Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)

Question again proposed: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

Before the debate adjourned, I spoke about the question of cost-rental. Many Members who spoke before me pointed out the significant gaps in this Bill as well as the dangers inherited from the gutting of local democracy to the huge reliance on the private market to deliver.

In addition to that, I want to highlight one section which alarms me. It is typical of the gap between the Minister's rhetoric and what is actually in the Bill. I am sure he will clarify it later. Section 55, on the disposal of land by the agency itself, means that the agency can, without the consent of the Minister or the Government, dispose of any land or any housing unit it has acquired if it is doing so for the purposes of rent or purchase. However, there is no mention of public housing, social housing, affordable housing or any criteria. It looks to me like a blank cheque for the agency to do as it sees fit and to enter into any arrangement with any entity in order to provide houses. These are not necessarily social or affordable houses. They are just houses. It is in effect a gift to the developer with a few pious declarations thrown in to give it sweeping powers and access to State lands but with no definitive aim to provide housing for the citizens of the State who need it.

I have no doubt that the Minister will dismiss this criticism and claim the agency is governed by the highest ideals and aspirations. If I were to give the benefit of the doubt to the Minister and to the Land Development Agency, I would have to see a board, a chief executive officer, a chair and a panel that has a record of advocating for public housing, as well as fighting the nexus of developers, financiers, legal and landed vested interests which, over the years, has allowed this housing crisis, with which we live, develop.

Who is going to steer the Land Development Agency? Overwhelmingly, it is a cohort deeply embedded in the very firms, companies and sectors which have sat at the top of society overseeing and helping this entire housing crisis. From Mr. Austerity himself to various personnel from legal firms enmeshed in the developer-led building industry to ex-NAMA officials and so on. One high-ranking official is on record as saying that every house is affordable to the person who purchases it. Is that the type of thinking we need in an agency meant to be the solution to our housing crisis?

Are these the high movers who will usher in a new generation of public housing on public land? Are they now, as we speak, thinking of the homeless on our streets, of those in emergency accommodation, of those in unsuitable housing sleeping with their children on a friend's sofa, or with their sisters, doubling up in their mammy's bedroom, or worrying about rent increases when the Covid crisis passes, or of being evicted when level 5 restrictions are lifted, or are they thinking of what will make sense to the real estate investment trusts, REITs, the corporate landlords, the likes of Johnny Ronan, the mates of Johnny Ronan, the financiers, the legal firms and all that they hail from?

I draw on the example of the last wonderful plan that was supposed to get us out of the crisis of housing, that is, the strategic housing developments, SHDs, which the Minister cancelled at Christmas. The Minister gave notice of at least a month to the developers to say we are going to-----

The Deputy is getting mixed up. She is talking about co-living. The statutory period is four weeks. The Deputy ought not let the truth get in the way of a good story.

It is co-living, okay. The Minister gave them notice that there was a month to call this off, and within that month, there were eight new applications for co-living. I reference it because it is a significant problem in my constituency. The residents in the area of the Player Wills development, which takes in Player Wills and other sites around it, are themselves having to pay for a judicial review of the strategic housing development because more than half of the 490 units will be for co-living and high-rise will be going up 19 storeys on one site and 16 storeys on the other sites. They have had no input whatsoever into this plan. Their voices are not being heard. The type of accommodation that is being developed there, clearly, in a post-pandemic world, has to be totally unsuitable. It is unsuitable for sustainable communities. It is unsuitable for family accommodation. Rather this will be about transient communities moving in and out of a settled area and the sort of accommodation that is not what is needed for the cohort of families who are desperately living on the waiting lists. Instead, we need sustainable communities where families can be accommodated. The cancelling of co-living is merely another example of how previous Ministers made a bags of what they thought would get us out of the crisis. It did not work and now we are going to cancel it.

This latest Land Development Agency will be the moneymaker. It will be the one we need that is essential to getting us out of the crisis and yet it is not what we need. It is not what the thousands of people who are ensnared in this crisis will need and it will not deliver just and decent housing for all. This Bill is not what we need and I argue against it. I look forward to the debates we will have on Committee Stage to answer the sort of problems we see. The Land Development Agency is a giveaway to developers and builders and will not address the crisis we face daily.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill to establish the Land Development Agency as a designated activity company, DAC, and to transition it from its current iteration into a fully fledged entity capable of borrowing, capable of developing and capable of leading Ireland over the next number of decades into a better plan-led set of regions and country.

I totally reject the assertion of my friend from People Before Profit, who has left, that this is about supporting developers or being engaged with developers. When I look at the people who were involved in developing the Land Development Agency, such as Mr. Niall Cussen, who is now the planning regulator and was the chief planner, and staff from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department of Finance, who were behind this both intellectually and conceptually and in terms of delivery, I see deeply committed public servants who wanted to achieve a mechanism by which the national planning framework could be realised and by which Ireland could have a proper role in land development and a real commercial stake in the value of Irish land and how that evolved. I do not believe it has anything to do with the friends of Johnny Ronan or the friends of anybody else. I genuinely believe this is about the State taking a solid step into the management and development of its own land, and not only that which it holds but also an interest in how it can acquire strategic pieces of land generally.

The purpose of the Land Development Agency is to give the State a vehicle to rebalance the boom-bust cycles we had seen for so long around development which had been genuinely developer led. Where before the State had no real capacity to manage land prices, to operate countercyclically and to plan land for not only housing but also the development of towns and cities in any sort of strategic way, the Land Development Agency gives us that new opportunity. We have been speaking about it as a housing delivery entity, and at a time of housing crisis that is understandable, but it is not only that. The Land Development Agency gives the State an ability to plan for whole quarters of towns and villages. It gives the State the opportunity to combine the technical and financial firepower available at the centre with the very best of local knowledge and decision-making where the Land Development Agency and local authorities can work together to deliver master plan projects.

Local authorities have 50,000 things to do every day, only one of which is land development. It is reasonable in any modern democracy that there would be a centre of excellence in strategic planning backed by finance that would be able to provide assistance to local authorities and other State entities to deliver their land in a way that is of benefit to the community and that is remunerative potentially to semi-State agencies. None of the HSE, the Department of Education or CIÉ is a land development body. The local authorities are to a part, but it is only one part. We have in this State taken centres of excellence in other ways because we know that idea works. We have seen it working in healthcare and other sectors. It is about providing technical assistance to local authorities to be able to deliver their land.

The purpose is to provide a countercyclical way to drive State lands for regeneration and development, open up key sites not being used effectively for housing delivery to date, remove the barriers for that and provide support to local authorities. Its purpose in the long term is to drive strategic land assembly, working with both public and private sector landowners to smooth out barriers to development and, crucially, as we have seen as being so important in the housing crisis, to stabilise land values.

This entity has often been linked to IDA Ireland. In a way, that is a little facetious and there is no reason for it to be. The IDA, when one thinks about what it did many decades ago, tried to partner with local authorities to develop banks of land that could be used to build business parks in strategic locations to drive employment, particularly around the regions. It was everybody coming together collaboratively to put on the green jersey to develop land in these ways to provide regional employment and regional development. The Land Development Agency can operate in the same way by partnering with local authorities to make sure they have the support they need. Any time one sees a house, the steps that led to that house being built came together five or, more likely, ten years previously and the programming building element of the Land Development Agency is a key part of that.

In the Bill, there is a significant focus on housing and housing delivery, and that is appropriate for now. However, the purpose and vision of the Land Development Agency goes way beyond that. It is about consolidation of land. It is about ensuring we deliver compact growth, especially on brownfield sites. It is about managing State surplus lands where they exist, of which housing will be prominent in the initial stages, but there is plenty of other work to do. There is no point in building rows and rows of houses if the business parks and employment are miles away. It is about building places. It is about supporting parks, amenities and places to live, and not just housing delivery. It is much more strategic than that, although it encompasses it.

We can see that in five or ten years from now we will have a different and new set of forward-looking priorities to make sure Ireland is operating in the best way it can, which I hope will go beyond housing because we will have realised there is so much more for the Land Development Agency to do. It is not only about housing. It is about living smartly.

The IDA was the cornerstone of Irish economic policy that got us out of such a difficult state of unemployment and an inability to develop to genuine world success. In a slightly similar way, the Land Development Agency, LDA, may be an instrument to build on what we have but may be transformative in reshaping our cities and towns in the way that we need to. In this focus on housing delivery, we risk losing our discussion of that vision for the Land Development Agency and, indeed, much more importantly, that vision for Ireland, if we forget what it is capable of beyond housing delivery.

We have sprawling cities and doughnut towns. The LDA can be a stimulus and new mechanism to turn that around, building with the local authorities. How does a local authority, county council or any other entity come up with a master plan and go through all the procurement in order to have a financial tap to the millions of euro that are needed to regenerate whole quarters and do all of the other things? It is completely appropriate that one has a centre of technical expertise that can come in and provide support.

I will address some of the criticisms of the Land Development Agency. The first is that it is a sort of new NAMA but that is not the case. When one looks back at NAMA, it was dealing with a whole set of unknowns, unknown site values and exposures. With the Land Development Agency, we are dealing with known site values but what we have not had is the firepower to develop them.

I refer to the point on section 183, which has been raised by councillors. I have a great deal of sympathy for the argument they have made. From the LDA’s perspective, it is completely understandable that it wants to de-risk the development of different sites. One can look at Dublin City Council and the Oscar Traynor Road project, which was ultimately pulled, or at my area of Shankill, where the project went back to the local authority for a vote and went through. Up to that point, however, much work had been put into developing and coming up with a master plan for the site. It was being developed nearly to the point of tender. One could see how one would want to de-risk it at that point. The danger with that, having worked collaboratively with the council, is that if one has this hanging over councillors or, indeed, council management at the end it somehow damages the relationship in an important way. This is one issue to reflect on. This issue has not really arisen except for that one situation but the potential for harm with local government may outweigh the ancillary benefits of being able to de-risk. Is another approach possible? If it was evident that there was a problematic local authority, where councillors or management were being obstructive or ineffective or had identified plots of land which were not developing them, either by refusing or not being able to do so or not co-operating with the Land Development Agency in the way this House will hopefully set out, the Minister may have powers under different Acts, whether the planning or housing Acts, to intervene and give direction in those circumstances. For this to fall into the LDA Bill risks damaging the relationship between the LDA and local authorities.

I will address the issue of transparency. I believe it was said by Deputy Ó Broin, although I do not wish to be unfair to him, that the LDA will not be subject to the Freedom of Information Act and be transparent. I understand he has set up LDA-watch. That is not a fair criticism. The Land Development Agency is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, as will all of the subsidiary DACs it will establish. The setting up of LDA-watch is to suggest this agency is being set up by quasi-criminals or something to that effect. It is a body of this State being financed by the State and being given powers by this House. We need to be careful about that.

There is also a criticism that this agency is going to take land and flip it for private development. That is not the case either. The whole point of this is to develop the State as a strategic long-term player in the price of land.

On the mix of affordability, it is clear that it is appropriate to have a measure of flexibility. It is a totally to different situation in Shankill and Dundrum, where affordable housing is desperately needed. I heard the Minister say that the mix will go up very considerably in social and affordable housing. That may not be the case in other areas where there is already a very high provision of social and affordable housing. It is already a strong tenet of planning and social policy that one has a good social mix of different forms of housing. It is essential that there is a measure of flexibility.

My last point is on cost-rental housing and how welcome it is as a new housing concept. It has been difficult to explain and to sell as new housing ideas are and can be. Cost-rental offers a huge opportunity for people either on fixed incomes or on incomes that are unlikely to change. If one was working as a primary school teacher, one's income would put one beyond social and affordable housing but one's income is never going to grow exponentially or go beyond a certain point. However, one is always going to have a housing need. Cost-rental gives people the opportunity to fix their costs in an affordable way and it gives the State a long-term set of assets and a role that can be adjusted for social policy over time.

I support the Minister in the development of the Bill, congratulate him on bringing it forward, thank him for the opportunity to speak on it and wish him well in the next Stages of it.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta agus bogfaimid ar aghaidh anois leis an Teachta Shanahan, ón Regional Group. Níl sé i lathair. Rachaimid ar ais mar sin go dtí an Rialtas agus glaoim ar an Teachta O'Donnell.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I welcome the Minister, Deputy O’Brien, to the House. I have had a chance to look through this legislation on the Land Development Agency. The basic objective of the agency is very good one. I will make a number of observations on it. The Minister will appreciate that I am from the constituency of Limerick City where we have had Limerick regeneration. It was, in way, a form of mini-LDA. From the experience we have had with the Limerick regeneration, I will make a number of observations.

First, it is critical that this is a partnership model between the LDA and the councils. That did not happen with Limerick regeneration and, as a consequence, it was not as successful as one would have liked. It is critical that there are memorandums of understanding, service level agreements and whatever is required to specifically deal with this agency so that there is no area of ambiguity in the interaction between the LDA and the local authorities. We had an incident recently in Limerick where those waters became somewhat muddied and it sent out a signal to me that it is critical that these entities are clearly defined.

Second, section 8 of the legislation states that: "Not later than 31 March 2024, and every 5 years thereafter the Agency shall furnish a report to the Minister regarding progress towards achieving the purposes of this Act." Another section states that the LDA must deliver an annual report to the Minister. These should be linked in. My view is that this should be done on a yearly basis. This is critical, in that it will bring a focus if the LDA is required not only to give an update on the work it has done, but on how it is meeting the objectives in the LDA legislation itself. The Minister may have views on this but this is just an observation of mine.

Third, on the interaction which colleagues have made reference to, the legislation is silent on the role of the elected members on the local authorities. It has come up and I am sure the Minister is well aware of the question of exactly what role they have to play. One of the functions that members of local authorities retain is the reserved function on the approval and disposal of lands. How does that fit into the relationship between the LDA and the local authority? This can be overcome in large measure by the partnership model. The members have to have a role but the Bill is silent on this. It is a question being asked by councillors. Can the Minister shed some light on exactly where that role arises?

I will now speak about the role of the LDA. The primary purpose of the legislation must be about delivering housing.

It has to be about delivering housing in a mixed-use model. Obviously we want some form of cohesion in the number of units but it must be done in a sustainable way. With regard to overconcentration of development, if we have learned anything in Limerick over the years, where we have had huge volumes of housing in one location, it is that it brought its own difficulties for the people living there. Obviously it is about getting houses built but there is a fine line between something being rushed and something being delayed. It is about getting that balance right.

This must be about social housing, which very much links in with local authorities. It also has to be about affordable housing. The Minister is well aware of my views on affordable housing. I liked the traditional model, which was that private estates had 10% affordable housing and 10% social housing. The social housing element has returned but the affordable housing element has not. It was a very good sustainable model and there was no uncertainty. In such a model, people know what is physically going into an estate. It is hugely important that in a housing estate of 200 houses, people know that 20 of them will be affordable to young people. This is something I feel very strongly about. I would prefer this model to having all social or all affordable or all private housing. It is about trying to find an integrated model that people can work with, without overconcentration.

The Bill mentions enabling measures to supply housing. It also mentions making available housing that is not being utilised. The purpose is to counteract undue segregation with regard to social background when housing people. This is about the mix. It states new and regenerated housing should be well served by schools, public transport and public amenities. There has to be interaction with the Department of Transport. The Bill also refers to developing and regenerating relevant public lands for the purpose of delivery. This is very important

If a local authority is progressive and developing housing in a specific land area that it owns, the LDA does not have a role. It has a role where the existing State authorities are not progressive in providing housing. We do not want turf wars about land between the LDA and local authorities. This is why it is critical to set out these lines of demarcation very much within a partnership model. The devil is in the detail with regard to the role of local authorities and elected members.

The Minister speaks about deficiencies in the housing market. There is a concern at present that Covid is leading to an increase in the price of housing. When we come out of Covid, the price of housing will be beyond the capability of some couples. This is why the affordable model has to kick in in a big way as soon as possible. There should be 10% affordable housing in any new estate being built. There is also the more high-powered model of the LDA itself.

The Bill mentions supporting and consolidating the provision of publicly owned lands for development to expedite the most efficient use of such land. This has to come back to the partnership model with the local authorities. Will there be service level agreements or memorandums of understanding between the LDA and collective local authorities or will it be based on individual agreements? How will it work in practice? The last thing we want are issues regarding who exactly owns such lands or who will get to develop them. We do not want in any way stagnation or stand-offs between the LDA and the local authorities.

It makes absolute sense to establish economies of scale and efficiency. The Bill refers to opportunities for the efficient development of contiguous tracts of land. This absolutely makes sense. The Bill mentions commercial activity, including the generation of the funding required by the LDA to perform its functions to achieve the best possible social and economic return consistent with the purposes of the Bill.

If the LDA is disposing of development land it is required to come back to the Minister to seek approval. However, if it is disposing of houses that have been built it is not required to do so. How will this operate in practice? Under section 8 of the Bill, the LDA is to give the Minister a report. The annual report the agency is to give the Minister could be tweaked to link in with section 8 so it would be required to outline in it how it is dealing with the objectives of the legislation rather than having to deliver the first such report in 2024 and every five years thereafter. This is hugely important because everyone believes the purpose of the LDA is good.

I welcome the Bill. I have made these observations based on practical experience from my experience with Limerick regeneration. The relationship between the LDA and the local authorities must be clearly defined with proper memorandums of understanding and proper service level agreements. If a local authority is progressive there will be no role for the LDA. It is there to deal with situations that are not being developed.

It is critical that local authority members have a positive role. Ultimately, we want to build houses to deal with people on housing waiting lists and those who may want to downsize, to provide affordable housing for young people and to make provision for private housing in a way that is sustainable with proper public transport. If the model becomes just about building five-storey or six-storey apartment blocks to increase numbers, it will not be sustainable. The model should be a mix. We need apartments but we also need townhouses and semi-detached houses. We need an integrated model. An overconcentration of any group does not work for society.

We need to define clearly how to determine what is required to be approved by the Minister. Development land being sold must be approved by the Minister but where houses are built approval is not required. Exactly what this means has to be clearly defined so there is no ambiguity. These measures are to ensure we see sustainable development enhancing places such as Limerick city, which I represent. The National Transport Authority will come back to us shortly with a revised Shannon area metropolitan transport strategy, which will link Limerick and Shannon Airport for the first time. It will come back with a model, which was not in the original draft, to set up an urban rail system with the use of existing rail track. This also has to feed into a housing model and an infrastructure model.

We need to move towards a continental housing model. I would like to see the roads going in first, along with public amenities and playgrounds, so that when the houses are built the infrastructure is there.

Too often in the past, large housing complexes were built with no social amenities, and suddenly we are doing catch-up. The LDA, in the context of a structured model, can certainly do an enormous amount of good, not only in terms of building houses, but also ensuring that the infrastructure is in place at the same time the houses are built.

When we come back to this House in a short number of years, Limerick city will have an urban rail system up running, playgrounds and parks beside new housing complexes, links to the city centre allowing people to walk, park and ride facilities and commercial activities. The LDA has a commercial remit so there is the question of who it can partner with and where the role of ministerial approval will fit into that area.

The key feature all of the time is working with a common purpose and ensuring there is no ambiguity around relationships between the councils and the LDA in the partnership model, and ensuring that the elected members of local authorities are made clearly aware of their role in the work they do around the provision of housing and local authority lands that are available in an area. The LDA extends well beyond local authorities and it extends to multiple agencies, which clearly will require service level agreements and memorandums of understanding. These other bodies, in the main, are not involved in the provision of housing, and that is the key common and defining feature of the LDA and the local authorities.

I wish the Minister well with the legislation. What I am pointing out is based on my experience. I think the Minister will accept that regeneration in Limerick is probably the nearest micro-model he will get for the work of the LDA. It would not have all the elements of the LDA but it was a body set up to deal with the regeneration of Limerick city, in particular taking control of the building of housing in the area. At the time, I believe insufficient due diligence was done around defining the relationship and the respective roles of Limerick City and County Council and the regeneration itself. Much good work was done. However, there were elements that could have been avoided and it could have been a more enhanced and successful programme. I know the Minister will take my comments in the spirit in which they are given, which is with the aim of ensuring that when the LDA is up and running, it can go about its purpose without any degree of uncertainty around its remit and its respective relationship with the local authority and its members and the other respective bodies. We will be coming back here with a much more integrated model in a number of years, and we will say that the LDA has been a resounding success.

Based on some of the criticisms that have been voiced during the week, I want to talk for a moment on what motivates us in politics. I can only talk personally about that. There is the kind of thing we hear when the public says we are all in it for the money, or the lifestyle, whatever that is. Today has been a useful occasion for me, in advance of this speech, to reflect on what motivates me in politics. Obviously, a number of those motivations are constituency-based, or they are probably all constituency-based, and some have a policy focus. I have always had a particular interest in special needs and special needs education. On transport, I was one of the first to, and continue to, push for a metro for my constituency because of the kind of developments that are taking place. I would also like to see a model similar to the north inner city strategy, which was introduced by the last Government, for the disadvantaged parts of my constituency. However, as the Minister will know because we shared this when we were on the Front Bench together, there is one objective, more than anything, that motivates me every day as a politician, and it is that age cohort who have so many burdens in their lives - the burdens of climate action, the unexpected burden of Covid and the burden of not being able to afford either a place to live or to rent. Nothing drives me more, and I know the Minister shares that objective and that ambition, than to address the plight of that generation in our country. I will never stop fighting to ensure that the rights, the expectations and the ambitions we had when we were their age, that many of us managed to realise, are ambitions they get to realise.

They have a finite time in which to realise them. This is the generation forced to live at home. Many of them were forced to return to live at home because they could not afford rent or because the rent was eating into their capacity to save for a mortgage. They are always at the front of my mind. Radical proposals are needed to ensure they can fulfil their potential and realise their dreams in terms of having a place of their own.

No one in this House has a monopoly on ideas and no one has a monopoly on motivation. We are all driven to do the best thing for this generation. That also applies to the thousands in my local authority area and constituency who are on the housing lists, and I will mention the social housing aspect shortly. I am as driven as the Minister is, and as anybody else is in this House, to come up with solutions to this issue.

I want to say a word about the Minister. He has come under some criticism in the last week or so, much of it unfair. Fianna Fáil has not been in office since 2011 and, in fact, when we left office, we were the last Government to have had an affordable housing scheme. The last two Governments did not build an affordable house at all in the space of nine or ten years. In the space of six or seven months, the Minister has gone about his task with incredible energy and dynamism. He does not always get it right and he would be the first to admit it, and he would be the first to take stuff on the chin and take ideas on the chin, and accept that this or that thing could be tweaked. However, he has ensured that the Covid time is a time he has used to put in place, if the House will pardon the pun, the building blocks that are necessary for when the economy, please God, opens up, and when we can drive housing delivery and home delivery for our young people. I will always defend him publicly. As a former, now deceased, Fine Gael Taoiseach said on the passing of a former Fianna Fáil Taoiseach: “He did more than his critics ever did.” I would stand over that, and I would say to the Minister that he knows that too.

I want to say a word too about Fianna Fáil, my party, which came in for much criticism this week. We built this city. We can look at any of the iconic landmarks around us, and we are sitting in one, the Convention Centre Dublin, or look at Terminal 2. We can see the Aviva Stadium, we can see Croke Park behind us, we are adjacent to Dublin Docklands, we are down the road from the International Financial Services Centre, and we are only a stone's throw from Temple Bar and from the Grangegorman redevelopment company and all the incredible work it has done. We are about half a mile from the Port Tunnel. Every iconic development in this town was built or initiated when Fianna Fáil was in government. We did more than our critics have ever done. That is not to mention the green and red Luas lines and the motorway system that serves Dublin so well. I ask the critics: what have you done and what have you built? To the public, I ask who they would put their store in. Is it in those who have a record of delivering, and of delivering iconic developments?

How do they propose to activate the 10,000 or 15,000 planning permissions that are sitting there? How does Deputy Eoin Ó Broin propose to activate them? What are his proposals for them? I am not going to talk about the shared equity scheme today because it is only a tiny part of this strategy, and I know the Minister has taken on board the criticisms.

I wish to speak on the Land Development Agency itself. The Minister has made himself incredibly available to colleagues. We have been teasing this out and squeezing the pips out of all the different pieces of it. The Minister is listening. I hope he will recognise that the Bill as presented will not be the same as what it will be when it is eventually signed by the President. First, the LDA has an investment of €1.25 billion by the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. It is a huge investment and a great deal of confidence behind it. I took the initiative and had a long conversation with the very accessible CEO of the LDA. He gave myself and a colleague 40 or 50 minutes and answered all our questions. I recommend Opposition politicians to engage in that.

However, I have queries. I will go through some of the issues. We took the example of a site that is not a million miles from me. There is one query, and the Minister has heard this, with regard to having to go to the Minister about each site in respect of what proportion of it will be affordable. In darker times, that is a power that could be abused. I ask the Minister to examine this and consider if it is the best manner in which to proceed. We asked questions of the CEO about the levels of affordability and defining affordability. I have issues with the median value in a particular area. That must be teased out on Committee Stage.

This is a radical affordable rents model. Ireland has never had this previously. I came away from the meeting with great enthusiasm about that aspect. People who earn up to €42,000 per annum can qualify for social housing. However, the stereotypical bank official, nurse, garda, teacher, technician or plumber earns between €45,000 and €80,000 per annum. These people do not qualify for social housing and they are getting squeezed because they do not have sufficient space to save for a mortgage. This is pitched at them. We looked at one particular site and that income bracket. This is for people who, as a couple, previously were always able to afford a home between them, and that home only took a third of their net income. What we are talking about here in terms of affordable rental is one third of a couple's income. If one were to rent privately in Dundrum, for example, the rent would be €2,500. In this affordable model a couple could rent, and hope to rent, for €1,250 to €1,300. A single person could rent a one-bedroom apartment for €1,000 to €1,050. That leaves them space for saving to buy a home at some stage in the future. Critically, however, it affords them space to live, spend and enjoy life. It is 30% of the net income. When did we ever think of that? We have lost sight of it, so that is a very exciting element of this.

The Minister will have heard about the market value part, so I will not go into it in detail. I understand why he had to introduce it in the Bill and that it is all connected with state aid, but it has opened the door for others to say the Land Development Agency is going to buy land from State bodies at market value. The Minister and I know that if the Land Development Agency buys a plot of State land and says 90% of it will be for affordable housing and 10% will be for social housing, that land has little or no market value aside from a nominal value. Affordable land value has no market value. There is no sale value in that land. That is being deliberately ignored by the Opposition. Again, I believe the public would be very excited about that.

With regard to state aid, let us get a little cheeky with the European Union. What we have seen in the past year is billions upon billions of euro in state aid. Other European countries contravene state aid obligations. On the market value aspect, I am satisfied it is just being manipulated and used. I am satisfied the Minister will push, and it will arise on Committee Stage, to get as close to 90% as possible in terms of affordable and obviously the 10%, at least, that is already there for social housing. It is important. The market value part needs to be addressed. I think the Minister has done it, but it has been exploited.

Why do we need an LDA? Local authorities do not own all the State land in the country. That is obvious. They also sometimes do not own the adjoining land and so forth, so an agency to manage that is vital. My question is: what is the delivery vehicle? How do we propose to get these housing units and homes onto the ground? What is the delivery mechanism? I know this is part of a group of Bills, including the affordable housing Bill. However, I will discuss that when it comes before the House. I listened to some of the contributions this morning regarding the composition of the board. I ask the Minister to take on board some of the positive suggestions in that regard. I am not referring to just the previous speakers in this session. Deputy Hourigan had particularly positive suggestions in this regard. I urge the Minister to take that on board as it helps to build public confidence. Its composition will be critical in reassuring the public, and I will be watching that aspect closely.

When we were talking about the project with the CEO, the vehicle he envisaged for the particular plot he was discussing is the strategic housing development, SHD, model. The Minister knows I opposed the programme for Government on the basis of strategic housing developments and other things. I still oppose them. They do not do what they said they would do. They do not provide fast-track planning. From 10% to 15% of them get judicially reviewed, and only people and communities with money can afford a judicial review. Those who cannot afford judicial review cannot seek it. Most of all, however, the units are all build-to-rent. None is build-to-own. There is no hope of anybody owning one of them. They also bypass local area plans and county development plans. They override densities and heights. While that can be positive in some cases, the fact the SHD process lacks any real democratic input is what is most alarming.

Citywest is an area in my constituency. A local area plan, LAP, was designed in 2012. It envisaged residential development in that area. It provided for libraries, schools and the like. South Dublin County Council now ticks boxes and says those amenities have been provided. However, the LAP never envisaged the densities that are now being sought under the SHD process. The last one applied for was for 15 storeys. These developers provide for the amenities that are necessary for their particular developments, and they might argue they pay development levies for the others. However, what we have in Citywest is a hopelessly underprovisioned amenity, cultural, sporting and artistic horizon because the LAP and the county development plans were not redone. The SHDs came in and drove a coach and four through the local community's rights and expectations.

I have mentioned the market value. Section 83 has been clarified. The Minister clarified that if local authorities own land, they will develop that land and the LDA will not be doing a smash-and-grab on it. Did the Minister give consideration to the LDA taking a role in regenerating old Dublin, in places such as Capel Street, the quays and Camden Street? We saw what Covid-19 did. It shut down Airbnb lettings and we saw, in summary, that Dublin is a tourist-dominated city. Nobody is living in the city. It is empty. I believe there is a role for the LDA here, even though the buildings are privately owned. For a landlord or owner of one of these Georgian buildings with three or four storeys the issue is the investment and cash necessary to bring it up to some type of habitable standard. While some extraordinary work has been done on Georgian buildings in Dublin, it takes a great deal of money. I read in the newspaper recently about two houses that were taken together. The people were able to get through the conservation issues and created three incredible apartments. They are extremely expensive. However, I believe the LDA could have a role with regard to old Dublin.

I have another concern. It is not about the move to the cost rental and affordable model.

I welcome that. The Bill envisages mass cost rental. The cost of rental will be the median market rent. In my constituency the median market rent will be quite expensive and much more expensive than what the CEO of the LDA was talking about. Again, we need some clarification on that.

I also raised with the Minister previously the issue of the LDA purchasing semi-State owned land that is on the semi-State body's books where a value is reflected on the balance sheet. Why would the LDA get involved in that at all? Why not just let the private sector develop that and condition in the 10% social and a certain amount of affordable units? Why would the LDA get involved in master plans for that?

For me, and fundamentally in a positive way, the Land Development Agency represents the State entering the housing market, which I welcome. We are looking at a State-provided housing model versus a market-driven housing model. Something in the back of my head says that this has to be a positive, and if it works, it must result in an outcome where private house prices are driven down. It is not the only thing we need to look at. Deputy Hourigan referred to amenities and that people with experience of designing and building communities are represented on the board to ensure that what happened with the strategic housing development process does not happen with LDA master plan developments.

I broadly welcome the Bill. I believe it can be more radical and I want it to be more radical. The Bill's weakness lies in the market value language, but the Minister has covered that and explained it. It is just being exploited. We must never lose sight of the young people who want to own an affordable home in Dublin. This has different applications throughout the State but I am referring to the aspiration to own one's own home in Dublin. Consider the couple or the single person who rents one of these affordable apartments with a long tenure of 12, 14 or 15 years under the LDA plans, which is terrific. What happens when they want to buy a home? What do they do if they have a child and the apartment is no longer big enough? Ultimately, the only way to really drive down the price of housing land is to drive down the price through a cap on the price of land.

A housing referendum is mentioned in the programme for Government. That referendum must be a referendum on the capping of the price of development land. That referendum must finally recognise that it is the State which confers the value on development land. Windfall taxes will make absolutely no difference to the price of development land. It is about the recognition that it is an action of the State on behalf of the citizens only that confers significantly more value on land that has an agricultural price of €100,000 per acre. We need to put a cap on that. A referendum based on the Kenny report, which is coming up to 50 years old, should be the referendum we have on housing to finally drive down the cost of housing land, and ultimately drive down the cost of housing to benefit those for whom we all aspire to be able to realise the ambitions we had to own our own homes and to raise our families in them.

If the Ceann Comhairle will indulge me for 30 seconds, I want to go on the record of the Dáil with regard to the previous debate. I had asked the Minister for Health to answer a question and we left him one and a half minutes in which to answer the question. The Minister sat in the chair with his head down. When he got up to answer my question, he started talking to another Deputy, completely ignoring the childcare workers in Ireland and the retired nurses who were asked to come forward for the vaccination programme. I just wanted to put this on the record.

The Deputy will have to take that up directly with the Minister.

I am delighted the Minister, Deputy O'Brien is here. The Land Development Agency is a way forward for building houses. The LDA, however, must work with the other agencies. Every city and small town in Ireland is looking for houses to be built. This cannot be random house building but a vision for a long-term view of the cities, towns and villages. Population is increasing and there is a demand now more than ever for green spaces for children and families where they live.

We need the experience of the LDA, and I see the agency filling a role along with the councils and, in Limerick, with the Limerick Twenty Thirty plan. Limerick is fortunate to have an active council. There are 40 councillors within Limerick's county and city councils, with 21 on the city council and 19 on the county council, but the Land Development Agency is only looking at lands in the city. This is my concern. I represent County Limerick. On many occasions I have raised the lack of infrastructure within our towns and villages. As I have said, there is a space for the Land Development Agency but it must cover all of our counties. It must work with Limerick city and county councils. It must work with groups such as the Limerick Twenty Thirty plan, which has started to build houses in Mungret, with families going into properties where they can afford to live. When I look outside the city and see the lands the LDA has said it will not look at, it is because there is no infrastructure.

My job as a public representative for Limerick is to work for all of Limerick. I understand that to have a vibrant county, we needs to have a vibrant city, but the last agency we had in Limerick was for the regeneration, as referred to by Deputy O'Donnell earlier. That did not work. If anything it caused mayhem within the city and the county. We are dubious about what the LDA will do. If a commitment can be put in place whereby the LDA has to work with our local authorities and must work with the likes of our Limerick Twenty Thirty group and other agencies to bring houses for the city and the county, then I would welcome that. What is being put out there at the moment, however, is that the Land Development Agency says it does not have to talk to the local authorities and that it does not have to talk to any other agencies, that it is an agency itself.

I have been in construction all my life and I have seen the pitfalls. From sitting on the council and from being in construction I have seen the pitfalls of how things happen. I am referring to Limerick. We need to make sure the vision caters for the young, the old and the vulnerable, and that it covers all of those. We do not want high-rise apartments. We do not want people crammed in. Consider the Colbert Station development in Limerick where it is hoped to build 2,000 units. This plan was recommended to the LDA by Limerick City and County Council. The executive of the LDA has a good relationship with Limerick City and County Council but it is being put out that one is fighting the other. Yes, the councillors in the area have concerns with the plan because of its amalgamation between city and county. They see it as very city oriented.

I raised the issue recently of the water services between city and county. Some 60% of the people in our city and county have inadequate water, with 73% of the city and county - but mainly the county - with inadequate sewerage. Not everyone wants to live in the city. My biggest concern with the LDA is that is would be completely city-based. We need to make sure our towns and villages have the connectivity and the sewerage so they can be part of this plan and that it would be an overall plan, and if it is to be in a rural development, that the councils would work to get in the services to the county areas.

It cannot just be about cities.

It has been proven time and again that the councils cannot get through the bureaucracy to get the required 60,000 houses per annum built. If we look at the dereliction in our cities and towns, a lot can be achieved in them if we rebuild the streetscapes. It was said here in the Dáil that even in Dublin 60% of properties over the main floor are empty. That is because of the regulations and stipulations that have been put in place for years through planning laws. If we look in the county, the situation is similar. For the LDA to work, it cannot be city-based. It needs to invest in the counties. It needs to invest in infrastructure and that includes bus and rail services. There are old railway lines running through the county that can be brought back in play similar to what we are looking for with regard to Foynes, but we have to make sure it covers all of the county. Anything that comes from industry and infrastructure in the county of Limerick is moving west. We cannot allow that to happen. It has to cover the entire county.

We need to look also at people who are hoarding land and properties. We need to make sure they are either incentivised to bring them out of dereliction and use them or they are penalised for not doing that if there is a need in that area.

I have said previously that Irish Water is a failed identity but we need to work to put a management in place to ensure Irish Water delivers in terms of infrastructure for our areas. I call on the agencies to get the builders and developers to build houses because, as I said earlier, so much bureaucracy has been put in place the councils cannot build houses. There is a role for the LDA to build houses. We need houses built but we also need a vision for our city and for the county. That vision is that anyone in the area should be entitled to live wherever they want within a town or village. Everyone in this country has their culture. I am from the county and they call us culchies. I am proud to be one. I am delighted to have the room and the clean air that allows me do what I have to do. I look at places where connectivity is badly needed. From the point of view of the LDA, if this happens on a city basis only, it will destroy the towns and villages for more than one reason. For any town and village to survive it needs footfall. If they want to invest in putting in a shop or a butcher’s, it has to have footfall and connectivity to attract people to live there. It has to have infrastructure.

I spoke to the council yesterday and I was told the only projects it is looking at are ones where the infrastructure is already in place. Only a couple of towns around our county have the infrastructure in place to allow them build, that is, Kilmallock, Croom and Newcastle West. All the other places do not seem to have any infrastructure. Patrickswell and all those places have it. However, investment is needed in areas outside of those but it must be long term. People want to see their GAA, soccer, football and camogie teams, but all of those cannot be sustained if they do not have the proper infrastructure in place and the proper investment.

We do not want the LDA to be a runaway train. We had regeneration in Limerick and it created havoc in the city and county that took years to straighten out. We need a vision, infrastructure and collaboration involving the LDA, the local authorities and, in my own case, agencies such as the Limerick Twenty Thirty that have a vision for each individual county. That will make it a complete package for each individual county and we can all grow together.

Deputy O’Donnell mentioned section 8 earlier. We need to make sure that when the Land Development Agency is disposing of land, it has to consult the Minister, but if it disposing of houses it does not have to do that. We need to make sure that whatever the Land Development Agency does, the Minister has to be at the forefront of it to ensure it is protecting individual areas. He has to make sure the local authorities and the councillors who have a vision and are elected to represent their areas are represented.

I am looking forward to seeing what can be done. I am looking forward to seeing everything being put in place and amendments made to this Bill that will make sure we do not have another runaway train in Limerick. We need somebody who will work with the agencies and the local authorities collectively to make sure we have a vision for Limerick that is sustainable not only for the city but for the county.

Like other Members I am delighted to have an opportunity to speak on this particularly important legislation. I was almost moved to tears when my colleague, Deputy Lahart, waxed lyrical on the entire subject. He missed out on one aspect, although I thought he was about to come to it. He did not claim responsibility for the fine summers we had over the years but he claimed responsibility for everything else. I mean that in the best of ways. I was reminded of a line in a poem which states:

And even the ranks of Tuscany

Could scarce forbear to cheer.

As the Ceann Comhairle and I well know, having served together on the same local authority, we learned most of what we learned about housing at the coalface. A number of aspects need to be set straight. Incidentally, I felt that Fine Gael was being held responsible for everything bad that happened, not by Deputy Lahart but by other speakers who seem to think they would not expect Fine Gael to be involved in anything other than what helped the larger householder or the more affluent sector of society. I would remind people there was a housing crisis in the 1970s and Fine Gael and the Labour Party between them in government resolved that problem. There was a housing crisis in the 1980s and again they resolved that problem, so they are not without some experience in dealing with the housing issue.

Over recent years a new issue has arisen in respect of housing. The young generation have been excluded from the housing market by one means or another. Various reasons have been put forward for that, and I disagree with my colleague, Deputy Lahart, on this one. The Kenny report is meant to be the be-all and end-all of everything. It is not because there were a number of reports around that time. There was the Kenny report, the Myles Wright report and the McKinsey report, all of which attempted to deal with the same area. The Myles Wright report was the one that proposed to develop a number of towns, including a number in County Kildare, to draw the population away from the Dublin area. The other one was the two cities report which developed Tallaght as it is today. It provided housing for a large number of people who would not have been housed otherwise. It was the manner in which it was done that caused the greatest angst. The other one was the Ballymun housing solution, which again was in response to a crisis. The solution removed one crisis and replaced it with another, so to speak, by virtue of plunging into something that was not too well investigated.

I believe the Minister is trying to do the right thing and I hope it is the right thing. I have some concerns about it because I have had the same conversation with Ministers for housing of all parties over the past 20 years.

It is about trying to make housing affordable and to bring it within the reach of a new generation and within the reach of people who would not be catered for by the local authority housing system, which, incidentally, does not exist any more anyway, in order that they might be able to buy houses for themselves for now or for their lifetimes, depending on what they want. I disagree strongly with the notion that rental accommodation was an answer to the problem. We all have had experiences over the past five or ten years of people promoting what they wanted to promote at a time because it suited them, and fellas coming on "Morning Ireland" to say that they were in favour of renting and that it was much better because one did not have an investment in bricks and mortar. It was all rubbish. The Ceann Comhairle and I know it was rubbish because there is nothing as good for the individual as to be independent. The independence starts, rests and remains with the ownership of the individual's house. They then control that house. They control when they can come and go. If they are not able to pay for it, they know beforehand. One thing is certain: it is in their hands, and they relish that and will always do so. I therefore do not accept the notion that Irish people are "preoccupied" with the notion of home ownership. They are right to be so. Home ownership is their right, and no system should exclude them from that right.

A strange thing is happening now. We are back to where we were in the sense that a young person now deciding to buy a second-hand house - or any house, for that matter - will be asked to make an offer. As the market is tested over the following week or ten days or so, that price will escalate by up to 20% or 25%, which is a massive leap. That means the deposit which was required in the first instance is no longer relevant and the person has to wait or wait for more so he or she is still in the market. However, as other speakers have suggested, paying €450,000 for a two-bedroom house is absolutely ridiculous, and there is no sense in trying to justify it on any grounds, whether the house is in a trendy place, for want of a better word, or whether the purchase is made out of necessity. It should not be. Another issue arises from that: how does one climb down from a position of overpriced houses to reasonably priced houses without people going into negative equity subsequently? This issue has been dealt with before - well, it has not been dealt with but people have suffered it. People's houses have been repossessed because they were in negative equity. Some of the same institutions are coming back still for the rest of it and the customer, of course, is always wrong.

I mentioned the Kenny report at the beginning because I have been interested to see whether land at an affordable price is the determining factor in the cost of housing. The answer is that it is not. In order to prove this, along with a number of our councillors, I formed a group a few years ago that had the opportunity to acquire serviced sites. The approved housing bodies could buy the sites for a single euro. We discovered when we tried to do so that it was not on; we had to pay for them. We paid either €20,000 or €25,000 per site - I cannot remember which - with ten sites to an acre. For the acre, €250,000 was not too bad. It was not a site for nothing anyway - that is for sure - and we built the houses. I have spoken to the Minister previously about this. The strange thing about it was that we got a price from a builder to design, put in the earthworks or whatever the case was and deliver, which he did. The day the keys were handed out to the loan applicants the houses ran from €140,000 to €170,000. This was 2008 so not a million years ago. On the market at the same time the same houses were being marketed for €410,000. Therefore, somewhere along the way there is a markup that people do not seem to see and that we cannot seem to nail down. I know where it is, of course. Everybody jumps on the bandwagon, everybody gets their 5% or 10%, everything costs more and, as a result, there is a markup that everybody has to get and suddenly the house is priced out of reach.

The strange thing about it - well, it is not so strange at all - is that during the crash in the economy, when house prices collapsed everywhere, not one of those house loans went into negative equity. They were still good value. They held their face value all the time. The point I am making is that we are paying too much for houses and it is caused by an ability on the part of the developer to say on the day he or she buys the site, "I can put X number of houses here, I can reduce the quality of the houses, I can have multiple houses, hubs or whatever you want to call them on the site and I can make more out of it." That is what happens. I was looking recently at a proposed development locally to superimpose three or four storeys on top of an existing development at a sensitive location in terms of traffic. That was to be the answer. The result would be 30 or 50 houses - that is what it would achieve. The fact of the matter, however, is that 30 or 40 houses do not justify the extent of the damage to be done to the environment through bad planning, so another means must be found. The point I wish to emphasise is this: even if the land were available for nothing - absolutely zilch, zero - once it went through the system it would be multiplied in price every time by everybody. As a result the price goes up again and again. Let us not forget this. We can have all the referendums we like but if we think it will reduce the price of houses, forget about it, it will not. It has nothing to do with it whatsoever but it creates the impression that it could reduce house prices. It will not. I am sure the Minister in his own heart knows this because he has been in the business a while like us and he knows full well what will and will not happen.

Some Members spoke as if it were like in the old days, when the local authorities employed plumbers, plasterers, bricklayers and so on. That does not work. That is not the way the building system works any more. The local authority needs to get capable builders in to design and build, get planning permission, provide the road structures and the services and walk off at a price, that price being known beforehand. That can be done and is being done all the time. That is the way the building industry is structured now. That is the best value for money. It does not help to go back to the old days, when the local authority was stuck with the ongoing cost of having to retain on their books a whole army of building and construction workers. It does not work that way.

We should now look at what we have. There is a difference between what we had and what we have. When the economy went down there always used to be emigration, and that in turn had an effect on the housing market because we did not need as many houses. Well, we needed them all right but we were not here to get them. We therefore have to plan for the future and plan on the basis that a successful economy that is well managed will carry long into the future an ongoing annual demand for a certain number of houses, and they need to be houses.

Another thing I want to refer to is meeting short-term housing need. I do not agree with it at all. It is a waste of money. One can put as many people as one likes into a room and put independent corridors between them or whatever the case may be and say, "This is housing". It is not housing. It is emergency housing. That is all it is for, that is all it can do and it should never be treated as anything else. If we want proper accommodation, quality housing, we need to be absolutely certain that we meet the market requirements. The market requirements are that every young person wants to have a house. They want to be able to have the key to their own door and they do not want to have somebody looking over their shoulder saying, "You should move on now. You have been independent for long enough and we will move you into something else." Every time something like that happens, we damage the structure of society all around us. We should not be doing that, encouraging it or allowing it to happen.

I will move on to how we might proceed into the future. If the Bill and the proposals work, which we will watch carefully, and we hope they will work, they will eliminate an awful lot of hardship that is being suffered right now and has been suffered for several years by one or two generations that have not been able to acquire homes of their own. Even where they did so, when the economy collapsed they found themselves and their parents who guaranteed their loans in many cases in a serious position whereby they owed money to the banks in many cases for a property that no longer existed or was worth way less than what they built it or bought it for. We need to look at that.

I also want to briefly comment on the housing bodies. We were all members of the special housing committee four years ago and we spent some considerable time looking at the ways and means of addressing this issue. At the time, I opposed the use of the approved housing bodies as a means of meeting the demand of the general housing market. I believe I was right. Without a shadow of doubt, these bodies are good in the specialised housing area. They are excellent at meeting the housing needs of people with particular disabilities or those who have been unable, for one reason or another, to get on to the housing market and who have some requirements and need some encouragement and help. Without doubt, the approved housing bodies are way beyond any credit that has been thrown in their direction over recent years. Those bodies are still in the best position to deal with the specialised areas of housing. I believe that they are.

I have gone into a number of local authorities over recent years and have asked how quickly it can build 1,000 houses. I have asked that simple, straightforward question. I have been told that it could take five years or more. That is absolutely crazy. I cannot understand it. A person can go wherever they want and request the price for the building of a bridge or a motorway - anything they want. We have seen it all over the country. It has been done successfully and projects have been delivered on time. Good and internationally accredited products have been delivered. However, we do not seem to be able to do that with houses. Why is that? Why is there that reluctance?

I have blamed various people in the past as to why it happens. I do not know whether I am right or wrong. I felt there was a reluctance in the local authorities to accept responsibility and to drive projects to achieve results. Perhaps it was true and perhaps it was not. However, until and unless we resolve that particular issue, we are not going to solve the housing problem. We need houses delivered, not on large sites but in large numbers throughout the country at the same time. That can be done. I brought various people who had the capacity to deliver that to the local authorities and to various Ministers over the years and I pleaded with them. I am still pleading at this stage in the hope that the Minister has his eye on the same target that we all have and that it is his intention to drive this thing through to achieve the result.

I wish to make a point and to issue a warning. It concerns shared equity schemes. I must say the Ceann Comhairle and I have had some peculiar experiences with these. There used to be what was referred to as the shared ownership loan system, which was the shared equity scheme at the time. The problem was that after a year or two, some genius decided to change it and add on 4% of an increase on the rental part of the equity on an annual basis. The effect of this was to drive the people out of the houses they were hoping to buy over a longer period of time and to force them into rental accommodation, which was available through the private sector because it was not available elsewhere. It was almost as if somebody had a look at the system and decided they needed to intervene because people were getting it too easy, so things should be made more difficult for them.

We also need to realise the younger generation must be given hope. We must let them know that, within a reasonable time, they can achieve their hearts' desire, that of owning a home.

Deputy Durkan, I am really loath to interrupt you when you are in full flow and talking about a subject that is dear to the hearts of all of us here, but I am afraid we must ask you now to propose the adjournment of the debate. You will have a few minutes left to conclude when next we return to this vitally important issue.

Debate adjourned.