I welcome the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. We were on amendment No. 2.
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I wish to raise one matter first, if that is okay.
If a division is called, can sufficient time be given for all of us to get back to our offices to be able to participate in the discussion? I need about five minutes to get to Agriculture House. I have booked a room in the Leinster House 2000 building to avoid the problem but I do not have a working Internet connection from there. I hope it will be working from next week. I am requesting at least four minutes to get back to the office so that I do not miss what is happening.
That is fair. We will do that. That is no problem.
Other amendments are grouped with amendment No. 2Nos. 49, 79, 80 and 236 to 259, inclusive. At the end of the previous meeting, I said that I would invite Deputy Boyd Barrett to continue.
This is pretty tricky because there are so many amendments and many of them are quite different. Have we discussed amendment No. 42?
We have completed the debate on amendments Nos. 41 to 43, inclusive.
I am unsure whether I spoke to them and I made that point at the end of our previous meeting. Amendment No. 42 provides that the agency must be publicly owned and controlled. I want to emphasise this because one of the big problems with these agencies that are set up is that they are at one remove from direct control by elected representatives. Essentially, they become buffers against proper oversight. To be honest, I am sick to my back teeth of dealing with these entities, which are sort of State agencies. A councillor may attend a council meeting to try to find out what a body, a supposedly public body, is doing. Then he is told the council cannot give an answer because it is the responsibility of a given body and the council will see if it can get representatives in and get an answer from them. It is at one remove from real direct public control.
I have no doubt that is what will happen with the Land Development Agency, LDA. Theoretically, the council will still have a role. In reality, the LDA will be a law unto itself unless it is directly publicly controlled and unless there is direct public oversight over what is being done to develop public land.
Amendment No. 43 is next. We are including the term "relevant private". The reason for this is because, as we discussed previously, the LDA should not be acting in substitution for local authorities in the context of their responsibility for public land or for opening up such land to private interests. The agency should be doing the opposite. It should be grabbing relevant private land, including that which is being hoarded by private developers. I refer to vacant land that is being hoarded, being used for the purposes of speculation or that is simply unused and that could be used for housing. What the LDA should be doing is getting hold of such private land because it could be used to deliver much needed housing.
Amendment No. 49 provides that the definition of public housing should be housing that is operated by local authorities and approved housing bodies with differential rents. Again, this is critical because the Minister's definition of "affordability" is linked to market prices and rents rather than people's income or the cost of housing. That is not affordable at all. What we want in defining public housing is that anything built by the State on public land or anything that is being defined as affordable in any context should be affordable relative to people's incomes. Specifically, public housing must be based on the differential rent scheme.
Amendment No. 79 is next.
I have no wish to interrupt Deputy Boyd Barrett. I know we are starting off but we have gone back to group 1 and now we are going back to group 2. I know there was a question about whether we have dealt with amendments Nos. 42 to 44, inclusive. It is difficult to follow. We are back on the grouping we dealt with. We are not on group 2. I am not sure whether the Chairman can give some advice on this. I am trying to be helpful rather than interrupt.
That is fair enough. To say it is hard to follow is putting it mildly. We have four different groupings within one group. It is pretty crazy to be honest.
I will give some direction on this. Amendments Nos. 41 to 43, inclusive, have been spoken to by Deputy Boyd Barrett and the Minister. Amendment No. 49 has been covered. Deputy Boyd Barrett may wish to move on to amendments Nos. 79 and 80. Amendment No. 213 has been covered. Finally, we will cover amendments Nos. 236 to 259, inclusive, all of which relate to the Title.
Amendment No. 79 provides that the function of the agency should be to deliver public and affordable housing rather than "housing for public good", which is a meaningless phrase. Of course, that sort of vague phraseology gets to the heart of what is wrong with the LDA and the Government's proposals for dealing with the housing crisis. A phrase like "for public good" does not mean anything.
What we need is an agency whose sole purpose is to deliver public and affordable housing. We need a strict definition of what public and affordable housing is so that it is genuinely public and genuinely affordable. That is the logic.
Amendment No. 80 is in the name of Deputies Ó Broin and Gould.
I have not finished.
Sorry, I thought the Deputy was moving on to amendment No. 80.
Are we supposed to deal with amendment No. 236 now? Does Deputy Ó Broin want to come in on his amendment first?
The Minister may wish to come in on amendments Nos. 49 and 79. Deputy Ó Broin may wish to come in on amendment No. 80.
My thanks to Deputy Boyd Barrett for his amendments. I will deal with his initial comments first. We are talking here about a commercial semi-state company. It is 100% publicly owned. It is fully accountable to the Oireachtas. There is full oversight. I have ensured that there will be full freedom of information provisions and oversight from the Comptroller and Auditor General. It could not be more publicly owned than it is. We will have to agree to differ on this because it is not only 100% publicly owned but its remit is to deliver and build on public land.
I take the point made by Deputy Boyd Barrett with regard to the hoarding of private land. That needs to be addressed, but let us be aware of and deal with the reality. There is a great deal of publicly owned land that should be used more productively. That is what we need to do. That is why this legislation has been brought forward. The State is the biggest hoarder of land and that needs to stop. We need to put our land to use to build homes for our people, including social and affordable homes.
Amendment No. 49, which is related to amendment No. 79, is jointly tabled by Deputies Boyd Barrett, Gino Kenny, Paul Murphy, Bríd Smith and Barry. It seeks to amend section 3 of the Bill which provides definitions for references made in the Bill. In particular, the amendment seeks to insert a definition of public housing. I am opposing the amendment as a specific term for public housing is not referenced at any point in the Bill. As such, a definition is not required. The Bill already includes multiple references to affordable and social housing, which we discussed at length on Tuesday. Local authorities are the housing authorities. They will be the main drivers of delivery of social and direct-build affordable homes. The LDA will assist them in implementing that role, but also in delivering on State agency land, which is not happening at the moment. On nine sites that we know of already, and others, that will be moving forward. As such, local authorities have the primary role with regard to the delivery of social housing, including in regard to the allocation of such housing and the setting of appropriate rent levels. I will be opposing these amendments.
Would Deputy Ó Broin or Deputy Gould like to speak to amendment No. 80?
Yes. I am speaking also in support of the intent of Deputy Boyd Barrett's amendments. Amendment No. 80 attempts to provide that all of the homes on land that the LDA is developing should be affordable housing. I cannot see any justification for allowing the very scarce resource of public land to be used for unaffordable housing. If the Minister wants to make a case as to the reason that land should be used for houses that will be sold at prices of €350,000 to €450,000, he can do that, but this amendment makes clear that where the LDA is involved in residential development all of the homes on that land would be affordable and social as well. That seems to me an eminently sensible proposal.
Again, we discussed this at length on Tuesday. This is about delivery. The main purpose of the LDA will be to deliver affordable and social housing. In many instances, particularly in our urban centres, we will have 100% affordable and social in the sense that entire developments will be made up that mix of housing, particularly in Dublin and in Cork. We need to ensure the agency also has latitude to be able to deliver on sites into the future. I will not be accepting amendment No. 80.
I note two Deputies' have hands up. I do not know in what order they indicated, but I will call Deputy Cian O'Callaghan first and then Deputy Boyd Barrett.
This is the bit I do not understand. The case has not been made, and no rationale has been offered, as to the reason we would want to build homes at full market price on public land, or what the advantage is of doing that. We have a huge demand and crisis in terms of housing affordability. We need to be using public land to deliver affordable and social housing. That is abundantly clear, and the Minister has said that a great deal himself. There is gap between what he says in terms of his mantra of public homes on public land and what is actually being done and being delivered. I am highly sceptical of the Land Development Agency. We hear that mantra, yet what we see is majority, private, full market price homes being built on public land. That is what happened under the previous Government, and it is what is happening under this Government.
I want to make a point on delivery. It slows down delivery to do that mix because to be able to sell homes at full market price the homes have to be drip fed for sale over a number of years. If the houses were built at prices that people could genuinely afford, for which there would be huge demand, we would be able to build-out a lot of these housing schemes much quicker and thus we would have much quicker delivery of homes. We would have quicker delivery and more affordable homes. I have yet to hear any rationale as to the reason, in terms of public land, there should be any provision of unaffordable, full market price homes when there are already private developers who have plenty of land to be delivering that type of build. That is not where there is a gap. There is a particular gap in terms of affordability and also social housing.
I want to respond to the Minister's claim that delivery could not be more public than it is. We need to put this in a concrete context. At the moment, in my area there is virtually no public housing being developed. The local authority build for this year for the Dún Laoghaire area is zero. All of a sudden and out of the blue, notice was given of allocations from the council list to a private development that the elected representatives had no idea was going to be allocated for social housing, although always through approved housing bodies and not as direct council housing. Out of the blue, this popped up and none of the elected representatives had known about it. Why is that? It is because the development was built privately and behind the scenes there is commercial negotiation is going on. Once that commercial element is brought in, oversight and democracy go out the window. This is what is going to happen with the public land bank through the Land Development Agency. Everything will be about commercial negotiations and negotiations with financiers and the elected representatives of local authorities will not have direct input or knowledge of what is going to happen, when it is going to happen or how it is going to happen until it is a done deal and a fait accompli.
The idea that the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Committee of Public Accounts will be able to drill down into the details of developments on particular sites in the multiple local authority areas is nonsense. The people who potentially could have oversight and real input and serve the public interest at a local level are the elected representatives of the local authorities. That will all go out the window. They are going to be at more than one remove in respect of many of the key decisions that will be made about the development of the public land banks in their areas. It is for this reason I am stressing in the amendment that housing has to be publicly owned and controlled. What this Bill does is supplant the role of local authorities and bring in people who are operating largely to a private commercial agenda. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan is correct that there is no justification for building full market price housing on public land. It is outrageous. What we should be doing is further encroaching on the dominance of the private sector over the housing market. The Government, through the Land Development Agency, is expanding the influence of the private and commercial sector into the public land bank.
I will allow a contribution from Deputies Ó Broin and Higgins before returning to the Minister.
I am coming back in because the Minister did not answer my question. I am trying to understand why the Minister thinks it is a good idea for the scarce resource of public land to be used to build and sell homes that will be priced between €350,000 and €450,000. I accept that there is a shift in this Bill from the original Fine Gael proposition, which was that, on average, 60% of all the homes delivered through the LDA would be unaffordable full market price sales. The Minister is right in saying that he has introduced a series of measures to change that, but I cannot understand why he would allow any homes to be sold. Taking the Dundrum Central site as an example, there will be some level of private build there, but the median market price for a two bedroom apartment in that location is currently over €500,000. In that regard, the Government is using public land to build homes at an exceptionally high price. Why is that a good idea? If the Minister wants us to withdraw our amendments he needs to convince us that is a good idea. There are already homes being developed for €500,000 for the people who can afford to buy them. Homes costing €230,000, €250,000 and €260,000 are desperately needed. Therefore, I cannot understand the rationale of 10%, 25% or 50% of a site being used for unaffordable open market price sales.
For me, public land should be used to benefit the public.
That means cost-rental, social and affordable housing. It also means supporting people who want to purchase privately like first-time buyers or those who want to downsize. The Minister clearly outlined that in areas like Dublin and Cork where affordable is most needed, it will be prioritised and delivered. He indicated that sites in these areas will have up to 80% or 90% affordable and 10% social housing. That is good and where we want to get to. We want to get to a point where the local demand is met through the LDA. Local authorities are doing their local housing demand-needs assessment. It is right and proper that those local needs will be reflected in the master planning of public sites by the agency. That is going to vary with every local authority.
I thank the Deputies for their contributions.
No one is talking about offering unaffordable, open market sales at all. Deputy Ó Broin knows that.
I intend to align the provisions of Part 9 more closely to the provisions of the recently published Affordable Housing Bill. This significant affordable housing legislation is in the Seanad and will, hopefully, pass Committee Stage there tomorrow. I assume the Deputies who have tabled these amendments will support that Bill.
Deputy Higgins is correct about the mix. In major urban areas, particularly in Dublin, Cork and Galway, most of the LDA sites would be 90% affordable, 10% social or a mix of that, meaning 100%. We need to allow latitude in other parts of the country and for specific sites to allow the choice to be given within those areas. We should not have a continuing debate about restricting tenure type. We only have to look at what happened earlier this week with a good proposal for 1,200 homes in Fingal, a mix of public and private with 238 affordable purchase, 238 social, 150 cost-rental plus some private. In some areas, it will make sense to have that mix of affordable, social and public, depending on the area. The Deputies know that too. Those who tabled these amendments opposed that particular development.
In general terms, we need to allow the LDA to operate within certain parameters. I will set out the areas around affordability in more detail through the Affordable Housing Bill. It is clear that there will be no instance whereby the agency will offer unaffordable, open-market sales as Deputy Ó Broin has put forward. This legislation will endure, hopefully, for years and the agency will endure for decades. We need this agency. It will not be, as Deputy Ó Broin put it, a land management quango. On Tuesday, he said he wanted an agency that does not plan for or build anything. His would be an agency that would simply put together a summary of State lands and then farm it out to different public bodies that he thinks will deliver those homes. We have gone past that.
In the Government's view, the LDA will be used to provide an additional dividend to our local authorities. It is on top of what they will be doing. This means it will be more social and more affordable houses. Activating State lands will provide additional social and additional affordable homes to what our local authorities will be doing. Deputies should not forget this. This is not a case of instead of but on top of. That will help us drive the type of numbers we need to be able to continue to build more public homes and to start building affordable homes at scale. That is what everyone wants. The LDA, as constructed in this legislation, will be empowered to do that. It is important that we get this legislation passed to capitalise this agency and have it moving with the development of social and affordable homes in addition to what our local authorities will be doing.
These amendments seek to add references to social and affordable in the Bill. As I said earlier, there are sufficient references in it. I do not propose to accept the amendments.
With regard to the amendment seeking to remove the reference to address deficiencies in the housing market, it is clear such deficiencies exist. That is why the LDA will play an important role in addressing this.
Additionally, I do not propose to accept amendments seeking to delete or amend the references to the role of the LDA relating to master planning, design and project management, as well as its key role as a development agency in land assembly. That would fundamentally change the agency.
Going back to the Deputy Boyd Barrett's point about the agency not being publicly owned, it absolutely is a publicly owned entity. The shareholders will be the Ministers for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Public Expenditure and Reform.
I do not intend to accept the amendment to insert the proposed definition for public housing. This term is not used in this Bill and there are sufficient references to affordable and social housing. The whole purpose of this is that the LDA will play an important role in delivering affordable and social housing, including providing services to local authorities and assisting them in developing some of their own housing schemes.
I have several Deputies indicating. I want them to address amendments Nos. 236 to 259, inclusive. I need to move this on as we are two and a half hours into this but only one amendment down. We have 258 amendments to go. I would appreciate Deputies' assistance in moving this along.
Is there any chance I could come in before Deputy Ó Broin. I am actually in the convention centre now. I will be speaking in the Chamber in the centre in a few minutes. If a vote is called on these amendments, I am going to have to fly over to Leinster House. The whole operation of trying to speak in the Chamber - I get limited speaking time as it is because of the restrictions - has to be looked at. I want to attend meetings and speak at the committee. I also want to vote and speak in the Chamber.
I disagree with the Minister on his points on social and affordable housing and for not accepting our amendments. At the end of the day, this is public land to deliver social, affordable and cost-rental homes for people who need them. They are crying out for such housing. Our amendments are at the core of this Bill, namely, that we want to deliver public houses on public lands. That is what this Bill should be about.
Apologies but, hopefully, I will be in Leinster House shortly. Again, I disagree with the Minister's analysis. What we are proposing are real solutions and they should be adopted.
Before I speak to that last list of amendments in this grouping, the Minister said something important and in his response I would like him to confirm this. He said that in no instance the LDA would be involved in the delivery of unaffordable, open market price homes. Does he mean that there will not be a single home on any LDA site that would be sold at the full open market value?
For example, in the scheme he cited, he said there would be some homes for the private market. In fact, 60% of the homes, almost 800, will be private. Fingal County Council did a market analysis of that area which it shared with its elected members. It showed the market price was between €350,000 and €450,000. This is eminently unaffordable for two- or three-bed family homes in that area. Likewise, for example, cost rental does not work if one is buying the property at full market value, which is what Glenveagh has proposed in that area. Of course, it will sell half of the apartments in the unaffordable private section at full market value.
Why would it not? It is a blocked sale. The financing of this would mean the rents on those properties would be €1,600 to €1,800. It is not cost-rental. Cost-rental removes the profit element from the development and charges rent at cost. This is essentially the worry I aim to address with amendments Nos. 80, 213 and 236. All of these say that not one single home on any of these sites should be sold at a price of €350,000 to €450,000. Will the Minister clarify whether he means that that will not happen when he says there will be no such instances? If so, why will he not accept the amendments?
I will move on to the final group of amendments in this grouping, Nos. 236 to 259, inclusive, some of which are mine and some of which were tabled by others. I will pick out a number of key ones. Obviously, these relate to rewriting the Long Title of the Bill. The Long Title is really crucial because it outlines what this Bill is going to do. I have also tabled more specific technical amendments which aim to change the relevant sections of the Bill. With specific regard to amendment No. 242, I have yet to hear the Minister make the case for the agency being a commercial semi-State body as opposed to a non-commercial semi-State body. A non-commercial semi-State body would be much more accountable to the Oireachtas and to the Minister. Its decisions and details of its financing would be fully available rather than being available in the redacted form the Land Development Agency, LDA, would be allowed to provide if it was a commercial semi-State body.
Likewise, in respect of amendment No. 247, why would the LDA be allowed to engage with a private developer to do the type of deal we saw agreed by Government parties and some Opposition parties in Donabate today? Surely, it should all be not for profit and surely it should be about ensuring the lowest possible delivery cost at the development stage so that we can have the lowest possible cost for first-time buyers and others.
With regard to amendment No. 251, one of the things I do not understand is why the Minister has retained in the Bill the Fine Gael proposition that subsidiary designated activity companies be created. This is a very controversial practice that is widespread in the commercial development sector. A company decides to set up individual designated activity companies for each individual development. It is one of the primary mechanisms by which that small but significant number of rogue builders and developers have been able to build and sell developments that are defective before walking away from any responsibility, having dissolved the designated activity company. I do not see the rationale for subsidiaries, even if the Minister favours a commercial semi-State model.
Finally, I will address one of my big concerns, on which I have tabled substantial amendments which we will discuss when we get to these sections. We have more than 31 planning authorities. They are very competent and have planners, architects and an enormous level of skill. We do not need a centralised State agency to get involved in gazumping the really good work of our local authorities. We just need Government to properly resource those local authorities. How would a State agency based in Dublin be better placed to develop a master plan for a site in Galway, Limerick or Cork than the democratically accountable planning departments of the local authorities in those areas? I would have no difficulty whatsoever with this provision if it were in the context of a an active land management agency, which is not a quango but something the State desperately needs which the Government is not providing, which also provided additional shared services to local authorities to assist them in their primary function. If the LDA, however, is given development agency status and is involved in, for example, developing a master plan for the Colbert lands in Limerick, which I suspect is intended here, this would dramatically reduce the key role of elected members of a local authority in that strategic development zone, SDZ, master planning process.
It would also allow the agency, under the provisions of the Act, to bypass the council in making decisions and to go straight to the board, which again dramatically undermines the democratic process and the involvement of elected members. That is not just my view but the view of many councillors in the Minister's own party which was expressed by members of the Association of Irish Local Government when they met us with regard to this Bill some time ago.
All of these amendments are about a different vision for this agency that would allow it to do the things that are needed. We have local authorities. It is about time that Government properly resourced and properly funded them to deliver the 20,000 public homes the Minister himself promised in the general election campaign last year.
I have to respond to two of the Minister's points. The idea that the LDA is acting as some sort of supplement to the local authorities rather than supplanting them is, quite honestly, just nonsense. There is no better example than Shanganagh. There has been delay after delay for years and years. Central government has refused to just give the local authority the money to build on its own land because it had the LDA, or something like it, in mind for years and wanted to have a private commercial component to the development of that public land, which is now crystallised in the LDA. Whereas there could have been one way of applying for central funding and building out if the local authorities were the lead and were resourced to build, nothing has happened because central government could not make up its mind as to how precisely it was going to drag the private market and private finance into the whole process. As a consequence, we still have no idea what the price of affordable housing at Shanganagh will be and, of course, not a sod has been turned.
This brings me to my second point. Could the Minister please explain why the cap on affordable housing in my area, for example, is €450,000 while in other areas it is €400,000, €350,000, €250,000 and so on? Will he please explain that? As I see it, the Minister is setting the level of so-called affordability in my area based on the fact that house prices are much higher there. Affordability is being linked to local market conditions and, therefore, such housing will not be affordable. A cost of €450,000 or even €400,000 is not affordable but that is what we are going to get from the LDA.
That brings me to the amendments themselves. Deputy Ó Broin has already made the point about the designated activity companies, DACs. There is to be the LDA itself, which will then set up subsidiaries which are allowed enter into commercial arrangements with other bodies. Guess who those other bodies are. It is a reference to private finance and private developers. That is what it is all about. Through our proposed deletions of parts of the Title of the Bill, we are trying to guard against all of that stuff and to ensure that the sole purpose of any such agency is to deliver public and genuinely affordable housing to people on a broad range of incomes and to ensure that, insofar as we build affordable housing, not only will it be genuinely affordable, but it will stay genuinely affordable in perpetuity. This housing could never be marketised. Of course, the Minister does not want that because it would be no good at all to his private financier and developer friends in their efforts to profit from the public land bank. That is the logic of amendments Nos. 236 and 238.
I have tabled amendments No. 240 and 258. I hope the Minister will accept amendment No. 240. Rather than putting the focus on housing alone, the amendment suggests that housing has to be developed in the context of sustainable development and creating sustainable communities. That is very important. I cannot see any reason the Minister would not accept this amendment. We should be talking about developing housing in the context of sustainable development and sustainable communities. I look forward to hearing the Minister say that he will be supporting the amendment. I cannot see any reason he would not.
On amendment No. 258, the Minister said that no one is talking about unaffordable housing. He said that there will be no full-price sales on the open market.
He has said that he is looking at up to 100% of homes built by the Land Development Agency on public lands being affordable and social homes. At the same time, he has defended the recent decision by Fingal County Council to sell public land to a private developer so that 60% of those homes can be sold at full market prices. On the one hand, he is saying 100% affordable and social housing is good while, on the other, he is defending sales of public land which provide for the majority of homes to be sold at full market price.
In terms of the Land Development Agency, we will find out very quickly how serious the Minister is because if he is serious about not having any homes sold at full market price, he will be happy to accept my amendment. Amendment No. 258 proposes to delete the words "a proportion of" so that, rather than having a proportion of all dwellings provided on relevant land and former relevant public land made available at a price below market price, all of them would be made available at a price below market price. If the Minister is in any way serious about the comments he just made about not having any homes on these lands sold at full market price, he will be happy to accept my amendment No. 258. I look forward to his support for it.
I assure Deputy O'Callaghan I am extremely serious about delivering affordable and social homes to the Land Development Agency at scale. That is not just talking about it but actually doing something about it, as colleagues in Fingal County Council did on Tuesday. I do not defend that by the way, but I welcome it. The Deputy will have to explain, as Deputies Ó Broin and Boyd Barrett did, why his colleagues voted against 238 social homes, 238 affordable homes and 150 cost rental homes. That is for the Deputy to do.
We need to move on from the sound-bite element of the Deputy's contributions to dealing with the facts on the ground. We need affordable and social homes at scale. The Government has brought forward the largest housing budget in the history of the State to deliver 9,500 new builds and new social homes through our local authorities. On top of that, the LDA will not supplant local authorities, as Deputy Boyd Barrett said, but supplement them. That is exactly what it will do and is what we intend it to do.
The Deputy mentioned Shanganagh Castle. I accept that we are at the start of this Bill. We can discuss specific sites and what has happened in the past but the reality is the housing on the Shanganagh Castle site will be 100% social and affordable. I intend that the LDA will break ground on the site this year. That is the position. I will not accept these amendments.
To go back to Deputy Ó Broin's point, it is a fact that the agency he wants will not be allowed to build or plan. He wants a land management agency that cannot build homes or plan to build homes. That is fundamentally what he has said today and also on Tuesday. That is not a reasonable proposition or one that anyone could stand over. If we all agree we need to utilise State-owned land productively for our people in the middle of a housing crisis, we had better get on with it.
We are establishing the LDA as a commercial State company on the basis that we want the agency to be able to access the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, and other funding in the future to be able to deliver. This is so it can operate on a counter-cyclical basis and can have a real role in delivering housing. Deputy Ó Broin regularly refers to building 20,000 public homes each year but never says where they will be built, who will build them or how long it will take. We have an agency that can add to our public and affordable housing stock by managing and developing State land above and beyond council land. We need to get on with that.
The amendments seek to amend the Long Title of the Bill to reflect other amendments the Deputies have tabled. While we are early in the Committee Stage process, we have been jumping from one grouping to another and referring to other amendments that are further down the line. We will address those when we reach that part of the Bill. As I said, I am open to looking at amendments that are reasonable if they will benefit the legislation and the operation of the agency. I appreciate the consideration Deputies have given to the Bill and the detailed amendments they are seeking to have made. However, I cannot accept the amendments to the Long Title in this group as they do not reflect the intent of the Bill.
The Bill seeks to increase supply of housing, particularly affordable and social homes, by ensuring that public land is not being underutilised by not being made available for housing. It also provides for the establishment of the LDA as a commercial State body to deliver that housing. There is obviously a fundamental difference between what the Government wants - a land development agency to deliver housing - and what Deputy Ó Broin wants. He has said he does not want the agency to develop homes and does not believe it should be involved in residential development. That is not a reasonable proposition in any way, shape or form.
It is wholly appropriate that the LDA will be established as a designated activity company under the Companies Act. This is in line with other commercial State bodies. As I said, the Ministers for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Public Expenditure and Reform will be the shareholders. There will not be any other shareholders. This will ensure the LDA is publicly owned, as it is. Whatever way people want to try to twist the narrative, the agency will be fully publicly owned. It is necessary that the LDA has a shareholding as this facilitates the €1.25 billion investment from ISIF. What is that money and investment from ISIF for? It is to deliver social and affordable homes for our people. Who could be against that?
Under the programme for Government, the LDA is being assigned a key role in housing delivery and will also work as an additional resource, providing services to assist the local authorities, such as master-planning. A couple of Deputies, including Deputy Ó Broin, have said the LDA should not be involved in this. One would have thought that should be a shared service and that on appropriate sites the LDA could offer its expertise to local authorities. Is there something wrong with that? I fail to see what is wrong with that, other than it is another opportunity for Members to find a reason not to support the Bill. It is appropriate and in line with other State bodies that have a development role, such as IDA Ireland and the Grangegorman Development Agency. It will not, however, have the full development agency role involving planning powers that local authorities have. As I said on Tuesday, it will not have the full development agency role. I will not be accepting these amendments.
If parties were agreeable to this, we could have 1,200 affordable and social homes being delivered quickly in Donabate. If we are to get the kind of delivery we need, selling off that land to a private developer and not getting those badly needed 1,200 affordable and social homes is hugely regressive in terms of what needs to be done.
The Minister stated the amendments in this group, including my amendments, go against the intent of the Bill. My amendment No. 240 provides that part of the function of the Bill is the creation of sustainable development and sustainable communities. For clarity, the Minister is refusing my amendment because he believes the creation of sustainable development and sustainable communities goes against the intent of this Bill. That is what he said. He should explain why he does not believe the Land Development Agency, as part of its remit, should be interested in sustainable development and sustainable communities because that is exactly what my amendment is about.
To be very clear, he also said that amendment No. 258 goes against the intent of this Bill. Amendment No. 258, if passed, would provide that all homes delivered by the Land Development Agency on public lands would be sold at below market prices, not just a portion of them. The Minister has confirmed that the intent of this Bill is that only a portion of homes delivered by the Land Development Agency on public lands will be sold at below market prices. That simply does not tally with his earlier comments because by rejecting this amendment, he is clearly showing that he does not agree that all homes should be below full market prices on public lands delivered by the Land Development Agency. I will certainly be pressing both amendments.
I will ask Deputy O'Callaghan if he wishes to press the amendments when we reach them.
The Minister did not answer one important question.
I want that question answered before I press the amendment. Why are the affordability caps set at different levels in different areas?
I will happily respond to that. I was not ignoring the Deputy's question but it relates to the Affordable Housing Bill, which is not the Bill in front of us. It is a matter of caps, not targets. We are not setting affordability at the levels of the caps; rather, we are saying the cap in an area is unaffordable. The measures being introduced in the Affordable Housing Bill, such as shared equity, direct-build affordable housing, cost rental and the increase in the Part 5 proportion from 10% to 20%, will help to deliver affordability in all areas. The caps are based on the median sale price from the previous year. They are not targets. There will be houses priced well below them. Again, it is a matter for the Affordable Housing Bill, not the Bill before us. We will get to Part 9 of the latter later. The reality is that we are not setting a target of €450,000 for affordability. It is not remotely like that so I ask the Deputy to examine the Affordable Housing Bill and the regulations when we publish them. House prices will be well below the amount in question. For the first time, through the Affordable Housing Bill, genuine assistance will be afforded to those who have been locked out of buying their own home for the past several years, and they will be helped in bridging the affordability gap. That relates to the Affordable Housing Bill, which will be before the committee. I look forward to that.
It pertains to the Affordable Housing Bill. We are dealing with the Land Development Agency Bill and I have 259 amendments to get through.
Sorry, Chairman, but------
Could Deputy Boyd Barrett co-operate with me, please? We have many amendments to get through.
I will but I am not letting this pass.
There will be ample opportunity.
We cannot pass a Land Development Agency Bill that is littered with references to affordable housing by way of the Minister saying we will kick the issue of defining affordable housing down the road to another Bill. The credibility of the Land Development Agency Bill is entirely, or largely, dependent on what affordability means. If affordability turns out to be unaffordable, the Land Development Agency will be as bad as some of us believe it is. I asked the Minister a question and he did not answer it. Batting it off to the discussion on the Affordable Housing Bill is not good enough. I asked the Minister a very simple question: why is the cap different in different areas? Could he please answer it?
Could the Minister answer that briefly, if he can?
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett may have missed my earlier contribution in which I said we will be aligning this Bill with the Affordable Housing Bill. Both are significant Bills. They were introduced by the Government within a year of its establishment. The Land Development Agency Bill was in gestation for years but we have changed it and brought it forward. It will have a genuine impact on delivering affordable and social homes on State agency land. The Affordable Housing Bill is related but it is in addition. It relates not only to affordable homes on public land but also to the provision of affordable housing on private lands. Again, I would have expected Deputy Boyd Barrett to have welcomed that. When we get to Part 9 of this Bill, we will be dealing with aligning the Affordable Housing Bill with the Land Development Agency Bill.
The differences in price caps, which are not targets, reflect the fact that there are different house prices in different parts of the country. There are regional price caps because one size does not fit all in the Irish housing market. In parts of the country, no private homes have been built in ten years. The only homes that are being built are public homes. Including throughout the midlands and north-west, there are large swathes of the country with a viability problem. It will not be fixed in just one Bill.
The Bill, along with the Affordable Housing Bill, which will be proceeding to Committee Stage in the Seanad, contains real measures to help real people to own their own homes or, indeed, rent their own homes with State-backed cost rental. That is what we are talking about. Let us not get into conspiracy theories on this. The Affordable Housing Bill is genuine legislation that is related to the Land Development Agency Bill. I envisage the latter delivering affordable, social and cost rental housing at scale. We cannot do that unless the agency is set up on foot of primary legislation. In this way, we can capitalise the agency to the tune of €1.25 billion. This is Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, money. I do not know whether Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett or others are opposed to that capitalisation. It will allow the agency to borrow a further €1.25 billion, thereby being capitalised initially with €2.5 billion to deliver social and affordable homes at scale on State-owned lands that have been sitting idle for far too long. I could get into more detail.
I thank the Minister.
With respect to Deputy Boyd Barrett, I have answered his question even though it does not relate directly to the group of amendments.
I thank the Minister. I really need to concentrate on the Bill before us. Is Deputy Boyd Barrett pressing amendment No. 2?
It is being pressed. I am not a member of the committee but if I am allowed to press it, I will do so.
The Deputy may call for a vote although he is not entitled to vote. That is my understanding and I believe I am correct in that.
- O'Callaghan, Cian.
- Ó Broin, Eoin.
- Duffy, Francis Noel.
- Higgins, Emer.
- Matthews, Steven.
- McAuliffe, Paul.
- O'Brien, Darragh.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 8, line 11, after “of” to insert “social, affordable cost rental and affordable purchase”.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 8, line 12, to delete “and in particular affordable and social housing”.
Amendments Nos. 5 and 91 are related and may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 8, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
“(b) to provide land for the provision of Traveller specific accommodation,”.
As every member of the committee knows, the failure of local and central government to meet the housing needs of the Traveller community is one of our greatest national disgraces. It is not just that members of the Traveller community have to wait longer times, whether for Traveller-specific accommodation or general needs social housing, but the failure of local authorities up to 2020 to spend the money the Government had given to them added to that scandal. In fairness to the previous Government, it increased the Traveller accommodation budget to local authorities - modestly but it was an increase nonetheless. In the years 2016 to 2019, however, only half of the total budget allocation was spent. If that is compared with general needs social housing, in most of those years the Government came back seeking additional funds in a Supplementary Estimate.
Last year was different. For the first year in a long time, 100% of the Traveller accommodation budget provided by the Department to local authorities was spent. The problem is a large portion of that was not spent on new housing. Of course, it was absolutely necessary for it to be spent on Covid-19-related safety measures, as well as other site improvements but until we start to deliver significant volumes of new Traveller-specific accommodation and larger general needs social housing to meet the needs of Traveller families, we will continue to have this problem.
Professor Michelle Norris, one of the members of the expert group on Traveller accommodation who presented to the committee previously, described this as an eminently solvable problem. She outlined that there are legally binding Traveller accommodation programmes for local authorities, as well as budgetary allocations. The number of individuals and households we are talking about is not very large but the failure of State institutions and, in particular in this instance, local authorities to do what they are meant to do to implement Traveller accommodation programmes is the starting problem.
I acknowledge the good work of the Minister of State, Deputy English, who headed up the expert review group on Traveller accommodation, which produced a very good report. I also welcome the fact that in the programme for Government, the full implementation of that report is referenced, and the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is leading a subgroup of the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee in regard to its implementation. Nevertheless, given the role the Government is giving to the Land Development Agency, it seems remiss not to place the same legal obligation on the agency that currently exists with local authorities to deliver Traveller-specific accommodation. My fear is that while the Minister may say nothing is preventing the LDA from including Traveller-specific accommodation in any of the sites it is developing or master-planning, my experience tells me that if something is not referenced specifically in the Bill, particularly in a section such as this, the likelihood of it not happening, particularly in light of the history of Traveller accommodation not being provided, is significant.
Both amendments Nos. 5 and 91 seek to place, in the two appropriate sections, a very clear legal obligation on the LDA, where it is involved in residential development or master-planning, to ensure there is appropriate provision of Traveller-specific accommodation to meet the needs of the Traveller community in those developments. My amendment is not so specific as to state it has to be in every LDA development, although that is what I would ultimately like to see if we go down this route, but it would place an important legal obligation on them. If that is not in the Bill, I think we will be back here in a year or two asking why the LDA is not contributing to the tackling of this important deficit in our housing system.
I will support the amendment. It is very important and it has to be included in the legislation. If it is not, we run a high risk that it will just be something the LDA does not do because it will say it is not specifically in its remit and it is not listed in the legislation. We will then be reliant on individuals in the management of the LDA, on its board or whatever to ensure this is included and that is not satisfactory, especially given the current deficits in Traveller accommodation.
The report published by the Ombudsman for Children earlier this week details serious issues with accommodation and standards faced by Traveller children in particular in Cork. It outlines problem with rat infestation, a lack of sanitary facilities or heating and damp conditions. Children in the report describe their living conditions as hell, which is completely unacceptable for any group of children in this country.
It is really important that the Minister accept the amendment and we make a specific provision in the Bill. I raised this issue with the Taoiseach in the House yesterday and he was quite supportive of seeing these sorts of issues resolved. I hope the Minister will take on board the amendment.
I fully understand where the Deputies are coming from and I am certainly happy to examine the remit of the agency. Following on from our debate on the previous grouping of amendments, we need to be clear that the LDA is not a housing authority or a planning authority. The primary responsibility for the delivery of homes and of Traveller accommodation is with the local authorities, and I agree with Deputy Ó Broin on that.
I thank the Minister for that response. We worked very well together on this issue when the Minister was in opposition, along with our former committee colleague, Senator Pat Casey. At some point, we must grasp the nettle of tackling the real obstacles to the delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation. It is significant that the report by the expert group on Traveller accommodation was published in 2019. While I know there has been some progress - our committee has written to the national Traveller consultative committee to get regular updates on that because the subcommittee looks at that - the big problem many of us have is that some of the key recommendations of that report around Part 8 planning powers and section 183 land disposals for ensuring the delivery of Traveller accommodation have yet to be progressed. I have not seen them in the legislative programme. They may be included in some of the Bills which the Minister intends to bring forward; he might tell us that. The difficulty is that unless we have clear legislative commitments, the core issue of providing adequate supply of Traveller-specific accommodation, in a culturally appropriate way, will not happen. This section of the Bill is the correct place to put that.
While I am not, in any way, trying to remove the obligation of local authorities in playing the lead role - they are the bodies that design and approve the five-year Traveller accommodation programmes - if this Bill is passed, which is likely given the Government majority support, the LDA will develop housing developments within the administrative areas of local authorities on lands which are not belonging to local authorities' lands. We have seen this on a number of sites. Therefore, it should have a legal obligation to explore, in conjunction with local authorities in the context of Traveller accommodation programmes, how its lands can be utilised to assist in this. If the Minister is willing to give a commitment to explore the possibility of a Government amendment on Report Stage - I know he cannot commit definitively to this - I am willing to withdraw this amendment at this point. To be clear, I will resubmit this amendment and amendment No. 91 on Report Stage, and I will press the amendments if the Minister, at that point, does not come back with something. I accept his bona fides on this, but if there is no legislative requirement, there will be no guarantee it will happen and that is why it must be in the Bill.
I support that proposal from Deputy Ó Broin. We have a general housing crisis at the moment, but the housing crisis which is affecting Travellers is especially severe, not just in terms of conditions. We also see that Travellers are greatly over-represented in the number of people who have become homeless. Given that the LDA is, and will be, dealing with such a large amount of public land, if we do not have something specific in the Bill, a large amount of land which would have previously been available for social housing and specifically for Traveller accommodation, will be out of the equation. It is very important that this is addressed and I hope the Minister can agree to Deputy Ó Broin's suggestion.
Unfortunately, I missed the vote because I was travelling back from the convention centre, which was very disappointing for me, and it is something we must talk about at another stage.
On these amendments, I support my colleagues, Deputies Ó Broin and O'Callaghan, in the comments they made. We take on board what the Minister said. I hope he will take on board the recommendations made by Deputy Ó Broin. There was a shocking report issued about a halting site in Cork. The description given by the children who live there was unbelievable in this day and age. We live in a society that allows children to grow up in this environment and it is something we must tackle. We must support the local authorities, there is no doubt about that, but if the LDA Bill is to go through, and if the LDA deals with the amount of public land that is expected, Traveller accommodation must be considered as part of it. It must be included and delivered on. I support Deputy Ó Broin's suggestion and I hope the Minister takes it on board.
I support this amendment. It is particularly important because I fear that, as this Bill envisages, the involvement of private finance, commercial interests and so on, one will get the usual stuff occurring, which is the real answer as to why the affordable caps are different in different areas. It is because they are worried about the impact on the market. Those sorts of prejudices are often what drive anti-Traveller sentiment. There have been efforts by certain political parties to cynically trade on anti-Traveller prejudices to stop Traveller-specific accommodation, because it will affect the price of housing. That is a terrible prejudice. A Member who was a Minister in the previous Government, I think she is now a Minister of State, helped get herself elected on the basis of opposing Traveller-specific accommodation on the Mount Anville site in our area. I wonder whether that site will be given over to the LDA, which is designated for Traveller-specific accommodation but was opposed by Fine Gael councillors. I wonder whether the requirement to provide Traveller-specific accommodation on sites like Mount Anville will be a legislative obligation. I support what Deputy Ó Broin said.
Thank you, Deputy Boyd Barrett. We will let the Minister respond.
I thank Deputies Ó Broin, Gould and Smith for tabling those two amendments. I fully understand the intent of the amendments. To follow on from what Deputy Boyd Barrett said, I have always been, and continue to be, a full and unambiguous supporter of Traveller-specific accommodation and improving the lot of our Traveller community.
The Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, has been really engaged within the Department. Last year was the first year the full allocation of €14.5 million was spent on Traveller accommodation. This year the capital budget is €15.5 million and there are significant developments happening in that regard. We have much work to do in this space. There is no question about that.
I will give a commitment to look at this in more detail between now and Report Stage. I will engage with Deputies on that. This should not divide us because all of us on the committee want to ensure we are providing the Traveller accommodation that is needed. I see the LDA having a role in that space. I want to balance that with the fact that I do not want to see any dilution of responsibility for the local authorities. Their fundamental principal responsibility is to deliver accommodation in this space as well as for social housing.
I am happy to look at this. Useful amendments have been tabled. I need a bit more time to see how we could advance this. I reaffirm our absolute commitment to ensure we improve the lot of our Traveller community, particularly in the area of accommodation. I am an unambiguous supporter of that programme, which the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, is driving in accordance with the commitments in the programme for Government in this area. I will look at this in more detail, engage with the Deputies who tabled this amendment and look to come back with something before Report Stage, if that is agreeable.
Deputy Ó Broin, does that satisfy your request?
Yes. I thank the Minister for that commitment. On that basis, I am happy to withdraw the amendment. If the Government does not table some alternative wording on Report Stage, it will be my intention and, I am sure, that of other Opposition Deputies to re-table these amendments. The issue is very important to us. I agree with the Minister that, if we can do this on a unanimous basis, it will send out an important signal. My colleague, Deputy Gould, and I would be happy to work directly with the Minister and his officials on this.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 8, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following:
“(b) to provide land for the provision of accommodation for those in the asylum application process”.
It is possibly a similar discussion to the one we have just had. The appalling accommodation regime that has been in place for people seeking asylum in our State is well documented. Large numbers of people, many fleeing wars, persecution and economic devastation, come to our country seeking asylum. We are a country that has had that experience ourselves. There is probably not a generation of the families of any member of this committee which did not at some point in the 19th or 20th century have to leave Ireland for similar reasons. Being a nation of emigrants, it surprises me that we have had such a poor State response to accommodating people who come here seeking asylum.
I acknowledge that, for the first time in 20 years, there is a programme for Government commitment to addressing this issue. I also acknowledge the important work the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy Roderic O'Gorman, has done in bringing forward a plan for bringing an end to direct provision and providing a human rights-compliant own-door accommodation system for people on a temporary basis while they wait for their asylum applications to be processed.
The key is in the implementation, and that brings me to this amendment. The primary responsibility for transitioning to a human rights-compliant accommodation system for people applying for asylum will not rest with the Land Development Agency. However, given that the agency is being set up to do large-scale residential developments at the direct delivery end and the planning end, it should also have a legal obligation to consider how it can best play a role in assisting the relevant Department and State agencies in what will be a very challenging task in the years ahead. If it is not in this legislation, it will not happen.
We have many amendments so, to progress the debate more quickly, if the Minister was willing, as he was with the last, to give an undertaking to examine the issue, discuss it with his colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and consider a Government amendment on Report Stage, I would be happy to withdraw this amendment. Given the scale of the development the Minister is promising under this legislation, I think it would be a real missed opportunity to ensure human rights-compliant own door accommodation for people in the asylum system. To allow them to live with dignity in a traumatic system would be the right thing to do. There needs to be in this section of the Bill an explicit commitment to play a role in this.
I thank the Deputies for tabling this amendment, which is similar but not identical to the previous one. It affords me the opportunity to mention a couple of things with regard to the work I have been doing with my colleague, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman. I recognise the commitment in the programme for Government to ending direct provision. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, has done an incredible amount of work on that, into which we fed through the White Paper and the process with Catherine Day. We are really focused on doing it.
I have already agreed with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and we have set up a mechanism to look at this, so there is a focus on housing those with direct provision and the main responsibility would lie with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. We will assist in that process very specifically with the Housing Agency. That has been put into the White Paper. The Housing Agency and the expertise will provide expert advise on sourcing, delivering and managing housing and accommodation.
Our local authorities have already quietly been doing much work in this space over recent years for those whose status has been regularised, helping them source permanent accommodation. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is engaging in that. There will potentially be elements of change within that as to how local authorities interact with the asylum seeker process, and that has been outlined in the White Paper.
While I fully understand and respect the intent here, it might be premature in the process to tie this in right now. I would be happy to come back with a detailed note in advance of the next Stage on the work we have been doing with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and on how the Housing Agency will work with the local authorities and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. We know we need to provide a certain number of homes each year in this space. We are focused on ending direct provision for those who have languished in it for far too long. We are committed to that and the Ministers, Deputies O'Gorman and McEntee, and I have met on this issue. We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure we make good on the commitment in the programme for Government. Much detailed work has been done already in this space.
I am happy to provide a briefing to members on this to see how we could move this on. It is similar but not the same as the previous issue because we are well advanced on a new phase of ending direct provision and I do not want to do anything that might further complicate that matter in relation to the focus the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman's Department has shown in this space.
I assure colleagues we are assisting in every way we can and have agreed that the Housing Agency will have a specific role with regard to sourcing, delivery and management of housing and accommodation to ensure those in indirect provision can exit from it.
What is important about this amendment and marks it as different from the previous one is that it about the provision of land.
There will be a response from within the relevant Department, assisted by the Housing Agency, in terms of the mechanism or agency that will deliver the accommodation stream we are talking about. I am not arguing that local authorities or the LDA should be providing that accommodation. My understanding of the White Paper from the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, is that the outworkings of the work described by the Minister will provide a mechanism to deliver that accommodation. The problem is that mechanism will not have any land. The provision of land will be key. Again, I am happy to withdraw this amendment, but I would urge the Minister to go one step further than his commitment to give us a paper. I think a briefing note would be very useful, and we would welcome that, but the provision of land will be key to whether whatever mechanism emerges out of the White Paper is able to deliver on the very ambitious, and rightly so, timetable that is set out in that White Paper. I am not asking the Minister to commit 100% to bringing back his own amendment. I am asking him to consider whether to place some kind of obligation on the LDA to assist in the provision of land, where that is appropriate, in the context of the relevant agencies delivering on the human rights-compliant own-door accommodation system for asylum applicants. I am asking him to at least consider that as an amendment. If he decides not to do that, we can re-table these amendments on Report Stage.
The Minister will know as well as I do that land is a key element in the delivery of this stream. Given the volumes of land that the Minister is promising will go through the books of the LDA, giving it some role in assisting the State in making an appropriate portion of that land available for human rights-compliant own-door accommodation would be the right thing to do. I am happy to withdraw the amendment, but I would ask the Minister to comment on whether he will, at least, examine the possibility of a Report Stage amendment from Government on this issue.
I appreciate Deputy Ó Broin's remarks. More work is needed on the amendment. As drafted, it asks that land be provided for the provision of accommodation for those from the asylum application process. I am sure that like me Deputy Ó Broin would not like to see any unintended consequences arising from the designation of land within a development for asylum seekers. That would be very problematic and it could to lead to many other issues. I am not raising the spectre of far right, but, unfortunately, there are some in this space who could argue that particular land is land for the asylum seekers and we are not providing homes for our people. All of us want integrated communities. We want developments that will be available to all of our people, whether born in Ireland or not. Our focus is on ending the direct provision system and providing a real mechanism through which to get people into permanent accommodation.
I could take another look at the proposal, but the Deputy would, probably, agree that the wording of it as tabled might be, in an unintended way, problematic. I will ensure there is a briefing on the matter for members who are interested. I am happy to take another look at it, but I do not want to do anything that will impact on what we have already agreed with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, on foot of the White Paper. I believe we now have a plan that will deliver homes and ensure direct provision is ended by this Government, and by this Oireachtas. The idea of designating a specific proportion of land in a Land Development Agency portfolio, or in a specific development, as land for asylum seeks would, in and of itself, be problematic. I give a commitment that we will engage further on this aspect. It is important. As I mentioned in regard to the previous amendment, the Land Development Agency, when asked to perform certain functions under section 14, or requests from local authorities, would activate at that stage. The Housing Agency is already tied into this particular process. I will brief members further on that. We can arrange to have a full briefing such that they are clearer on what is planned between myself and the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and the acting Minister for Justice, Heather Humphreys. I appreciate Deputies' co-operation in that regard.
Is the amendment being withdrawn?
Yes, but I reserve the right to reintroduce it, or another version of it, on Report Stage, if required.
Amendment No. 7 has been already discussed with amendment No. 2. Is the amendment being pressed?
Yes. I move amendment No. 7:
In page 8, line 14, after "for" to insert "public".
Amendment No. 8 has been already discussed with amendment No. 2. Is the amendment being pressed?
Yes. I move amendment No. 8:
In page 8, line 14, after "for" to insert "social, affordable cost rental and affordable purchase".
Amendments Nos. 9 to 11, inclusive, 37, 38 and 86 are related and will be discussed together by agreement. Amendments Nos. 10 and 11 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 9 and amendment No. 38 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 37.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 8, to delete lines 15 and 16 and substitute the following:
"(c) to ensure the delivery of vibrant and sustainable mixed income communities,".
To expedite the process, I will speak to my three amendments Nos. 9, 38 and 86 now. For me, amendment No. 9 is important. There is a very unfortunate language that has become pervasive in a lot of housing policy documents. It started many years ago in housing policy documents approved by previous Governments, but it has become a way of talking about social housing, in particular housing for working class people that, in my personal view, is inaccurate, is not backed up by evidence and is deeply patronising to the communities who live in that housing. We often hear some people talk about large local authority housing estates as, in all circumstance, producing ghettos and being centres of crime and social alienation. We know from very significant research from Tony Fahey and Michelle Norris and others over a decade and a half that the overwhelming majority of our local authority housing estates are really good places to live. They have settled and sustained communities. While there are issues in terms of under-funding of key resources, they are places where people are happy to live and want to live. They are places in which their children want to live. Most of us in this room who represent people living in large local authority housing estates know that people would chew off one's right and left arm to get a house in one of those estates because they are seen as vibrant communities.
Unfortunately, when people talk about mixed tenure, there is a tendency for the thinking to be that there should not be too many working class homes in one place. If is perfectly acceptable under existing law for a large private development to offset its Part 5 obligations to have 10% social by locating that social in another area and having 100% private housing in a development, often many hundreds of apartments or houses. The idea that having more than 75 or 90 social houses in a particular location, in all instances, is inherently a problem is a mistake. The research from Tony Fahey and Michelle Norris makes it clear that the issue is not tenure, it is income. One of the reasons the majority of our local authority housing estates are great places to live is because they have great mixed income and sustainable communities. People may all have the same tenure or they may have mixed tenure between tenant purchase and so on, but that mix of income, occupation and people makes those communities sustainable.
The language I seek to replace in this section is, therefore, problematic. It is patronising. Instead, we should be positive and say that the priority of the LDA or whoever is developing public housing - and the Minister will know that, in my view, it should be the local authorities but we have already had that discussion - should be "to ensure the delivery of vibrant and sustainable mixed income communities". Tenure is a secondary issue. It is really important that we get this language right.
For example, there are a number of mixed tenure communities that were built during the Celtic tiger era that are, unfortunately, as segregated as large monotenure estates. Even though they appear to be mixed tenure on paper, the social housing is all in one place, affordable housing in another and higher-end private housing in a third. Within such housing estates, therefore, the level of segregation is very significant. As we move towards more apartment developments, the same phenomenon arises because it is financially more viable for the social housing required under Part 5 to be in a single apartment block. I am trying to find much better wording to describe what should be a key objective of all of us who advocate for increased amounts of public housing. The priority should be sustainable, vibrant mixed-income communities. We should really dispense with this old, out-of-date, patronising language, which stigmatises many working-class communities very unfairly.
I have three amendments here, Nos. 10, 11 and 37. Amendment No. 10 seeks to delete references to "undue segregation" included in the Bill while No. 11 seeks to replace the term "social background" with "incomes". I also aim to replace references to counteracting undue segregation of persons to again emphasise incomes rather than social backgrounds, which is what the Bill does. Amendment No. 37 proposes making reference to "a broad range of incomes".
I will explain the thinking behind this. I feel very strongly about this issue. In the Dáil last night, we discussed apartheid against Palestinians. What we are talking about here is social apartheid and housing apartheid, which has always existed in the Irish housing sector but which has got considerably worse. The prejudice against social housing and housing for working-class people has reached such a level in Government thinking that a form of social and housing apartheid has become institutionalised. This Bill replicates that, as does the general thinking of Government and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage in respect of the provision of social housing.
Let me explain what I mean. What on earth does "undue segregation" mean? Is there a due form of segregation? There is undue segregation, which must be avoided, but perhaps there is segregation that is legitimate and due. It is absolutely outrageous. There is no acceptable level of segregation at all. Of course, the reason the Government has included "undue segregation" in the Bill is that it is aware that segregation is widespread.
How does the segregation manifest? It manifests in the Government's refusal to raise income thresholds for eligibility for social housing lists. This refusal means that those who qualify for social housing are on ever lower incomes. Whereas, in the past, bus workers, nurses, postal workers and bank workers could get on a social housing list, none of them can do so anymore. They cannot afford housing on the open market but they are not eligible for social housing because the Government is using social housing to segregate people on the very lowest incomes. This perpetuates and deepens the level of segregation which social housing traditionally avoided because it was available to people on a broad range of incomes. People on middle and even sometimes high incomes would live alongside people on very low incomes and all were eligible for social housing. In my view, if we want to avoid segregation and apartheid, there should be no income thresholds. Anybody should be able to go on a social housing list. If this is not allowed, it is implied that there is something wrong with social housing. In much of Europe, everybody from the university professor and the doctor to the council worker, the nurse and the person who is dependent on social welfare lives in social housing. That is how to avoid any form of segregation, not only this undue segregation.
The other reason the Government has used this phrase "undue segregation" is that segregation is a standard feature of the social housing component of private developments under Part 5. In my area, there is a very big development on the former golf course in Dún Laoghaire called Honeypark and Cualanor. How does the so-called mixed tenure which the Government says it favours to deal with so-called undue segregation manifest in this development? All the social housing tenants are in one block and kept absolutely separate. In many cases the actual quality of the accommodation, including the finishes and general standards, for the social housing component and the private component is different, perpetuating the apartheid.
I am sorry, we are running out of time.
I will just finish this point because it is very important. The Government now envisages that certain people will be social housing tenants, certain people will have cost-rental accommodation, certain people will purchase affordable homes and certain people will be the sort of people who buy in the private market. In other words, there is to be a sort of caste system of housing which perpetuates and institutionalises this notion of segregation rather than removing it. The State should build housing that does not distinguish between so-called social backgrounds. It should provide housing that is affordable based on people's incomes and which is available to people on a broad range of incomes. That is the logic of the amendment.
I will probably need about a half an hour to respond to that diatribe. We may have to come back to it at the next meeting. There were so many untruths and incorrect comments but there were also some elements we could address. There was one element with regard to the wording as drafted at which I will commit to looking. We will need to look at the whole section together, however. We cannot just pick out pieces. We will look and see. I know we are against the clock so we will come back to it on Tuesday.
We are just out of time. Deputy Gould is indicating and Deputy Cian O'Callaghan has an amendment within this grouping. Deputy Ó Broin also wishes to come back in. We will return to this amendment, No. 9, with Deputy Gould.
May I raise a point of order? It is not on the amendment. Obviously, it is taking us some time to get through this, although we have got through approximately half of the amendments at this stage. It would be valuable if the Chair and the clerk of the committee were able to get consecutive meetings for next week so that we could try to finish out the discussion. While we want to have proper scrutiny, we also need to get through this because we have other work on the programme. As we will not have a private session until next week, may I informally suggest that the Chairman try to seek two select committee meetings consecutively on the same day with a break of half an hour? Some other committees have held such meetings before.
We might be able to get through it that way. I am also conscious of the Minister's diary.
I welcome that but I will leave the matter to the committee to discuss and decide.
My thanks to the Minister and Deputy Ó Broin. We have a meeting confirmed for next Tuesday morning at 9.30 a.m. Deputy Ó Broin has made a good suggestion because we will probably have to hold consecutive meetings to get through the Bill.