Thursday, 14 November 2019

Ceisteanna (3)

Barry Cowen


3. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the acreage of State land managed by the OPW that has been transferred to the Land Development Agency for the development of residential units; the number of units that have been delivered; the number of acres that will be transferred to the agency in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [46825/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (7 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Public)

Tá an t-am le haghaidh Uimh. 2 agus 4 istigh. Rachaimid ar aghaidh go hUimh. 3 in ainm Teachta Cowen, atá á tógáil ag Teachta Calleary.

On 1 October Deputy Cowen asked a parliamentary question about the transfer of land from the OPW, one of the biggest holders of land in the State, to the Land Development Agency. This is a follow-on question to see what progress has been made since. Has the Minister met the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to discuss the legislation or the Land Development Agency? Given that the supply of housing is so critical and important and in such a mess, I hope there has been some urgency in moving on the issue of actually transferring land from the OPW to the Land Development Agency.

The Commissioners of Public Works are the title holders of the Central Mental Hospital site in Dundrum which is expected to be transferred to the Land Development Agency for residential development. The site covers around 13.35 ha and is currently leased to the HSE for use by the Central Mental Hospital. In August 2019 the OPW facilitated the Land Development Agency by giving formal consent to it to prepare its planning application for the site to be developed for housing purposes. However, the transfer of the site is subject to the legislation underpinning the powers and functions of the Land Development Agency being put in place by my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. In addition, the Land Development Agency is aware that any development on the site will depend on the relocation of the Central Mental Hospital to a new site in Portrane. I understand the HSE is working towards a target date of 2020 for the National Forensic Mental Health Service Hospital which will replace the Central Mental Hospital to become operational in Portrane. The site in Dundrum will have to be vacated by the HSE and the hospital before the Land Development Agency can begin substantial works.

Deputy Calleary said the supply of housing was in a "mess", but, in fairness, in recent years the Government has dealt with a mess it inherited and had to do a lot of work in that regard. While there are people on waiting lists for houses in local authority areas throughout the country, I assure the Deputy that I have met the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Minister of State, Deputy English, on more than one occasion and that any land available that is at our disposal will, in the first instance, be made available to the local authorities, the HSE and the Department of Education and Skills. In this case we have the site of the Central Mental Hospital which is to be transferred to the Land Development Agency.

I do not doubt the Minister of State's personal drive in that regard, but, word for word, his reply is virtually the exact same as the response given on Tuesday, 1 October. Today is 14 November. We are six weeks on, but nothing has been transferred to the Land Development Agency. I asked if the Minister had met the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to light a fire under him, something that needs to be done in moving to deal with the legislation related to the Land Development Agency. It is obviously a "No". This shows the lack of urgency within the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, especially when it comes to the supply of housing. We are offering a solution. The OPW is one of the biggest controllers of landbanks in the State. The land is very well situated and there is an obvious demand for affordable and social housing, as well as market-led housing, yet nobody within the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government seems to think the matter is urgent enough to put pressure on the Minister of State or the Minister to move on it. What other land is envisaged for transfer from the OPW for the provision of affordable and social housing? Is any progress being made in actually transferring land? As the OPW is one of the biggest landlords in the State, when does the Minister of State envisage that he will be in a position to see housing developed on State land?

The OPW is a huge property owner, but a lot of the land it holds incorporates heritage sites, monuments and castles. The Deputy has asked if we have further land to transfer. As I said, in the first instance, we make land available. It is then up to the local authorities and the HSE to decide whether they wish to acquire it. Some of our land has been transferred to local authorities and we have seen different projects taking place. In the case of other land, there have been no other requests received from any agency or Department because of where the land is located. In the past we have seen sprawling developments outside towns where there was no proper infrastructure or services provided to maintain them. We do not want to go down that road again in the supply of local authority housing. The Deputy will be aware that most of the OPW's land is in the wilds of Ireland and incorporates heritage sites which, in some cases, are not suitable for the housing developments proposed by him. As I said to him, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and I have met on a number of occasions. We have made available to him any land that he has requested us to transfer. I reiterate that some of the OPW's land does not meet the requirements for the supply of housing.

The Minister of State might provide me with a list of the lands that have been transferred from the OPW for housing development. I make the point again, as raised by Deputy Cowen on 1 October, that there is a housing crisis and that the Minister has had no interaction or contact with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, in six weeks to discuss a solution that would provide a lot of hope and answers for those who who seek housing. It really sums up the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy's attitude to the problem.

I totally disagree with the Deputy. It is not just about transferring a piece of land in Dundrum. It is also about the transfer of a service to another site. There is ongoing dialogue between the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and my Department and with the Land Development Agency and it is not fair to say there is not. I have given the Deputy the dates and nothing has changed in that regard, but work has been taking place and it will happen.

Question No. 4 answered with Question No. 2.