphy and McGahon in their contributions have stated, affordable and social homes. Councils will be delivering both and rightly so. We have given them the biggest budget in the history the State to empower them to deliver housing.
The Housing for All plan which the Government will bring forward in a matter of days will be a multi-annual plan for delivery. One will see the targets in that for social and affordable housing delivery and, for the first time ever, for cost-rental delivery.
The Government, made up of three parties, has, within a year, delivered a new form of housing tenure that has been talked about for years. I am saying that because any measures we take are taken not just for the sake of it but to give us a basis to improve on delivery.
I respect the points and concerns some Senators may have in thinking there may be a diminution of powers. There absolutely will not. Section 183 is not affected. It stays. My colleagues have explained the situation. The section 183 exception would only apply in extremis where residentially zoned has not been developed. That will only apply for the Land Development Agency, LDA. Section 183 is not set aside for anything else. As a part of this legislation, by the way, any State agency or State body will have to offer land it is selling to the LDA first, and rightly so. Section 183 applies for all other non-residential lands. The local authority members will make the decision, absolutely and rightly. There may be an extreme situation, of which we have seen some rare examples, involving an obstructionist council. That would be a case in which the section 183 exception would be triggered. Let us be very clear on this. Section 183 will only cease to apply where land has been zoned for housing and has not been used for that purpose. In all other instances, it will apply. There is no desire, in any way, shape or form, to supplant local authorities in the work they have to do. I want the LDA to supplement local authorities in the delivery of homes. It is as simple as that.
Within a matter of months, the LDA will break ground for the first time in Shanganagh Castle to deliver hundreds of homes. That is being done in co-operation with the local authority to deliver, in particular, cost rental housing. More of that building is going to happen. I do not think we need to elevate things and imagine that a bogeyman will come in, rip asunder all the powers of local authorities and assume those powers. Everything I have done will ensure that is not the case and will not be the case.
Let us remember, as Senator Casey said earlier, that the LDA will have to comply with the zoning of the land. It will need to get planning permission on the land because it is not a planning authority. The planning authorities remain the same. If a portion of land in Fingal is sold to the LDA, it will have to go back to Fingal County Council for planning permission. I want local authorities to bring forward schemes and more of them will be doing that.
A couple of questions were asked about delivery, especially in Galway. The LDA will operate in population centres of 30,000 and above. Some Senators may have been trying, in one respect, to raise concerns with councillors throughout the country that the LDA will affect every town and village in the country. It will not. Its application is clearly set down in the legislation, for those who have looked at it. The Government has already decided to put housing delivery teams into each local authority. I have made that announcement and told the chief executives. We want to build up the resources within the local authorities. Under section 15 of the LDA Bill, a local authority can direct the LDA to provide services and master planning expertise on urban design and development for large-scale sites. That will only apply for centres in areas with a population of 30,000 or more. Sites will predominantly remain in local authority ownership after development and I would see that happening in the vast majority of cases.
It is envisaged the majority of the LDA's work on local authority lands, as I said, will be done by co-operation. I believe in local government and I always have. I was a councillor. We have exceptional councillors throughout the country who know their areas better than anyone. At the end of the day, we need to make sure we are delivering more homes above and beyond the levels the local authorities will achieve. The provisions of this Bill are proportionate. I have made changes since its publication, having listened to both Opposition and Government Senators, and my own colleagues, to make sure it is even more refined. The provision is proportionate. It will be effective for the fact of it being in that space.
I understand the views some Senators, including Senator Martin and our Green Party colleagues, hold about the matter. However, they want to see us deliver homes, including cost rental accommodation and affordable and social homes. We all know of State-owned lands in our own counties, towns or cities that have been unused for decades. That is not going to happen anymore. That is why we need an agency to develop those lands. We have tens of thousands of young and not-so-young people paying rents they cannot afford and trying to save for a home. We need to use these lands to increase supply.
This Bill and the Affordable Housing Bill will run in tandem. They are the two pillars to delivering affordable, social and cost rental homes at scale through our local authorities and the LDA. I do not doubt anyone's bona fides at all, but if my colleagues want to deliver homes at scale, we need an agency such as this one to do it. We need that agency to have teeth and powers. I cannot accept the amendments that have been tabled but I thank the Senators for tabling them. The debate has been useful. There is no threat to the reserved function of councillors in any way, shape or form. This is about housing delivery. To be fair, as Senator Fitzpatrick and others mentioned earlier, I and the Ministers of State, Deputies Burke and Noonan, have seen significant movement on the programme for Government commitments around the powers of councillors since we came into office. That is true not only of terms and conditions, which are important, and their remuneration, which we dealt with within a year, as we said we would, but also of provisions on planning. They have additional powers with regard to development plans.
I have accepted one amendment from this House. I am not sure if Senator Craughwell was present for the debate on the issue. The original planning Bill required that 75% of members would have to agree to an extension to the development plan. Senators asked me to look at that and reduce it to 50%, which I have done. I was happy to do that in the Dáil. That is one of a number of examples. I could give the Senator many more examples but I do not think there is any point. Let us get on with the business at hand. I thank Senator Boyhan and the co-sponsors of the amendment, Senators Hoey, Moynihan, Sherlock, Wall, Craughwell, Ruane, Black, Flynn and Higgins, for taking the time to table the amendments but I will not be accepting them. I hope I have explained my rationale.
There is a review built in under section 9. Any legislation is kept under review and I will do that in this case. The Minister may at any time require an agency to provide a review that can be debated. In the legislation, a review is tied in for 31 March 2024. A formal report from the agency will have to come forward for review by that date. At any stage that I feel, or any successor of mine feels, a progress report is required to be submitted to the Oireachtas, that can be done. The relevant committee can also request a report.