Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill 2015: Second Stage (Resumed)

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

Rather than go through the remaining sections of the vacant site levy provisions individually - sections 6 to 26, inclusive, for example, are quite complex and detailed - I will, so that Senators can obtain a better understanding of how the proposed scheme will operate, instead give a summary of the provisions as follows. Beginning on 1 January 201, a planning authority shall establish and maintain a register of sites, entitled the vacant sites register, in lands zoned for residential or regeneration use which in the planning authority's opinion were vacant sites during the preceding year. Before 1 June 2018, a planning authority shall issue a notice to the owner of a vacant site included in the vacant sites register indicating that the site owners shall be charged a levy in respect of 2018 in January 2019, and that such a charge is to be continued every year thereafter until the site is no longer vacant.

A planning authority shall, as soon as possible after the entry of a site on the vacant sites register and at least every three years thereafter, determine the market value of a vacant site and serve notice on the owner of the site of the valuation or revised valuation of the site in question, which may be appealed to the valuation tribunal. A planning authority, or the valuation tribunal, may, on appeal, where it considers it appropriate, deem that a vacant site has a zero market value where no market exists for the site or the site is on contaminated land and the estimated remediation costs that are necessary for use or development of the site exceed the market value of the site itself.

With effect from 1 January 2019 and every year thereafter, a planning authority shall in respect of the preceding year charge a vacant site levy of 3% of the market value of a site on the owner of each site included in its vacant site register, which shall be payable on demand or by instalments if agreed by the planning authority. To help alleviate the financial burden faced by owners of vacant sites which are subject to a site loan, a zero rate of levy shall apply if the outstanding amount of the site loan is greater than the market value of the vacant site on the date of its determination. This is to address site owners in negative equity situations who may have purchased sites in the boom years. If the outstanding amount of the site loan is between 75% and 100% of the market value of the vacant site on the date of its determination, a reduced rate of 0.75% levy shall apply. If the outstanding amount of the site loan is between 50% and 75% of the market value of the vacant site on the date of its determination, a 1.5% rate of levy shall apply.

The vacant site levy will remain a charge on the relevant land until it is paid. If there is a change in ownership of a vacant site or the owner of a site dies, the amount of levy chargeable on such site in respect of that year or the previous year shall be zero. This shall not apply where ownership of the vacant site transfers from one company to an associated company, to another member of the family other than on the death of the owner, or for the principal purpose of avoiding the obligations to pay the vacant site levy. The vendor of a site on the register shall before the completion of a sale on the site, pay to the relevant planning authority any vacant site levy due in respect of that site. Any moneys received by a planning authority in respect of a vacant site levy will be spent by it on the provision of housing, or on the regeneration of the area. Regeneration expenditure can include the preservation or protection of structures of special architectural, historical or cultural interest; the provision or improvement of educational, recreational or cultural facilities for the local community; and projects or works to improve local shopping streets and business areas.

The provisions to which I have referred are set out in section 23. Essentially, they ring-fence the levy proceeds to be solely used for the provision of housing on the residential land or for the development and renewal of regeneration land. I tabled an amendment to this section to ensure the proceeds may be used on housing or regeneration land in the vicinity of the site, thereby providing greater benefit to the overall local area in which vacant sites are located. In line with fair procedures, numerous opportunities are provided for site owners to make submissions and appeals to planning authorities, An Bord Pleanála and the Valuation Tribunal in relation to the proposed inclusion of a site on the vacant site register, the annual notices of levy liability, the market valuation arrived at with regard to the site and the annual demand for payment of the levy.

Part 3 comprises just one section - section 27, which amends section 23 of the Derelict Sites Act 1990 to provide that the derelict site levy shall not be payable in respect of any land in respect of which the vacant site levy is payable under the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill, when enacted. This is to ensure no double payment situation arises in respect of the vacant site levy or derelict site levy.

Part 4 deals with two separate issues - local authority development plans and development contribution charges applied by local authorities. Section 10(2) of the planning Act of 2000 outlines the objectives that planning authorities are required to take into account in the preparation and adoption of development plans for their respective areas. These objectives include the zoning of land for residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, recreational and other uses in line with the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, the provision of necessary infrastructure to facilitate development and the preservation of structures of historical interest as well as the character of the landscape of the area. Section 28 amends section 10(2) of the 2000 Act to provide for the current objective incorporated in a development plan for the "development and renewal of areas in need of regeneration" to be broadened to provide that such an objective should be for the explicit purposes of preventing adverse effects on existing amenities in such areas, urban blight and decay, anti-social behaviour or a shortage of habitable houses or land suitable for residential use or a mixture of residential or other uses.

This amendment is necessary to support the vacant site levy provisions, elaborating on the principles and policies relating to the levy, and it outlines the basis for identifying lands as being in need of regeneration for the purposes of being so designated in a local development plan.

With regard to development contribution charges, these are generally used towards the provision of necessary public infrastructure such as new roads, footpaths, lighting, open spaces and car parking to service new developments. In line with action 14 of the Construction 2020 strategy, section 29 amends section 48 of the 2000 Act to provide that where a new development contribution scheme is adopted by a planning authority to provide for reduced development contribution levies compared to those which were in place under the previous development scheme, the reduced development contributions under the newly adopted scheme shall have retrospective effect for existing planning permissions that have yet to be activated. In addition, section 29 provides that where there are unsold housing units in a development, the new lower development contribution scheme will also apply to those unsold housing units. Section 30 amends section 49 of the planning Act 2000 to provide that the arrangements in relation to reduced development contributions will also apply in respect of supplementary development contribution schemes which are sometimes deployed for the purpose of facilitating a particular infrastructure project in a local authority area such as a new motorway intersection which will directly benefit the development on which it is imposed. These changes to the development contribution provisions should assist in reducing costs for developers, make developments more economically viable and influence developments to be brought forward sooner than might otherwise be the case and at lower cost, which is critical in terms of affordability and improving housing supply.

Part 5 relates to amendments to the existing Part V provisions in the Planning and Development Act 2000 concerning social and affordable housing. In this regard, action 9 of the Construction 2020 strategy called for the review of the Part V requirements with a view to ensuring that it is delivering as intended and the bringing forward of any legislative changes deemed necessary. In this regard, the original Part V housing supply provisions of the 2000 Act have played a significant role in the delivery of social and affordable housing since their introduction. There are many people in good quality housing today as a result of the Part V mechanisms. Furthermore, Part V has been successful in delivering social integration and more sustainable mixed-tenure developments throughout the country. This was one of the positive outcomes of the original Part V arrangements. However, the economic context within which the original Part V provisions were developed in 2000 has changed, as has the mix of housing need. The capacity of Part V to deliver on its objectives is related to the level of housing construction activity. Accordingly since the downturn, and the decreased construction activity associated with it, Part V has delivered little in terms of social housing in later years. Notwithstanding this, in the context of a recovering housing market and increased housing construction activity, it is considered that the Part V mechanism, with appropriate adjustments, has the potential to again be a significant contributor to future social housing provision. From the Government's perspective, it remains proper that the gain to developers derived from the planning system should contribute towards meeting the housing needs of our citizens, including those on local authority housing lists.

Informed by an extensive public consultation process and an independent in-depth review of the Part V provisions, the Bill provides for a series of amendments to the operation of the Part V provisions, with the principal objectives of: enhancing the economic viability of developments; maximising the opportunity for the delivery of social housing units; securing the principle of integrated mixed tenure developments; and addressing weaknesses in aspects of the existing legislation identified in a number of court judgments. The proposed provisions will also be a key component of the range of delivery mechanisms that will be required to achieve the targets set out in the Government's Social Housing Strategy 2020 - Support, Supply and Reform. My Department estimates that in the region of 4,000 additional social housing units will be delivered by 2020 using the new Part V provisions, which will be a significant contribution to the ambitious social housing targets set out in the strategy. On enactment of the Bill, the new Part V arrangements can also be retrospectively applied to existing planning permissions where works have not commenced. In the operation of these revised Part V arrangements, the priority will be to secure social housing units on-site. The current practice of developers making cash payments in lieu of social housing is to be discontinued.

I will now outline the key changes to Part V in more detail. Section 31 of the Bill amends section 94 of the 2000 Act by requiring a planning authority to consult with the approved housing bodies in its functional area in the preparation of its housing strategy and to have regard to relevant housing policies of the Government or any Minister. The provision also halves, to 10% from 20%, the percentage of land that must be provided for social and affordable housing in a housing development. The general scheme of the Bill, as published some months ago, proposed that the existing statutory provisions relating to affordable housing be removed from the Statute Book. However, after further consideration, in particular of the contributions made during scrutiny by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht of the general scheme, the Government is now proposing that the existing statutory provisions relating to affordable housing be retained in the Planning and Development Act, as amended. This means that when the current acute need for social housing has been met, it may be possible to reintroduce the affordability aspect into the Part V arrangements when required.

The Part V provision has up to now been perceived as introducing an inefficient process which caused difficulties for developers and local authorities alike. Under the existing arrangements, any Part V agreements are required to be reached within an eight-week period. In practice, that was rarely achieved. Accordingly, section 33(1)(a) of the Bill will now require a Part V agreement to be reached between the developer and local authority prior to the commencement of works on a development. This will be complemented by changes to be made to the planning regulations that will require a detailed Part V proposal to be included in an application for planning permission for applicable housing developments in order for the application to be valid. This particular measure will have the effect of front-loading negotiations in regard to Part V arrangements, thereby maximising the preplanning consultation phase and ultimately ensuring all parties are clear on expectations of them at the outset.

Sections 33 and 34 of the Bill amend the options contained in section 96 of the 2000 Act with a view to maximising the provision of completed social housing units by a developer. The transfer of land to a local authority for the provision of social housing will remain the default option, as is currently the case. However, the option of making a cash payment to a local authority in lieu of social housing is being removed, as is the option of providing sites or land elsewhere. The transfer of completed social housing units off-site, on other lands, will be allowed in specific circumstances, such as where there is insufficient social housing demand at the location of the proposed development and there is greater need at another location. Provision is also being made for the Part V obligation to be fulfilled by developers through long-term leasing of properties and rental accommodation availability agreements.

The matter of providing local authorities with the power to enter into long-term leasing arrangements as part of Part V arrangements was the subject of much debate during the Dáil's consideration of the Bill. It is important to note that local authorities already have this authority and have delivered a substantial volume of social housing in this way. In general terms, local authorities require flexible options for the delivery of social housing and an ability to respond to local contexts. Leasing arrangements provide that type of flexibility. Equally, this flexibility must be balanced with the need to ensure as many permanent units for social housing as possible are achieved with the financial resources available. In order to achieve this balance, it is my intention to issue a ministerial policy directive to local authorities instructing that, where capital funding is available, they should enter Part V agreements for the acquisition of social housing units rather than enter into leasing arrangements. Furthermore, where leases are being agreed, they should be for a specified minimum period. This will ensure the potential of Part V to deliver completed social housing units into the ownership and social housing stock of local authorities is maximised.

The complexity and ambiguity of some of the wording within the original Act has resulted in several significant court cases. Accordingly, a number of technical amendments are being provided for in the Bill to take account of court judgments and practical difficulties reported in the operation of Part V. These include the provision of greater clarity on the meaning of terms such as "attributable costs" and "equivalent monetary value". These amendments are intended to improve the Part V negotiation process for all parties.

Section 36 amends section 97 of the original Act to provide that the social and affordable housing obligations on developers shall in future apply only in respect of developments consisting of ten or more houses. Currently, developers are exempted from the Part V obligations in respect of developments comprising four or fewer houses.

The final Part of the Bill, Part 6, contains just one section, section 37, which was introduced by way of a Government amendment. This section provides a necessary, technical amendment to section 31 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, which relates to local authority rent schemes and charges. The amendment confirms that section 31 applies to dwellings that are the subject of financial support under the new housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, as well as to dwellings owned by a housing authority and dwellings leased or contracted by a housing authority, including rental accommodation scheme dwellings.

I think Senators will agree that this Bill contains a number of fundamental, important and necessary revisions to the Planning Act 2000, all emanating from the Government's Construction 2020 strategy and all aimed at increasing housing supply. The amendments to the Part V provisions and those providing for reduced development contributions will, in particular, help in reducing costs for developers and remove disincentives to construction, thereby making developments more economically viable and helping to increase housing supply. The performance of the construction sector, which is a major employer, is central to Ireland's economic recovery and well-being and the measures in the Bill should assist in stimulating jobs in the construction sector, as well as in the manufacturing, retail and professional sectors that it supports. The other main measure proposed in the Bill, the vacant site levy, has a positive objective to incentivise the development of vacant, underutilised lands for housing and for regeneration, with a view to breathing life back into designated urban areas and addressing urban decay. I consider that all of the measures proposed in this Bill - the Part V revisions, reduced development contributions and the vacant site levy - are socially and economically desirable and in the overall common good in terms of increasing housing supply. Accordingly, I commend the Bill to the House.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit anseo tráthnóna fosta. I welcome the Minister of State to the House to discuss this legislation which deals, in particular, with housing provision. I listened to what he had to say and I have read the legislation. I agree that the Bill does some of what is required but in my view this is a mere drop in the ocean in the overall scheme of things.

We have a major housing crisis in this country. There are 100,000 people on the housing waiting list, a further 100,000 are in difficulty in terms of paying their mortgages and are being pressurised by the banks, the courts are clogged up with repossession cases and there are people - including 1,000 children who were made homeless in the past two years alone - living on the streets. I will discuss the figures in a moment but it is my view that, particularly in the context of Part V, this legislation is completely supportive of the construction sector and does nothing for families that are in crisis or individuals who are in need of housing. This Bill is a golden opportunity for the construction lobby. We saw rent-seeking behaviour in the past when Fianna Fáil was in government. At that time, the construction sector lobbied hard and it is now lobbying hard again. In fact, it has won. That is wrong. I agree that we need the construction sector to build houses but we do not need to bend over and bow down to it in order for this to be achieved. In economic terms there will be only one beneficiary of this legislation and that will be the construction sector. The taxpayer will not benefit from this legislation.

I welcome certain aspects of the Bill, to some of which the Minister of State referred. The vacant site levy has been heralded by the Government as something that will cure all of our ills. In my opinion, it will not do so. There has been discussion with regard to a 2% or 3% levy on the value of sites. Autonomy is being given to local councils and I welcome that. I also welcome the fact that councillors will be given autonomy to make decisions in electoral areas. However, it has been stated that the levy will not force banks to lend money in order to turn sites into homes for people. There are issues in this regard.

I welcome the fact that there will be retrospective application in the context of reduced development contribution charges. This is certainly a step in the right direction.

Instead of the development contribution scheme, I would have preferred a requirement on the State to implement public policy to solve the crisis. It has an obligation to do so. How is this done? It must be radical and think outside the box. We have a housing crisis affecting people in their homes and those who cannot find a home who are stuck in a rent trap. How do we deal with this in a radical, forward thinking and innovative manner? The Bill should contain measures whereby over a period of time, perhaps three or five years, there would be a total exemption from development charges for individuals who want to build a home on their own land or where they buy a site. The development contribution scheme is charged by local authorities and depending on which the local authority is involved, it is a disincentive for individuals to build houses on their own land. I see it in my county and I know it happens in Meath, Kildare, on the commuter belt and in other parts of the country. We should look at this. We should introduce a grant scheme for individuals who want to build a house, such as there was in the 1980s when there was a shortage of houses. There should be a State-funded low interest loan system to take on the banks and force them to reduce their interest rates. Individuals could obtain mortgages at a realistic interest rate and not be fleeced by the banks as they are at present. Banks borrow money at just over 0% and make approximately 4% on the money. It is disgraceful.

A report carried out recently by the ESRI considered that an additional 18,000 units are required annually just to cover the country's housing needs between 2011 and 2021. The number of houses built in 2013 was just over 8,300. From where will the additional 10,000 units come? We do not have to depend on developers to build these units. We may need developers in certain parts of the country but not in all parts. Not everyone wants to live in the major cities. People want to live in the country and we should facilitate this by allowing them to build on their own land. We saw the regulatory burden introduced by the former Minister, Mr. Hogan, whereby according to the Architects Association of Ireland between €30,000 and €40,000 in regulatory red tape has been added to the cost of building a home. This is on the Government's watch when it is trying to solve a crisis. The Bill follows the introduction of new burdens and regulations to force higher standards of compliance after the pyrite issue in north County Dublin. A national compliance level was introduced to deal with one issue. Effectively, a public policy measure was introduced which has increased the cost of building for everyone across the board. This was very wrong.

Back in 2008, some €1.7 billion was being spent on social housing and last year the amount spent was €597 million. There has been a reduction in the budget available for social housing. The Minister of State has certainly outlined very clearly where he is coming from with regard to Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. The Minister of State was critical of the manner in which Part V worked in the past and I agree with him. It was not flexible and had too many loopholes whereby developers could pay cash to local authorities. However, in saying this, it was probably the best system available. A review of Part V carried out by a group of consultants on behalf of the Housing Agency found it delivered 15,114 units, or 62.1% of affordable housing and 37.9% of social housing, or 3.5% of the total dwellings delivered, excluding one-off houses, over the period from 2002 to 2011.

The second benefit was that sites were acquired in the 2002-11 period, providing 944 units across 20 counties. In addition, the money that was transferred from developers across local authorities provided a financial contribution to the taxpayer of €136.1 million.

It is right that we scrutinise the benefits of Part V. The consultants working on behalf of the Housing Agency concluded that, despite the failings of Part V, the gross benefit to the State was approximately €761 million when the administration charges and social and affordable units were taken into account and there was a net benefit of approximately €614 million in the 2002-11 period. The group of independent economic consultants who carried out that economic analysis of the Part V scheme concluded that it provided value for money, notwithstanding the limited number of units delivered in the period. The Minister of State asserted that the scheme was inefficient. Is that the Department's view? If so, on what basis does it dispute the economic analysis conducted on behalf of the Housing Agency?

What is being proposed will benefit developers greatly. We will put ourselves in the position of our level of social or community contribution from housing developments probably being the lowest in Europe.

The Senator has half a minute left.

He sounds like he has concluded.

In France, 25% of social housing is provided through the private sector. In Belgium, that figure is 20%. In Spain, it is 30%. We are reducing it to 10% from 20%. We are going from four or fewer units to nine or fewer units. We are benefiting one group of people, namely, developers. We need them to build houses, but not at the expense of the taxpayer because of poor public policy.

The lobbyists have won. The Part V review is wrong. Part V could have been tidied up and the legal constraints raised by Cork and Dún Laoghaire could have been addressed. They are being addressed in this Bill, but the way the overall benefit - social housing provision - is being treated is wrong. According to the Minister of State, we have an ambitious target of 4,000 units. We should at least triple that. Under his targets, we will not even achieve 4,000 units between now and 2020.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I was amazed by Senator Ó Domhnaill's comments, as the Bill benefits those who need social housing. That is the Bill's main aim, it drives the Bill and it is enunciated throughout the Bill. Consider where the sop to developers of the past got us. It was built on a weak foundation of quicksand. The foundation was not right.

The Bill tries to ensure that social housing is a priority. It will benefit the poorest in society who cannot afford their own houses. It is great. I would advocate grants for people to build their own houses, but they are not the first priority because they have a few bob. People without any money depend on social housing. That is what this Bill tries to address. The urban regeneration section of the Bill will benefit every citizen in Ireland. I spent approximately 20 years on a local authority. Some of the major blights and sights throughout the counties have been derelicts and a lack of development by developers who sit on land until appreciation is maximised. The Bill will address these issues via the 3% levy.

The purpose of the Bill is to place a focus on housing shortage.

It will facilitate increased housing input and construction work. We have seen the effect of reducing VAT to 9% for restaurants. What is the difference between a person who owns a restaurant, or any businessman or businesswoman, and a person who wants to build a house? Ministers, Deputies and Senators are not going to go out physically and build houses. We are dependent on developers to do it. One has to be imaginative in one's ideas and in how one facilitates that process. By facilitating restaurant owners by reducing VAT, we have seen growth in tourism and the economy. Hopefully, we will see the same growth in housing development. We know where we were when we came into government. There was no construction. Now we are advocating further building, and have seen 11,000 houses built this year.

A review was carried out, and the Bill provides that in future the focus in Part V will be on the delivery of social housing, with a requirement of up to 10%. That has been reduced from 20% because one has to take cognisance of the fact that there are developers, like others, who are in negative equity. In his address, the Minister of State stated that the focus in the Bill was on securing social housing units on site. That is important. The making of cash payments in lieu of social housing is being discontinued. We all know the problems that brought with it. It was a major criticism of the last Government. I acknowledge that Part V provided some social and affordable housing in the past, but advantage was taken of the cash payment in lieu facility. The Bill puts a legislative procedure in place to carry out a number of actions from the Government's 2020 strategy to kick-start the construction industry. The construction of 11,000 units nationally in 2014 represented an increase of 30% on the 2013 figures, but we were starting from a very bad place. We came here in very bad circumstances, but the improvement is there. To simplify matters, we must ensure we produce the housing. Action is needed.

Section 5 of the Bill is designed to incentivise the development of vacant sites. I referred to the 3% levy. As provided for in the Bill, every owner of a vacant site will be notified before being slapped with a 3% levy, which is very important. It has to be advertised. I urge every local authority that produces a newsletter to put that out there to notify everyone who owns a site that is suitable for residential development or regeneration. The Derelict Sites Act is still in place but section 27 provides that there will not be a double levy on any site as both a derelict and a vacant site. Only one levy will be applied, which is important to state. The Bill defines what constitutes a vacant site. Very often, a difficulty that arose with the Derelict Sites Act concerned what constituted a derelict site. Was it a matter of my opinion or someone else's? It is not down to opinion in the Bill; rather, a statutory definition is included as to what constitutes a vacant site.

The Bill also makes provision for the maintenance of a vacant site register, which will tell us right throughout the country for the first time what pockets of land are there, what it is for and what we can do with it. It empowers local authorities to send out notice of their intention to place various sites on the register and to set out which sites it is appropriate to subject to the 3% levy. Some sites will have a 0% levy and will not be liable at all as vacant sites because they are in negative equity or on contaminated land. This is an ideal opportunity to address the issue of contaminated land and, as such, I have a question for the Minister of State on it. We have seen in the past that lands were contaminated without our knowledge. This will flush that out. However, there will be no levy on land in negative equity or land that is contaminated. I presume, however, that contaminated land will be covered in the forthcoming environment legislation in order to ensure that when it is identified, it is immediately put right.

What if one is not responsible for the contamination?

Senator Norris will get his opportunity; he should not worry.

I am not worried at all.

The Minister also outlined the depreciation value.

I welcome Part 4 of the Bill, one aspect of which broadens the local authority development plans to include the prevention of adverse effects on existing amenities, urban blight and decay, anti-social behaviour and a shortage of habitable houses. That will serve every citizen.

Section 29 amends section 48 of the 2000 Act. That is where a new development contribution scheme is adopted by a planning authority to provide for reduced development contribution levies. That is important because every councillor will be looking at that in terms of the development contribution. It is to kickstart development to ensure it is affordable and can produce houses, which is the aim of the Bill, and that it will be retrospective in terms of existing planning permissions that have yet to be activated. In Dublin, for example, housing could be supplied by way of existing planning permissions not yet activated, and this section will kickstart that. Also, where there are unsold housing units in a development, the new lower development levies will be applied to make it economically viable. That is important because we cannot always use the stick; there has to be a carrot also, particularly in the situation in which we find ourselves.

The Minister said he was aware of the recommendation from the Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, of which I am a member. It is nice to know we were listened to in terms of the statutory provisions relating to affordable housing, which were to be scrapped but which can be reactivated, and I presume they will be, by ministerial order.

If the House agrees I would like to share some of my 13 minutes with Senator Quinn.

Is that agreed? Agreed. The Senator has eight minutes.

The eight minutes is very elastic. The Minister of State is very welcome, and I welcome the Bill. I refer to the Minister of State's contribution. He spoke at length about urban decay, regeneration and that expenditure can include the preservation and protection of structures of special architectural, historical or cultural interest and so on. That is wonderful stuff, but it is all words. It does not mean anything. I have not seen the slightest indication of a serious attempt in this area by the Government. What about Aldborough House, which is in the possession of the State? It is in a state of complete collapse. The roof and the windows are gone. It is all very well to come into the Seanad and blather about these issues.

I wrote to the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, about regeneration, which I took up in a series of debates here, and he promised the Living City initiative. He then limited it to Limerick and Waterford. We eventually persuaded him to extend it to Dublin, and some civil servant in his Department limited it to buildings of 230 sq. metres, the size of a medium bungalow. It was said that was done to deliberately exclude what he called mansions. There is a house in Frederick Street that is in decay, which I mentioned six months ago. It fell down in recent weeks. That house would be excluded from any conservation grant. This was on the recommendation of some crowd called Indecon Economic Consultants. I would have thought we would have had a bellyful of economic consultants in this city. They talk about splitting up houses. That is the very thing we are trying to reverse - the tenementisation of Georgian Dublin.

In the Minister's most recent letter to me he stated that this is targeted at those areas most in need of attention. He should tell that to the people who live in the inner city.

The Bill is misnamed. This could be done under the Trade Descriptions Act. It is the Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill. It should be the other way around. The principal focus, as we have heard constantly from the Minister of State, is housing. That is fine, but he should be open about it and not put in the Bill this tissue of concern for architectural heritage because nobody believes him. I am fed up with that. I had some interest in this Government because I thought it might do something, but it is not doing anything.

With regard to definitions, in section 3(b) under "Definitions" there is a reference to the entitlement to receive the rack rent of the land, but the rack rent is not defined.

Perhaps there is a common usage in law, although not very common because nobody knows about it, but I believe that it should be spelled out. I ask the Minister, in a revision of this Bill, to spell out and define rack rent. For most people, rack rent means what it historically meant which was, in the old days, if one improved one's land as a tenant then the landlord shoved up the rent. That was rack renting. That is where the term came from and that is what it means. If it means something then we need a clear definition.

Section 5(1)(a) refers to a vacant site that consists of residential land and lists three qualifications. As I read them originally I thought they were alternatives but I take it that they are not and should be taken together. I refer to the bottom of page 6 of the Bill. Again, this detail should be made clearer.

Section 5(2), on page 7, reads: "“site” means any area of land exceeding 0.05 hectares", which is very small, "identified by a planning authority in its functional area but does not include any structure that is a person's home". Why not? If somebody is living in a dump and the place is collapsing surely there is a communal responsibility? Rehouse the person or do the house up but do not exempt them from it. We will have a lot of eyesores around the place in that case so I am against this exemption. I do not see why we have it in the legislation. Perhaps it is some constitutional thing.

I approve of the following two provisions on page 8, in section 6(6), which reads:

a planning authority shall determine whether or not the site being vacant or idle has adverse effects on existing amenities or reduces the amenity by reference to whether—

(a) land or structures in the area were, or are, in a ruinous or neglected condition,

(b) anti-social behaviour was or is taking place in the area.

Splendid but let us have a bit of action. Nobody takes any action on these things. There are houses all around Dublin that are collapsing as we speak and not a damn thing is done about it.

The Senator has moved into more than half the time available.

I shall conclude very quickly. I am sure the Cathaoirleach will be as reasonable with me as he was with Senator Ó Domhnaill who spoke for 13.5 minutes.

On page 9, it reads: "Every planning authority shall, before 1 June 2018." Why has that date been stipulated? Why does the initiative not commence earlier? Why not celebrate the glorious 1916 by doing something about the matter?

On page 12, section 15(2) reads: "Vacant site levy shall not be payable in respect of any land in respect of which the derelict sites levy within the meaning of the Derelict Sites Act 1990 is payable in accordance with that Act." What if it is payable but not paid? I am a bit suspicious of the word "payable."

Section 16 is on the amount of levy. Section 16(2) reads:

Where a site stands entered on the register ... if the outstanding amount of the loan is—

a) greater than the market value of the vacant site, vacant site levy in respect of that site is zero per cent.

What if a developer owns the site, leaves it idle but takes a mortgage on it in order to avoid the levy? That is an obvious one.

Finally, I shall refer to section 18 due to my concern about pop-up shops. It seems to me, having read the legislation, that if an unscrupulous owner had a pop-up shop then he or she would be out and free. I thank the Cathaoirleach.

I thank Senator Norris for sharing his time with me. I welcome the Minister of State to the House. Some years have elapsed since he spent time here and cut his political teeth. It is good to have him back.

I thank the Senator.

I welcome this Bill. Senator Norris made the point that we are debating legislation on housing and urban regeneration so obviously we are aiming to achieve quite a lot.

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill because it is about gathering information that can help us to better plan for the future. However, it seems strange to have a Bill on the housing shortage that does not mention NAMA and the possibility for NAMA to play a greater role in the provision of housing. Speaking in general terms, we should realise that Dublin needs to convert some retail property or vacant property into housing. I believe the Government should remove any red tape and ease planning regulations so that vacant or under-used building can be used to address the housing shortage. The Government should also consider reintroducing the living over the shop scheme to increase the residential use of city centre streets. I travel to France quite a lot and living over the shop is common in countries like France where apartments are located over and around shops in town and city centres. Something could be done in that area.

I would be interested to hear if there are any constitutional difficulties with the legislation. Article 43 of the Constitution effectively provides that if the State passes a law that restricts one's property rights, it may be required to compensate one for it. I wonder if some property owners will see themselves as unfairly singled out by this legislation. The Government states the Constitution as a reason it cannot pass various Bills, particularly in the upward-only rent area. That is why it showed no enthusiasm for accepting the legislation that we discussed here. I would be interested to hear if this provision in the Bill is sound.

Section 12(2) states:

The market value of the vacant site shall be estimated by the planning authority and it shall authorise a person it considers suitably qualified for that purpose to inspect the site and report to it the value thereof and the person having possession or custody of the site shall permit the person so authorised to inspect at such reasonable times as the planning authority considers necessary.

In some sense this appears to be drumming up business for auctioneers and estate agents. We have all heard of how Revenue is using Google maps as a free tool to estimate the value of properties, something that I feel is quite intrusive, yet the planning authorities will outsource the valuations of vacant properties. A rough estimate would suffice in this respect and the planning authorities would not have to waste money in this way. I would be interested to hear the Minister of State's thoughts on that area and also whether we could compel NAMA to set aside 1% of vacant property for affordable artist studios. We had a discussion recently at the Joint Committee on Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation about the ability to create jobs in artistic areas. I think something could be done in this regard. Temple Bar worked well, the development in IFSC worked well and singling out an area like that could help.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I believe the legislation is balanced. I have looked at it very carefully and particularly around the issue of Part V. It strikes a balance between a carrot and stick approach and deals with the difficulties that arose with Part V in the past.

The general purpose of the Bill is expressed in the explanatory memorandum as facilitating increasing activity in housing construction, particularly in the Dublin areas, where the housing supply shortage is particularly acute, and it deals with the revision of the Part V arrangements in regard to social and affordable housing. It also deals with the reduced development contribution charges and the introduction of a vacant site levy, which I particularly welcome.

In relation to a point made by Senator Norris, I do not think that because legislation is aiming to encourage increased activity in housing construction it is abandoning the issue of urban regeneration. For the sake of argument, I am looking at the submission on the proposed inner city vacant tax levy by the task force on vacant land which was established by the then Lord Mayor, Labour Party councillor Oisín Quinn, in 2012. It noted that Dublin city had a considerable amount of vacant land and pointed out that there were 151 vacant plots of land and 131 sites with derelict buildings which were zoned for development and left unused. It actually noted that the largest vacant site in Dublin city was the Irish Glass Bottle Company site in Ringsend at just over 10 ha. We can extrapolate from that the amount of housing that could be located on 10 ha. The second largest site was Clancy Quay, formerly the Clancy Army Barracks, at Islandbridge with 5.6 ha. That it does not necessarily involve North Great George's Street does not mean there are not issues of regeneration in the city centre. The submission also noted that under the current system there was no disincentive to landowners leaving a site vacant for many years, which was not in the best interests of the city.

A vacant site levy is very desirable in Dublin city and its environs. The Derelict Sites Act 1990 has proved to be inadequate in dealing with the number of vacant sites in the Dublin region.

The issue of vacant sites was not the first one I wanted to address, but while we are on it I want to note that this is a broader issue than that of land being left unused. There was an analysis in 2003 of economic and marketing influence on the construction industry in Building Industry Bulletin, authored by a noted building economist, Mr. Jerome Casey, who pointed out that the proportion of the price of a house which was accounted for by the cost of land in the early 1990s was 15%, rising to 40% to 50% by 2003. He also noted that eight major developers had cornered the market in north Dublin in 2011. The bottom line is that this goes further than the simple issue of land being left unused. The fact is that people who can afford to are hoarding land, and have done so in the past. It is pure speculation, and the ultimate purchaser of a house built on that land is the one who pays. We need to remember that when we discuss vacant site levies.

This is a particularly balanced Bill which deals with some of the worst aspects of the Celtic tiger. As I said, there are three aspects to the Bill that tie together. We all know that the construction sector in this country is on its knees. It has gone from representing 20% of GDP down to representing about 5% to 7%. Capacity in the sector is suffering, and recovery of the housing supply in this country will depend on the health of the construction sector. Whether one listens to the ESRI, the NESC or anybody else, it is accepted that there is a demand for about 20,000 units in the country, around 10,000 of which need to be in Dublin, and we are far short of that number. I understand around 8,301 units were constructed in 2013.

A number of factors have influenced this and I want to take the opportunity to discuss them in the context of the Bill. One relates to access to finance. I am aware, because of interventions by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, that the main pillar banks have indicated that only about 60% finance is available to developers, leaving an equity gap of 30% to 40% for any development. It is my understanding that NAMA is funding about 50% of the development in this country, which is something that needs to be addressed.

The cost of construction has been raised on a number of occasions. Developer levies, which are being addressed in the Bill, are something that need to be reviewed. Demand also needs to be kept under review, and we are all aware of issues around that, particularly with regard to the Central Bank. It is not a popular thing to say, but we need to investigate who is able to access finance for housing. We have to be conscious of demand driving up house prices, but we also need to be aware that we do not want to go back to a system in which only the upper middle classes and those in the professional sectors could access money to buy housing.

Part V housing is an issue I have followed for a long time. The debate around it did not happen today or yesterday. It behoves us to consider the outcomes of Part V, particularly those relating to social housing, where it has been noted that less than 40% of all housing produced under Part V ended up as social housing. Part of the reason was that developers did not want to build social housing and were much happier to provide affordable housing because we were told that private purchasers did not want to live beside social housing tenants. Ironically, Part V was supposed to promote a social mix. I am happy to see that we are very clear on what we are doing in the Bill. It is about social housing. The NESC has pointed out that in future one third of people will not be able to afford their own housing without assistance. We need to be very clear about our targets and ambitions as a Government on this point.

On the issue of contributions, as somebody who worked as a lawyer and took contributions from developers, I know that there is and has been no accountability.

We need to make it clear that openness and transparency are needed in relation to developer contributions. When we consider the performance of this Government, it is worth pointing out that local authorities throughout the country were willing to take whatever they could in relation to housing developments, and however they could get it, partly because they were simply under-resourced. It is important for me to say, following the amendment of the property tax legislation, that I do not want to see local authorities using developer levies to fund their general operations.

I would like the Minister of State to consider a final suggestion. I have mentioned the issue of financing the construction sector and the shortfall between what is available through the banking system and what developers require to get on-site developments. In my opinion, the 10% Part V requirement has always been the last tranche of any deal. This could become the first tranche of any deal. In other words, the Part V requirement could become upfront seed funding for developers. I would like the Minister of State to consider that. I will conclude by saying that this legislation is balanced and by asking who ultimately pays for the inefficiency in the housing system. I am not into the blame game - the bottom line remains that we did not receive the social housing we should have received under Part V - but at the end of the day, the person who pays for the inefficiency in the housing system, for the hoarding and for the State's inability to enforce Part V is the purchaser of the home and the taxpayer.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I will try to race through my script. I have a lot to say in the time available to me. I want to mention something else at the end.

When this Bill was first introduced, my party was opposed to its contents, particularly the changes being made to the existing Part V provisions. We were pleasantly surprised when it was decided to provide for a vacant site levy. It appeared on the face of it that the levy was a decent proposal. Unfortunately, our hopes were deflated when we examined the proposal closely. We believe the levy will be damaging to social housing, will undermine councils, perhaps by penalising them for being underfunded, and will encourage the sale of land that could be used for social housing. Sinn Féin believes this is a serious blow to hopes of tackling the social housing crisis, which is the worst aspect of the housing crisis we are currently facing and dealing with. Indeed, it has been reported in the last day or two that 16,500 of the 42,000 people who are in housing need in Dublin are children. Many people are struggling to pay exorbitant private rents. Far too many families have already lost that struggle. I will mention some statistics in this regard. Approximately 1,000 children are sleeping in emergency accommodation every night. Hundreds are sleeping on the streets and many more are in cramped temporary spaces in the homes of friends and family. Almost 100,000 people depend on the State to subsidise their private rent because they cannot hope to afford it on their own incomes. That would not change even if rates decreased considerably.

The new Part V regime will involve the removal of the 10% affordable housing requirement and the reform of the remaining 10% requirement to include leasing. I know the Government claims to have taken away the ability of developers to pay their way out of these requirements. The get-out clause that will remain in the form of leasing will not greatly benefit the council and those in housing need. It is more than likely that in most cases, this will be the result of the new Part V arrangements. We all know that councils are drastically under-funded and will not be able to purchase Part V social housing in the absence of major investment. Their desperation means they will opt for leasing instead. We do not believe a significant number of social housing units will be developed. We believe the vacant site levy will continue the attack on the ability of councils to provide housing. The Government recently amended this Bill to make local authorities liable for the levy. It argued that this measure will spur development. We must remember that councils are struggling to build houses not because they are lazy but because they simply do not have the money to do so. If one speaks to councillors or council executives, they will tell one that no money is available. The swelling housing waiting lists mean they are under increasing pressure to provide housing. We believe this levy will force councils to hand over land, or sell it off, to avoid the levy. At present, there is enough council land in Dublin to build housing for everyone who needs a house. However, not enough money is available for this.

I know the Minister refused to accept Opposition amendments to remove liability from the councils and refused to stipulate that the money raised could be used for social housing on council lands despite the intention to charge councils a levy. My colleague Deputy Dessie Ellis tabled amendments in this respect.

Following on from that, I wish to raise an issue which probably deviates from specific content of the Bill but which is relevant to the spirt of it, in that we are discussing regeneration, vacant sites, development and planning authorities. It is an issue that is particularly topical in Cavan and it relates to regeneration. It concerns an out-of-town retail development. We talk about invigorating towns and preventing sites from becoming hotbeds of decay, neglect or anti-social behaviour. We cannot ignore this. The Minister of State stated in his contribution that regeneration expenditure can include projects or works to improve local shopping streets and business areas, and I thought it would be appropriate to raise this issue with him. A large development involving a new Tesco superstore, which has planning permission for 485 car parking spaces, is taking place in Cavan. Tesco is moving its operation from the centre of the town out to a large hill outside the town. It is opening a superstore on the top of the hill. The back of the outlet will face the town core and the superstore will have its own private car park. Many people are concerned that this development might kill business in the town centre. When we talk about towns, regeneration and giving powers to planning authorities, we need to ensure that before planning permission is granted and sales proceed, impact assessments are undertaken. That would go a long way towards improving the local shopping streets and business areas that the Minister of State mentioned in his contribution.

It is no secret that in other towns that have experienced an influx of large out-of-town retailers the final result has been devastation for the original town core and peripheral towns. It has been pointed out to me that local authorities should be compelled to examine factors such as integration, complementary development and long-term symbiosis as part of any plan incorporating megastores or other developments. The idea is not to protect unworthy or unsustainable businesses or business models but to provide for sustainable development and regeneration that has regard to the community, its traditions and a shared vision for the future. These specific arguments and points do not relate to the Bill, but they are to do with urban regeneration, so I thought they would be worth mentioning to the Minister of State during the course of this debate in case I do not have another opportunity to do so. I hope it is an issue that can be considered in future in terms of urban regeneration, particularly in the context of towns outside Dublin.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I also welcome the legislation. I wish to raise a number of points and deal with some matters that the Minister of State raised. In regard to vacant sites, as someone who has been involved in the legal profession for a long number of years, I have found that sometimes one of the problems associated with development concerns the assembly of a site that is suitable for development. Sometimes a developer acquires a site but must sit on it for a period of time in order to obtain an adjoining site to make the project viable. That would apply in particular to urban areas. Very little assistance is given by the local authorities in such instances. I am thinking of some areas in Cork City in this respect. I know of one place where there are vacant sites on which there were buildings previously, and stuck in the middle of the three vacant sites is a site that is occupied by a building. I was speaking to people in Cork City Council during the past week about whether the city council should get involved in this instance and serve whatever notices are required in order to compulsorily purchase that building to enable the development to proceed. I am not sure if the local authorities are acting fast enough in order to facilitate such developments.

I know of another case in which it took a person 11 years to secure planning permission on a vacant site, which I find difficult to understand. The problem in this case related to 60 sq. ft. which the local authority owned but in respect of which it refused to give a wayleave agreement in order that the person could get access to a side road. The person had access to a main road. The planners wanted to give planning permission but they wanted it to be granted with access to the side road. The developer had no difficulty with that, but there were 60 sq. ft. between the boundary of the property and the side road, and for 11 years the local authority sat on it and would not yield that 60 sq. ft. Planning was eventually granted for the development 11 years later with access to the main public road, on which there were already a number of entrances. That shows a lack of thinking by local authorities when sites are being assembled, especially in urban areas. Local authorities need to be quicker off the mark in such matters.

Another issue that sometimes arises is to do with title difficulties. In fairness to Cork City Council, it has assisted developers in serving derelict site notices, as a result of which they can sell back the title. Local authorities need to use that function far more effectively. In the case of older sites and properties, difficulties may arise where there is a long lease of 300 years, say, which might be subdivided into 100-year leases and perhaps even subdivided again. Problems may arise when not all of the parties to a sublease can be found. Use of a derelict site notice is an effective way of dealing with such difficulties. Again, local authorities could do a lot more to assist in this area.

One of the major problems in my constituency when it comes to housing is the number of people who are living in local authority properties that are far too large for their needs. This is an issue that requires careful examination. In some cases, there might be only one or two people living in a house that could accommodate five or six. People in that situation may find it difficult to manage their home because of the cost of heating, lighting, property tax and so on, and often wish to downsize. The problem, particularly in cities, is that there may well be no suitable smaller properties available in the area in which they have lived for 35 or 40 years. Local authorities have a role to play in addressing in this issue as doing so would give the benefit of freeing up houses that are suitable for families. In some parts of Cork city, the population is decreasing because families could not afford to buy there over the past 15 to 20 years. Now that prices have come down, there may be an opportunity to reverse that development. The Department should examine how people can be assisted to downsize without having to move 20 or 30 miles to find suitable accommodation. There is a great deal of work to do in that area.

I have a concern as to whether we will get value for money from the development levies. To take an example from the city of Edinburgh, I understand a developer who got permission to build 200 houses there was obliged, in turn, to provide the school extensions, playgrounds and other facilities required to meet the needs of the families who would be living there. That the levies will be collected by local authorities does not necessarily translate into the provision of services. Developers should, especially in the case of large developments of more than 100 houses, be obliged to do more by way of providing amenities at the same time as homes are being built. That would be much more efficient and beneficial than waiting until after a housing development is completed to consider what facilities are needed. This is a factor we must consider in respect of future development in our towns and cities.

I welcome the important changes contained in this Bill, particularly those which relate to the Part V regime. I look forward to seeing those provisions implemented and fully operational at the earliest possible time.

I welcome the Minister of State to the House. I am sure he, like many of us in this House, draws on the experience of his local authority days when it comes to housing matters. The Wexford County Council officials to whom I have spoken readily acknowledge that they have never seen the housing situation as bad as it is now both in respect of the homeless numbers and the number of people on the housing lists. I was contacted some weeks ago by a constituent from Wexford town who is waiting three years to be housed. What is most concerning is that this person is not even on the list; it takes five years of waiting before one is included on it.

All of this is happening at a time of relative wealth in our country. There is no doubt the downturn seriously affected many people, but it is interesting to consider the very good quality of housing that was built in our towns and cities in the post-independence 1930s and 1940s.

At the height of the economic war with Britain, we were still building houses for our citizens. All of that seems to be absent from the programme.

I am concerned that the Government has abrogated its responsibility to some extent and is trying to pass on the obligation to provide housing to the private sector. The latter must play its part, of course, but the public sector should be the prime mover in ensuring that people are provided with housing and shelter. All through my life in politics, my philosophy has been that there are three areas in respect of which people have rights and entitlements. The first is the entitlement and the right to an education which equips them to work for themselves and to achieve success in their working lives. The second is the entitlement to work. The State does not provide jobs, despite what Governments of all hues often pretend. What it does is to facilitate the conditions and climate in which jobs can be created by the private sector. The third is that people are entitled to shelter. Unfortunately, we are failing in this regard.

I recall that when grants were available some years ago to encourage people to buy houses, a housing co-operative was established in my home town of New Ross. We launched a number of schemes with the assistance of the town council and the county council. Those schemes were very successful - similar ones were put in place in other areas - and they facilitated people whose circumstances in life were improving to aspire to home ownership. Very few individuals can do that now. In my early days in politics, county councils provided loans to those whose incomes were below a certain threshold and who would have found it difficult to meet the cost of a mortgage. What happened was that the council gave one a loan to be paid back over a 25 or 30-year period. One paid a 10% contribution in the first year and a 20% contribution in the second. After ten years, one was actually paying the full amount. A subsidy applied in respect of that scheme. I am of the view that new, informed, imaginative and intuitive thinking is required within the Department in order that we might develop schemes that can bridge the gap that has been allowed to develop.

In the past we had building societies which could compete with the banks. It is now very difficult for people to obtain finance. When I was younger there were many single-income households, whereas now there are large numbers of double-income households. Middle-class people who are on reasonably good salaries are finding it impossible to either obtain mortgages or meet their repayments as a result of the cost of housing. Variable mortgage rates are too high, but I will not go into that matter now. There also used to be licensed housing schemes whereby, if councils owned land, they would engage builders to construct private housing schemes. The councils would have an input in terms of ensuring that the cost of the houses involved would be reasonable. An agreement in this regard was reached in advance and the builder would only pay for the sites as he sold the houses. There are many things we could do that we simply are not doing. In far worse economic times than those we are currently experiencing, we were able to provide shelter for our citizens. Somebody needs to take matters in hand and ensure that action is forthcoming.

I supported Part V social housing when it was introduced. However, in light of the subsequent application of development levies, I must admit that the scheme had an inflationary impact on house prices. Anyone who thought that developers were, out of the goodness of their hearts, providing either extra sites or social housing was wrong. It was those who have subsequently become hard-pressed mortgage holders who, through their purchasing of houses under the scheme, provided the cash and the profits for the developers. The cost of development levies was added to the price of the houses and this led to further inflation. We need to completely rethink our approach to this matter.

I have some concerns regarding the vacant site levy. Urban regeneration is fine, but there are many people who do not have the wherewithal to pay this levy. In some instances, there are those who bought a field to build a house in and who now - with the property situated closer to the local town as a result of urban expansion - will be forced to dispense with it. These people may not be able to develop such sites and they will be forced to sell them. I am of the view that this is a real imposition on those who have worked hard all their lives to achieve certain aspirations.

The State will now rely on them to do what it should be doing. I ask that much of this be re-examined. I acknowledge that some of what the Minister of State is doing is undoubtedly going in the right direction, but he must apply his personal experience through his work on Waterford County Council. These Houses have a cumulative amount of knowledge, particularly in the Seanad, from people who have come through the local government system or who have worked with various housing agencies. We should bring a little more imagination into a comprehensive approach to address the issue and not throw the problem and responsibility onto the private sector. It will not work. It is wrong and ill-founded.

I thank all Senators for their valued contributions to the debate on Second Stage. Many of them were very interesting. While I may not agree with all of the comments, I listened to them and I know they were made in a genuine and constructive spirit. I acknowledge the experience of many Senators through the work they have done over many years on local authorities, to which Senator Walsh referred. I also acknowledge Senator Hayden's experience in tenancy and housing issues.

As I outlined in my opening remarks, and as has been acknowledged by virtually all Senators in their contributions, the acute housing supply shortage is one of the most pressing challenges faced by the Government. The primary background to the Bill is to address this shortage through regenerating sites in central urban areas which have high potential and which have already had substantial funds expended on them through the provision of public infrastructure. They are lying vacant and are a blight on streetscapes. It is logical that we bring forward legislation to unlock the potential of these sites. Strict criteria and due process give the owners of these sites adequate time to address them. The criteria do not just catch a site because it is sitting vacant. It must be in an area of high demand where there is a strong housing need. I also reassure the Senators that other stringent criteria must be met.

I note the general welcome for the vacant site levy provisions and Senators on all sides agree it is a relatively positive measure to incentivise the development of vacant sites. I reject the accusations of some Senators that this is a Bill for developers. The Part V provisions will be far more onerous than they are at present for a site which has a levy on it. As Senators admitted, developers had many loopholes and we are tying these down and underpinning this in legislation and planning regulations. The Part V negotiations will have to be front loaded and construction on sites will not be able to commence unless the Part V agreements are in place. I cannot see how this favours developers. It is true the provision has been reduced from 20% to 10%, but it has been quite obvious to me over recent years that with little or no development of residential units 20% was delivering zero units.

We must take account of the overall viability of construction. As we all know the overheads, including the price of land, the cost from concept to design, planning permission and construction, must be paid for by the owners or those taking out mortgages. We must address the overheads involved if we are to deliver affordable housing in this country.

We have learned from the mistakes of the past because we now have in place a more stringent planning system. Many Senators will be aware of many local authority areas throughout the country where vast tracts of land have been dezoned because it was inappropriate and there was simply too much zoned land. This all contributed to the boom and bust cycle we saw.

We now have in place access to the Housing Agency, which is independent and has experience and technical know-how on demographics and where the rising needs are with regard to housing provision.

There is a perfect storm. We have come through what was probably one of the worst economic crises this country has ever seen, access to credit is a problem, and builders, whom we need, are broke. As to skill sets, many of our young and not-so-young tradespeople have had to leave the country. We need them back if we are to build housing at an affordable price.

The Bill targets a specific aspect. The Government is addressing other aspects. Under the social housing strategy, the Government has returned to direct provision and building local authority housing for the first time in many years. The first phase has been announced. In the coming weeks, further phases will be announced, with local authorities given approval to build and, where value for money can be achieved, buy houses so that we can start to meet housing need. The Government has also provided substantial additional funds for the turnaround of voids in local authority areas. There has been relative success in this regard in the past year, with more than 2,000 vacant houses in local authority stock returned to beneficial use. We expect a further 1,000 units to be returned to use in the coming year.

There is no single solution to the housing shortage. It must be a multifaceted approach. The Bill addresses one aspect and has identified that there is potential in our urban streetscapes and town and city centres. We must unlock the potential of those sites. We are introducing a carrot-and-stick approach, as some Senators described it, by which we are incentivising building through reduced development contributions and Part V obligations while applying levies to sites that must be returned to beneficial use for the greater good. Senator Quinn raised a question about property rights. We have had this examined closely. In terms of the provision of housing, which is probably the country's largest priority, the greater good is being met and we are confident that this legislation will address it.

I look forward to debating the Bill in greater detail on Committee Stage. I will have responses for the various concerns raised by Senators. It is not an answer to say that we should just throw money at the problem. We must consider those assets and resources of the State that often go unnoticed. I am referring to public services that are under the ground in our towns and cities. We need to maximise that infrastructure to ensure that we bring life back to towns, cities and villages around the country. The Bill is a step along the way. It empowers local authorities and gives them the autonomy to designate sites and identify housing priorities. This should be welcomed. As we all know, local authorities are the closest level of democracy to the citizen. The Bill will give them a power to respond in a proactive way to our housing shortage. I look forward to working with all Senators of all parties and none on addressing this societal problem, which has been created over many years. Senator Walsh was right about Governments abdicating their responsibility for the provision of social housing, but I will correct him on one point, in that our Government did not. Rather, the previous Government handed social housing to Part V-----

How much public housing has been built in the past four years?

-----and private housing over ten or 15 years. The previous Government left us in the lurch, but this Government is adamant about addressing the problem, and it will do so.

This Government cut capital expenditure, removing money that could have been invested in housing and providing jobs at a time when it would have been economically right to do so.

Question put and agreed to.
Committee Stage ordered for Friday, 17 July 2015.
Sitting suspended at 4.40 p.m. and resumed at 5.30 p.m.