Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Questions (39)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

39. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if residential development delivered by the Land Development Agency, LDA, will be delivered through designated activity company subsidiaries of the agency; if LDA developments may include unaffordable open market priced homes on public land; and if the compulsory purchase powers of the agency will be limited to ransom strips. [38722/20]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Housing)

As the House knows, the revised general scheme of the Land Development Agency Bill 2020 has been published. It is a significantly longer text than the one the Minister and I scrutinised at the previous housing committee. There are a lot of significant changes but also some worrying carryover from the original draft. Maybe the Minister could give the House an overview of some of what he sees as the significant changes in the new general scheme.

The programme for Government contains a commitment in respect of the State playing a greater part in the deliver and direct provision of affordable and social homes and the LDA Bill will play a key role in that regard. I recently received Cabinet approval for a revised general scheme for the LDA Bill, which reflects the commitments in the programme for Government and indeed the consideration of the issues raised during the previous pre-legislative scrutiny in which the Deputy and I both took part during the lifetime of the previous Oireachtas. The revised general scheme provides that the LDA will be established as a statutory corporation, rather than a designated activity company, DAC, but also provides for enabling powers for the LDA to establish subsidiaries as DACs, where appropriate, to deliver on its functions. There are other State bodies established as DACs so this form of corporate structure is, as the Deputy knows, already in use within the State. The revised general scheme also makes clear that one of the principal objectives of the LDA will be to develop sustainable communities, with a particular focus on enhancing the stock of climate resistant, low-carbon and affordable housing.

Specific provisions are included in respect of the provision of housing on State lands. With respect to the other part of the Deputy's question, as part of its broad functions in relation to strategic land assembly, it is proposed that the LDA will have compulsory purchase order, CPO, powers but it is expected that it will only be used for ransom strips.

The LDA Bill is being drafted as a priority. A great deal of very detailed work is going into it with the assistance of the Office of the Attorney General. It is being drafted as a priority in order to place the LDA on a primary legislative footing.

I thank the Minister for his reply. One of the concerns both he and I had last year was that by using the designated activity companies model for the residential developments, those activities would not be subject to FOI and the lobbying register. That is obviously still the case where the LDA uses the its subsidiaries as the Minister has outlined. There is of course also a concern that the definition of "affordable housing" in the new general scheme is simply a discount on prevailing market prices in that location, which, in many part of this city, would not be affordable.

It is very troubling that the agency does not have CPO powers any stronger than those in the last general scheme; ransom strips were there previously and still are. That undermines the ability of the LDA to do its land management function.

There is still too little mention of social housing in the general scheme. I think there is only one instance. This means that on land which is not owned by local authorities - such as, for example, the site of the former Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum, on which up to 1,000 homes could be built - we could have only 10% social, maybe 30%. How affordable they would be we do not know and there will still be a large volume of homes at open market prices. That is concerning for some of us so maybe the Minister will respond on those issues.

The legislation in question is important and, as the Deputy rightly says, a lot of work and effort went into it in the previous Oireachtas. I was quite critical of parts of the previous heads of Bill that were published and some significant changes have been made in that regard. If one looks at the programme for Government, in the "Housing for All" section, we very clearly define what we want the LDA to do, with a very specific focus on the delivery of public and affordable homes on public land. The priority must be to get it up and running on a statutory footing, a primary legislation footing. That is why I want to get the Bill published in advanced of Christmas. The plan is to do so and move it forward.

The Deputy referred to subsidiaries. It is obviously the intention that any subsidiaries created by the LDA for the purpose of developing State lands - should that happen, as this Bill only gives them the power to do so - would be fully owned by the LDA and therefore by the State. That was a concern we had in the past that will be addressed in this. I want to say very clearly that for the purposes of developing State land, any subsidiaries, should they be established, would be fully owned by the LDA and, therefore, owned by the State

The Minister is aware that the housing committee has written to him wanting to know if pre-legislative scrutiny on the general scheme is possible in view of the fact that most of the committee members are new. It would be helpful if he would give the committee an indication of whether he is willing to do that or not. The committee would of course expedite such a request. I am very concerned, however, because the issue of FOI and the lobbying register remains as problematic today as it was before. The issue of lack of CPO powers remains as it was before and the lack of clarity on the volume of social and genuinely affordable housing that will be delivered on these significant pieces of public land is still as unclear as it was before. Pre-legislative scrutiny would give us an opportunity to tease this out.

We do not want to delay the Bill but the most important thing is to get it right and not to rush it, particularly in light of the significant role it is going to play in the years ahead. If we get this wrong, if the set-up does not do what the programme for Government promises, we will end up with a vehicle with very limited adequate public scrutiny of its commercial activities and with very little active land management functions in social and affordable housing, and that would be a bad day's work on everyone's part.

The Deputy regularly has a tendency to think and presume the worst of what will happen but I am convinced we will get this Bill right. The Bill will be published shortly so I would say in advance of raising criticism based on his own thoughts, the Deputy might wait until he sees the published Bill. I will certainly through the course of the Second Stage debate and on Committee and Report Stages take on board any amendments deemed fit and appropriate. The one aspect on which I agree with the Deputy is the urgency of the legislation. I do not think, by the way, the restriction of compulsory purchase order powers is something that should raise any concern. What I want the Land Development Agency to do, which is why the Government has provided funding into 2021, is to break ground on Shanganagh Castle and get started on building and delivering homes. We can continue with these political debates on housing delivery or we can get on and deliver the houses. This is why I want the Land Development Agency Bill published and the Land Development Agency established on a primary legislative footing so it can get on and deliver good housing stock for our people.