Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 3 June 2021
Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Committee Stage (Resumed)
I thank the Minister of State for his response. He indicated that establishing the Land Development Agency as a non-commercial semi-State body would create a considerable expense on the Exchequer. Every single euro the LDA acquires through the ISIF or borrowing and every euro it spends for the next number of years is on balance sheet. That is the current position.
If it is the intention of the Government to honour the commitment given by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien, that the majority of homes on LDA sites will be social and affordable, getting this funding off balance sheet will not be possible.
The Minister of State is completely correct that this is a matter for the CSO, in the first instance, and then EUROSTAT to decide if a vehicle is on or off balance sheet. We know the bar that EUROSTAT sets for such a decision because in the very significant EUROSTAT decision on Irish Water, the five points it outlined as to why Irish Water would be on balance sheet are all very clearly in evidence here, in that the majority of the activity of the LDA, as promised by the Minister, will be non-commercial, that is, providing sociable and affordable housing. The system for allocating those homes will be nominations through the local authorities for the social housing but also for the purchase of the affordable element. The board's policies, particularly the requirement to abide by Government policy and direction, are enshrined in this legislation. It is virtually impossible to see how the LDA can come off balance sheet unless - this is a very important point that the Minister of State made – it is in order to satisfy the core requirement of the market corporation test of EUROSTAT by providing that a majority of the residential units on LDA land are sold at commercial open market prices. I do not dispute the Minister’s view and I know it is Fine Gael’s desire for the LDA to be off balance sheet. However, if the Minister wants to achieve this, the only way he can do so is if, in the round, 60% of the homes the LDA delivers will be sold at open market prices, which we know are eminently unaffordable.
Given that the majority of the LDA activity is going to be in Dublin, the Government cannot, on the one hand, promise that up to a majority of the homes in Dublin will be social and affordable while, on the other hand, saying that it wants the LDA to be off balance sheet. This is a crucial issue and I understand the LDA itself is quite concerned about this because it is not understand how its target of 150,000 homes, as promised by the then Taoiseach and current Tánaiste, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and the then Ministers, Deputy Donohoe, and Mr. Eoghan Murphy, back in 2018 is going to be achieved if the agency is not off balance sheet. The LDA does not see how it is going to be off balance sheet if the promise of the Minister that the majority of the homes will be social and affordable is to met.
This response by the Minister of State exposes a fundamental flaw in how the Government is dealing with this matter. It shows the deeply confused nature of this legislation and the different promises of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael as to what the LDA will deliver. On that basis, I am pressing this amendment because it would be cheaper and more efficient to have a centralised housing agency on balance sheet as a non-commercial semi-State body and borrowing, exactly as Deputy Boyd Barrett stated and as recommended by the ESRI today, at historically low rates to provide the volume of public homes that we need. As I said, this exposes the fundamental flaw of this entire enterprise and on that basis, this amendment is even more valid than it was before.