Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 17 October 2018
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Appropriate Use of Public Land: Discussion
At the request of the broadcasting and recording services, members and visitors in the Public Gallery are requested to ensure that their mobile phones are switched off completely for the duration of the meeting or switched to airplane-safe or flight mode depending on their device. It is not sufficient to put phones on silent mode as this will maintain a level of interference with the broadcasting system.
Before we begin, we will record our decision in private session on Schedule A - COM (2018) 636, which is the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council amending Regulation (EU, Euratom) No 1141/2014 as regards a verification procedure related to infringements of rules on the protection of personal data in the context of elections to the European Parliament. It is proposed that this proposal does not warrant further scrutiny. Is that agreed? Agreed.
Today's meeting will be split into two sessions and will involve consideration of the appropriate use of public land. On behalf of the committee, I welcome Mr. John Coleman from the Land Development Agency, LDA, and Mr. Niall Cussen from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government to the first session.
I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence.
They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I call on Mr. Coleman to make his opening statement.
Mr. John Coleman:
I thank the committee for the invitation to attend. I look forward to an ongoing positive and constructive engagement between the committee and the LDA. I will briefly outline the LDA's strategic objectives and how we plan to make a lasting positive change to how we use land in Ireland, both State-owned and privately held land, and improve and stabilise housing supply over the long term. I will then update the committee on some of the initial progress made by the LDA since its inception one month ago.
Regarding the LDA's objectives, its mandate is to expedite the delivery, with a focus on housing, of land that could and should be developed or redeveloped, be it State-owned or privately owned. We will do this in two ways: by optimising how we use lands in the control of the State sector, with a focus on housing supply; and by opening up large-scale strategic landbanks, including privately held land, to ensure faster and better co-ordinated delivery of land and homes in the future. These two objectives are interrelated. The State may have land interests that are large-scale and strategic in their own right or that may form a part of a larger strategic area. However, it is important to state that we are not limiting our focus to where the State has land interests. We are also examining the potential to unlock delivery on wholly privately held areas that could be developed or redeveloped but where nothing is happening currently.
Both objectives will not be delivered unless the LDA focuses clearly on implementation. Although the LDA was only launched last month, we have already commenced significant work programmes to put in place the platform to achieve our goals. To make progress towards our first objective, that of optimising the use of State lands, the LDA, supported by the Departments of the Taoiseach and Housing, Planning and Local Government, has begun to identify development opportunities following meetings with a number of State and semi-State bodies. From the initial trawl, the LDA has secured access to a portfolio of eight State-owned sites, which will yield approximately 3,000 homes. Preparatory and feasibility work on these eight sites will start imminently. These engagements are ongoing though and we are seeking to supplement the initial portfolio with additional sites and are in active discussions with various State bodies to achieve this.
While State bodies must consider their own legitimate operations in identifying what land they have that can be used for housing, I have been encouraged by their constructive approach and acceptance of the need for the public sector as a whole to help address Ireland's housing challenges. It is important to note that, where another State body or agency is already advancing delivery on sites, the LDA will not seek to add complexity by becoming involved unless we can demonstrate that we can add value.
Regarding the second objective of opening up large-scale strategic landbanks, the agency is focused on identifying privately held lands that could be developed or repurposed for more suitable uses, including housing. It will consider areas of near-term potential, but also growth areas for the future, especially where transport infrastructure is planned or already in place. Some areas, even where earmarked or zoned for development, take too long for housing to be delivered on them. To remedy this situation, a structured framework to drive delivery, backed by legislative authority, is needed. I will expand on this in a moment.
Combining these two strategic objectives, we can fundamentally change for the better how we approach land use in Ireland. Previously, intervention by the State was largely in the form of granting zoning and planning permission. With the creation of the LDA, we are taking a step further by playing a key role in driving the delivery of these permissions.
I will turn to the initial progress that the LDA has made one month out from its establishment and the concrete work we are doing in the short term to maximise the impact that we can make over the long term. Among the key work programmes we have started are creating a comprehensive database of State lands; identifying eight first-phase sites for 3,000 homes; identifying ways to improve housing affordability; making the LDA fit for purpose right from the start with a best-in-class governance, corporate structure and delivery platform; and facilitating the necessary legislation to underpin the LDA's work.
Concerning the State lands database, for us collectively to understand what the delivery potential is from State lands, the agency needs to scope fully what land is in the State's ownership, where it is located and what is its development potential. In this respect, we have commenced work on assembling data for a complete, accurate and functional State lands database. All Departments and State bodies are scheduled to provide information on lands within their control or ownership by the end of the month. The agency will then collect this information, collate it and make it publicly available. Alongside other data sources from within the State sector, the database will help us assess the delivery potential of the State's landbank. It will also highlight relocation opportunities for non-housing uses. For the first time, we will be able to take a single view of State lands and make plans in an holistic manner rather than on a body-specific basis.
Turning to the eight sites that I mentioned, these are at various stages of readiness and complexity but share the common feature of either not being currently used for the existing operations of the landowner or, where they are being used, advanced plans being in place to relocate those operations. From a transactional perspective, the LDA has a number of options to access these sites, including acquiring the sites or acting on behalf of the landowning body to deliver them. The agency has already prepared its procurement documents for professional services necessary on these initial sites, including surveying, architectural and feasibility work. As a result, we can expect real work to commence on these sites in the short term. That said, none of the sites currently has a usable planning permission in place. That is why the LDA exists. The lead times and work necessary to make a site construction-ready are well understood, but even allowing for this, we expect construction to start on the first site in 2019 and the first new homes to be delivered in 2020.
Moving to improving housing affordability, the LDA generally intends to drive this by increasing the supply of land that is available for development, providing visibility and transparency in the land market. This will help counter Ireland's boom-bust cycle in land prices, which in turn determine housing affordability. Land in some areas is priced very highly today, contributing towards the high rents we are experiencing, especially in the main urban areas. The LDA will also contribute to housing affordability in a more direct way. All of the sites in the initial portfolio, being State lands, will require the delivery of at least 40% social and affordable homes in line with the Government's policy in respect of State lands. In some cases, the level of social and affordable homes delivered from this portfolio will be even higher than 40%. Some of the landowners with a housing delivery mandate, such as the Housing Agency, may require higher levels of affordable housing provision on their sites that the LDA will assume control of. Regarding non-State lands, the LDA may seek opportunities for providing affordable homes additional to the standard 10% social housing as a negotiated quid pro quofor facilitating development in certain areas.
What is clear is that the LDA will be delivering a significant number of affordable homes. That is why we are working with various parties, including the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, to assist new housing tenures, such as cost-rental. The LDA can play a major role in the establishment of this form of housing provision as a permanent structural bridge of the gap between social housing and the private housing market.
Turning to the LDA's governance and operations, work is under way on the recruitment of a board of directors. This will enable the LDA to put in place a governance structure to ensure transparency and oversight. The governance structure will also give effect to the LDA's initial preparatory work, which will enable it to enter into contracts, procure services and accept funding. A draft business plan, in conjunction with other important administrative work, has been prepared for the board's consideration when it is in place. This is an essential step in getting the LDA's operational capacity up to speed. Once constituted, the board will agree the LDA's recruitment needs. At this stage, we envisage building a team of 20 to 25 professionals over the next 12 months with the experience and skills required to achieve the agency's objectives.
It is important to state that the LDA's functions and powers will derive from legislation enacted by the Oireachtas. One of the LDA's strategic objectives is to assemble and open up large-scale areas for delivery, both State-owned and in private hands. A legislative framework to target these areas and help induce delivery on them in a structured manner will be critical for the LDA. We have gone some of the way towards this in the past by designating strategic development zones, SDZs. However, there is now a need to extend beyond planning and into the initiation of delivery in those areas. While it is too early to say exactly what form this framework will take, given that it will require significant legislative support, there is real substance behind it. Intensive work is under way between the LDA, the Attorney General's office and various Departments focused on designing the necessary measures to ensure that development happens in future in a timely and structured way. This part of the LDA's strategy is about removing blockages from the delivery system. In this respect and more generally, co-ordination and collaboration with our partners in the local authorities will be essential. We are encouraged by the success of similar measures in other jurisdictions, such as Germany and the Netherlands.
I hope this statement provides the committee with an overview of the LDA's objectives and the steps it is already taking towards delivering them one month into its existence.
I assure the committee that my team and I are fully aware of the urgency attached to improving the supply of new housing and the importance of the LDA acting quickly, decisively and effectively in discharging any mandate given to it by the Oireachtas. We have the shared aim of delivering more homes faster and ceasing our damaging propensity towards boom and bust cycles of housing delivery, which is why I look forward to working closely with the committee and supporting the vital role it will play in progressing the legislation needed to make the agency a success.
Mr. Niall Cussen:
I thank the members of the committee for the invitation to appear this morning. As Mr. Coleman stated, given the high degree of importance placed by Government and the Department on the work of the Land Development Agency and the need to progress its legislative and operational underpinnings, there is much to be gained in shaping those underpinnings through effective and practical engagement with the committee as we develop that framework.
There are three main areas I would like to cover in my opening remarks. The first is the policy grounding for the LDA, which goes to the heart of the national planning framework, NPF, Project Ireland 2040 and previous work by this committee in examining the framework at its formative stages. The second is the details and timescale for the legislative programme being progressed by the Department to put the LDA on a full primary legislative footing. Finally, I will also discuss some of the interim funding arrangements that have been put in place to enable the LDA to function in the context of budget 2018.
Mr. Coleman referred to the policy basis for the LDA, and I think everybody in this room would agree with the broad consensus that spatial planning policies which are aimed at ensuring that the right forms of development happen at the right time, in the right sequence and, most critically, at the right locations - all in a manner that is economical to those who require such development, whether for housing or other purposes - will not happen without a more proactive role by the State in land management terms.
From the Kenny report of 1973 to the National Economic and Social Council’s report on land of last March, to international experience in other jurisdictions to which Mr. Cussen alluded, there is a consensus that proactive management of the supply of land for development, and redevelopment for that matter, is required if strategic public policy aims are to be met in areas like sustainable urban development and housing supply. For these reasons and to progress objectives in sustainable urban development, particularly national brownfield development targets, the Government’s national planning framework, which was published earlier this year with the national development plan under Project Ireland 2040, committed to the establishment of what was then titled a "national regeneration and development agency”.
Under the NPF, national policy objective 66 provides that a "more effective strategic and centrally managed approach will be taken to realise the development potential of the overall portfolio of state owned and/or influenced lands in the five main cities ... other major urban areas and in rural towns and villages as a priority, particularly through the establishment of a National Regeneration and Development Agency." The Government’s establishment of the LDA on 13 September 2018 is a key implementation step, therefore, for the NPF’s policies in this regard.
The LDA will act as a key new Government instrument and, in line with its mandate, as a national centre of expertise, working with and supporting local authorities, public bodies and other interests to harness public lands as catalysts for regeneration and wider investment and, critically, to achieve compact, sustainable urban growth, with a particular emphasis on complex regeneration projects and the provision of social and affordable housing.
As Mr. Coleman outlined, the two primary objectives of the LDA are to ensure the optimal usage of State lands, co-ordinating their regeneration and development and opening up key sites not being optimally used, especially for the delivery of homes; and to drive strategic land assembly through mechanisms that will bring together both public and private sector interests in ensuring the timely preparation and release of strategic land for development in a counter-cyclical manner, stabilising the tendency towards volatility in development land values and securing more of the increase in such values as a result of the planning and infrastructure investment processes for the common good, thereby driving increased affordability through better and more cost-competitive land availability.
While the LDA has been initially established by way of an establishment order under the Local Government Services (Corporate Bodies) Act 1971, the Department recognises that the LDA requires a primary legislative footing. To this end, primary legislation for the LDA is being drafted with a view to preparing a general scheme of the Bill to go to Government in November. It is envisaged that pre-legislative scrutiny with this committee will be conducted in December, and we will be in contact with the committee shortly to work through some of the logistics of that. I appreciate the views of the committee in that regard. Taking account of such scrutiny, as well as the complex work required to draft the Bill, the intention is that, subject to the Government’s approval, the Bill will be published in the first quarter of 2019, with a view to it being progressed through the Houses of the Oireachtas and enacted by the summer recess at the latest.
It is important that the LDA has funds to operate effectively in this interim and start-up phase. In current expenditure, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has provided up to €2 million in current funding from within the Department’s existing 2018 budget provisions to support the agency’s initial start-up administrative and operational costs, and a further provision of €3.5 million is being provided in the budget from the Department’s Vote.
On the capital expenditure side, an allocation of €16.5 million will be made available to the LDA from the 2019 urban regeneration and development fund on an interim basis pending finalisation of future capitalisation that will be underpinned by primary legislation. In that regard, the Government has approved future capitalisation of the LDA through a combination of transfers from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund in the form of subscription of share capital by the Minister for Finance and private finance of up to €1.25 billion. Capital funding will be used to fund feasibility appraisal, master-planning, infrastructure provision and, if required, development of sites, as well as strategic land acquisition as may be required in the circumstances.
In conclusion, the work under way in preparing a legislative footing for the LDA is a major priority item in the Department’s work and legislative programme. The Department strongly believes the LDA can and will make a major and strategic contribution to addressing structural gaps in Ireland’s planning and development process, with a particular emphasis on proactive management of both the State’s development landbank and the wider functioning of the land supply process as well. The Department looks forward to further engagement with this committee in ensuring that the LDA is as effective as we all believe it needs to be in addressing the policy issues I have outlined.
I must attend a conference later and I apologise if I have to leave soon. I welcome Mr. Coleman and Mr. Cussen. I favour and support the concept and actions they will take. It is extremely important that there is a dynamically led organisation to gather all the State's lands and drive the developments that are needed where they are needed.
Communities need a mix of housing. Notwithstanding that the Land Development Agency has been given a brief in the context of providing a certain proportion of social and affordable housing, we need to go much further than that. This is probably a debate for the legislation rather than this meeting, but we must identify the acute needs that are there now, namely, homelessness and affordable and social housing. I am unclear as to whether the agency has a brief on co-operative housing, which would also be extremely important.
The key to it all of this is proper planning. In the city of Dublin, young people are being driven from the capital because they cannot afford the rents. Even people with good jobs cannot live in the city. What is the future for a young family with two or three children? Where is the affordable housing for them? How will our cities change? Will Dublin be a city where only those who are extremely well paid live? Will it be somewhere without a dynamic social mix, in other words communities of all ages, types and mixes living together? The agency's planning is crucial. It is not just about assembling the site. Rather, it must also examine the location of sites, what the needs are, what the demographic pressures are and how many families with young children, older people and homeless persons live in the area in order that there can be an integrated, balanced, properly dynamic focus in this agency. This is a great opportunity for us to get it right, but we can also get it very wrong.
I welcome the funding Mr. Cussen spoke about. It is vital that the LDA will have sufficient money to go ahead with projects. I am very concerned about that. The interaction of the agency with the likes of Peter McVerry Trust, Threshold and so on is extremely important, as is networking by these bodies with the local authorities to get the outcome we all want. Those are my concerns.
We must ensure our urban areas, in particular Dublin, develop into properly integrated, dynamic, modern cities in which the needs of residents are met. That is my concern. If we give 60% of these landbanks to developers to develop as they wish and keep the remaining 40%, developers should not decide what type of housing goes into a site. Obviously, we need developers and we need to work with them. I favour working with the private sector, but we must get this right. These are State funds and money given by the taxpayer to the local authorities or State body initially. We must ensure, therefore, that the outcomes are right for the people who need the housing. I am very anxious about that. I welcome the establishment of the agency, as I said, and I am not being in any way critical.
One of the key issues will be the transparency of the agency's decision-making, its interaction and the funding that will be provided for sites. The last thing we want is a scandal about State lands worth millions being sold for thousands to fellas to make a quick buck. This is the worry people have. One of the issues with the agency is that I understand it has been set up as a commercial State agency, which means it is not accountable in the expenditure of its funds to the Oireachtas and will not be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. It is vital that we get that right as well. I do not doubt the integrity of everyone concerned, but there must be accountability, transparency and value for money, and I will insist on this with my vote. The problem is that deals done on a commercial basis are not subject to freedom of information requests. I understand that applies right across the board with commercial issues. There must be accountability. How one defines that accountability is a matter for the legislation. Would we be satisfied with an independent audit if the funding spent were to exceed, say, €1 million? How can accountability be worked into this process to give people confidence in everything the agency does? I fully support the private sector and we need it, but we need to manage it.
I was involved in the creation of a wonderful body called Irish Water. One of the first things Irish Water did was to disappear off the radar. I must remind myself that I lived through this awful period and survived to sit in this Oireachtas as an elected representative. I stood up for what I believed in and what was true. Mr. Cussen will be aware of this because he works in the Department and knows what I think. I want to ensure this agency does not fall into the same trap as Irish Water. That trap is the use of consultants. Once the agency is set up, it disappears, there is no accountability and it comes before the Oireachtas once a year. Perhaps it is dragged in by Sinn Féin, the Workers' Party, People Before Profit or me.
Housing and homelessness is the biggest scandal facing society. Now is the right time to settle up. I feel very strongly about this. I want to accountability and freedom of information to apply to this agency. I would also like to see quarterly statutory reporting to the Oireachtas through the committee system. We will keep an eye on what the agency is doing. I believe it wants to do what we want it to do, namely, build the right type of housing in the correct mix. Dublin is a huge pressure zone at present. In 20 years' time we want to see families living in affordable housing in all areas. There is no area in which there should not be social, affordable and co-operative housing. We cannot allow the city to develop in such a way that those who have money own everything and those who want to work, live, and rear their families must live outside the city and have long commutes and a very poor quality of life. I thank the Chairman for indulging me.
Mr. John Coleman:
I thank the Deputy for his very interesting remarks, which resonate with us as we have been going through the process of setting up the Land Development Agency. I will touch on a number of points the Deputy made about appropriate tenure mix and ensuring this is not done in a blanket manner and we put the right housing in the right locations for the people who require it. In this respect we are very tightly aligned with planning policy driving the decision-making process. We are also very close to the local authorities in working out the appropriate tenure mix for each site to ensure we are delivering the right kind of housing in these locations.
The Deputy also pointed out that we need to ensure in our methodologies that we do not allow parts of State sites to be sold to developers and then lost because they have been flipped or something like that. I will make a number of observations on this. We share that concern, and one of the ways we will deal with it is through the transactional methods we will deploy when we deal with the sites under our remit. Around the time of the launch of the LDA, there was a narrative that we would simply release sites to developers who could then do whatever they wanted with them. This is not true. Regarding our strategy in this respect, first, we are all about enabling developable sites, not just releasing any old sites onto the market irrespective of what stage it is at. Second, it is a matter of ensuring that the sites will be developed. Our intention is to do many of the activities that developers would traditionally have done. This is where value is created in the process, through land assembly and achieving the right zoning, planning and tenure mix and then looking to see what our options are for delivery. We will go a significant part of the way in determining what will be on these sites. The second point I will make in this respect concerns the manner in which a site is released and how a partner is brought in if it is decided that the LDA will not take on the development itself, which is also possible. We can cover off on ensuring that delivery happens on a site by being clever about how we transact. This could include licensing or remaining involved in a joint venture, which would give the LDA some say in how and when the site is delivered in order that it is not just released to the developer to do whatever he or she wants with it. We are very clear on this.
On the accountability and transparency side, we will be subject to the code of practice for the governance of State bodies. We regard the whole area of accountability as a critical part of the LDA's set-up. For this reason, we will have a board, as well as oversight through committees, audit and risk and so on to ensure we are doing the right things. I agree that regular interaction with Oireachtas committees is also very important. We will be more than happy to engage constructively and enthusiastically with the various committees to ensure the correct oversight of the LDA.
I hope that touches on a few of the Deputy's points.
Mr. Niall Cussen:
I have very little to add, except to say the Deputy has put his finger on it regarding the broader planning context or policy remit into which the LDA is designed to fit. We are again seeing patterns whereby people are perhaps struggling to obtain the houses they need at the rents or purchase price points they need close to where they are working. This is having a displacement effect to more outlying locations. The national planning framework is very clear on its vision for our major urban areas into the future, which is to have people living, working and having all the various opportunities that should be available in our cities. This is at the core of what the LDA is about.
I appreciate that the Chairman has been very helpful to me in terms of time.
While I accept that is what Mr. Coleman might want to do in the context of the State bodies, it does not go far enough.
Currently I am fighting with a State body to get audit reports from them, which is an absolute sick joke. It gave me pages of findings of internal audits with sections blacked out, which is entirely unacceptable. The fact that I am seeking them as a Chairman of an Oireachtas committee, which I have to bring to the attention of my committee, is a disgrace as well. We cannot have such a situation and I know that is not what Mr. Coleman wants.
Notwithstanding everything that Mr. Coleman has said, and using a friendly tone and not a hostile one, the freedom of information is hugely important in terms of accountability. Mr. Coleman will have to find, in my view, a way of working the freedom of information, excluding the commercial sensitivities but with a completely independent audit so that we can get at the nub of the issue because that is where it is at. I obviously do not doubt his intentions. Mr. Coleman has put a lot of thought into his work but we need to put deeper thought into what he is doing. Have international agencies taken on this role? If so, then perhaps we can learn from them but I do not know the answer.
Notwithstanding all of the buzzwords of making sure that the council and everybody else is aligned, one needs a master plan in place before entering a site. A master plan must be in black and white and based on the demographic needs or future demographic needs of the area. One will have huge sites and huge resources. One must identify employment needs, where people will work, how people will travel to and from locations, identify where schools, educational and recreational amenities will be located, and identify where older people will live. These are the contexts for the huge decisions that Mr. Coleman must make. I very much support what he is doing but he needs to put a lot more thought into it.
I have a question on the damned consultants. The first thing Irish Water did was it disappeared out of my office. I probably never saw them again for months but Irish Water sent people to my office to give me a load of whatever. The facts were in the background, consultants were being hired and money was being spent but nobody was accountable or knew what was going on and we ended up in an awful absolute appalling mess. I have no doubt that the witnesses do not want to do the same. I know that people want to speak here but I ask the witnesses, in their replies, to outline how they will ensure the same thing does not happen. Can they tell me today that they will be transparent about when consultants are used, and outline the accountability in terms of the consultants and their own accountability?
When Irish Water was established it was supposed to be an independent entity but the first thing it did was to link up all of its pay and pensions with another State organisation. Straightaway, what was intended never happened, an agency became a place where people got paid, and I believe it was never intended that they should. We need to know what the salary is going to be and all of those things. All of that information must be placed in the public realm so that we will all support, agree, fight for and make sure that Mr. Coleman's agency succeeds. That is the only way that this process will work.
I thank the witnesses for their presentations. I apologise for being late but I did read the presentations before I came in.
I will make a general comment and will then ask a series of very specific questions to tease out the details. As both of the witnesses will know, I am strongly in favour of a strategic land management agency. I strongly favour the idea of having a central body that considers the totality of public land holdings, and that it has the power and funds to take them away from agencies where they are not strategically utilised to the best extent and transferred elsewhere. That is the right thing to do. I have no issue with that whatsoever. If that was all that the witnesses were here to tell us about then I would be warmly welcoming it and indicating that we would assist them with the legislation.
My problem is twofold. The first is that the agency would be involved in residential development. The agency has yet to make the case as to why it is better placed to do that than local authorities if they were properly funded and if they had various restrictions lifted from then, which I shall come to in a second. I also have to say that the tenure mix that the Mr. Coleman has proposed is not in line with either local requirements or housing need. I have detailed direct involvement in one large joint venture and I have been keeping a very close eye on the other two. My comments on the financing models and tenure mix is not borne out of some speculation. I have spent two years tracking these ventures in my local authority area in Dublin city. That is really where my strong concern is.
Can the witnesses tell us what additional powers they hope to get from the legislation? Is it just the standard compulsory purchase order powers that local authorities already have or are they seeking something additional? If so, can they detail that and explain how it differs from the powers that councils currently have?
Is it fair to say that the majority of the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, will probably go into land acquisition and compensating CPO claims? Do the witnesses have a sense of the breakdown in terms of site development and their own direct involved in the delivery of units as opposed to private sector financing for that and land acquisition?
In terms of units, can the witnesses confirm that where there are social units there will be additional money from the capital programme, for example, from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, to purchase those back as would be the case in the other joint ventures that are currently under way; and that the cost of the social unit would not be included in the costings and instead would be additional funding supplied by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government?
In terms of affordable units, can the witnesses clarify where there have been discussions about seeking access to, for example, the serviced sites fund? Will the Rebuilding Ireland home loan facility be one of the primary mechanisms used to make the units affordable? The witnesses in their presentations outlined the price range but did not tell us how people will access such units.
In terms of the sale of land, I have been very clear that there will be no land giveaway. Land will be sold, if it is to be sold, to developers as part of joint ventures. Will the land be sold at market rates? Will there be a discount as a result of, for example, the site servicing costs and, therefore, could it be that the developer gets the land cheaper? For the 60% of units in the overall target that would be sold at the open market price, is there not a discount even though the purchaser pays market value? That market value might be less because the sites are serviced. Can the witnesses confirm that all of the profit generated by the sale of open market priced units, if there are private developers in the context of a joint venture, will go to the private developer?
In terms of the social housing targets, for me this is the really incorrect bit of what the witnesses are doing. Every time I see a reference to Part V in the literature I want to pull my hair out. Part V applies to private land and private developments. It does not apply and it is not a planning framework for public land. I am in favour of mixed income and mixed tenure estates although I have a slightly different model to that of the Government. I would like to hear the justification put forward by the witnesses for the 10% figure. What it means is that on very large sites we will dramatically reduce the capacity of the State to deliver social housing. I suspect the reason the social housing component has been reduced from its current rate of 30%, in the joint ventures in Dublin city and South Dublin County Council, down to 10%, has much more to do with the fact that the Department wants to use joint ventures to keep this off balance sheet to meet EU financing rules. Therefore, the tenure mix is not about meeting needs but meeting a pre-prescribed set of financing commitments, which will limit the ability to meet the social housing need.
In terms of the social and affordable units, can the witnesses confirm that they are not in addition to the targets set out in the national development plan and Rebuilding Ireland? Are they just within those targets? If so, there is no additionality.
One of the things that concerns me is that people say local authorities cannot do this work and that is why we need a new agency. One of the advantages that an agency has that local authorities do not have is that it will not have to comply, unless I am incorrect, with the very complex approval and tendering requirements laid down by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government or, for example, the very cumbersome value for money exercise that local authorities must currently comply with for projects worth over €20 million, which we will hear about later. I thought if local authorities were given those advantages and additional CPO powers then they could do everything that the agency can do. I am interested in hearing the thoughts of Mr. Coleman on that matter.
I sat through and was very involved in the Kilcarbery joint venture. One of the frustrations for elected members in the community was the competitive nature of bringing in the private consortium, resulting in elected members in the community having less involvement in the planning outline. The managers are very involved in planning the scheme outline. However, because it is a competitive process, it is secret and elected members of the community only know the outcome at the end.
That is a concern. Are any of the existing sites local authority sites? Is it intended to acquire local authority sites and, if so, why? We hear a lot around the dogma of sustainable and mixed tenure communities. Again, I am in favour of mixed income and mixed tenure communities, but can either of the witnesses point to a single piece of research that has been produced in an Irish context that supports sustainable and mixed tenure communities on the basis they have outlined, that of only a 10% social housing component? I am asking that because there is a growing body of research that says if there is only 10% social housing it actually increases the sense of isolation of lower income families in communities. What is the policy basis or evidence for the witnesses' commitment to that?
Mr. Niall Cussen:
There is a lot of questions there. I will do my best to try to address them but we are at the very early stages of the drafting of the legislative programme so much of the function today is to listen, to take on board the points that have been made, and to take them back into the legislative process. As the members can probably appreciate, some of the policy deliberations around the main legislative parameters for this legislation have not been finalised. It is very important to have this sort of engagement in order to hear what issues the members of the committee feel are important for us to address. I will try to answer and Mr. Coleman will come in on other points.
On the additional powers the agency would have over and above the situation as is in terms of local authorities, we are examining that currently. The effectiveness of the compulsory purchase process is something we need to look at very carefully. As the Deputy is probably aware, the Law Reform Commission has work ongoing around looking at compulsory purchase order legislation more generally. It is very important that we harvest insights from that and see what we can deal with in the context of the Land Development Agency Bill. It is also fair to say that, in terms of powers and so on, a very important function of the Land Development Agency, which is perhaps not getting enough priority or focus, is the job of building up a baseline understanding of who owns what in respect of the public sector. There is no composite view of that currently, as the Deputy knows. It is a very important baseline to have so that there can be a proper land management policy approach.
Something that flows from that is the ability of a land development agency to put the microscope over composite ownerships and to determine whether there is some sort of strategic approach that should be used to further development and to ask whether lands, even though they may have a perfectly valid operational function, are being used appropriately bearing in mind wider policy parameters, with which the Deputy would be well familiar. We also need to consider how that interacts with the planning process while absolutely respecting that the members of the local authority are the ones who decide on development plans and policies and so on. Activating that conversation on the configuration of the current development plan or how zonings and so on are working is the optimal approach, bearing in mind that there are significant strategic land assembly options available.
I will let Mr. Coleman come in on the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF. Again, the commitment by the Minister for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform and our own Minister in respect of the funding of the Land Development Agency is a visible commitment that we are not setting up a body that is not in funds and which does not have resources to deploy in the context of its work. We are, however, at a very early stage in respect of the breakdown of how that would actually be deployed. I suppose that goes back to the business plan. Mr. Coleman will perhaps speak about that.
With regard to the units being delivered, the social and affordable units, and whether there will be additional money for the purchase of these, we have to go a step back and remember that through the work of the Land Development Agency, particularly in respect of getting access to lands that have hitherto been in the ownership of State bodies which have other priorities and so on, a new tranche of land is being opened up which is probably in the local authority development plan or has been zoned but on which nothing is happening. The work of the land agency will relate to marrying up the making available of that land and the existing capital and current programmes for social and affordable housing delivery. It is not a question of additional money being needed. This is about ensuring that the money that has been reserved is deployed and can be spent and put to good use in respect of the Government and the interest of the taxpayer etc.
The Deputy made a very good point on the serviced site fund and the Rebuilding Ireland home loan. He is absolutely correct. These are mechanisms that can be deployed in the context of the work of the Land Development Agency. I will let Mr. Coleman come in on the market rates, the land and the transactional aspects around that. As we have stated very clearly, while there is obviously a minimum requirement for 10% social housing provision in the context of the provisions of Part V, that will not be a barrier to the Land Development Agency implementing the mandate given to it in terms of broader Government policy, but also in respect of the requirements of particular public landowners of sites that would be going to the Land Development Agency to be advanced for development. A good example of that would be Housing Agency lands. The vast bulk, if not all, of those lands would be developed for social and affordable purposes. It is wrong to say that it is some sort of policy limit in terms of the level of social housing that will be provided on all the Land Development Agency sites. It very much varies depending on the circumstances or provenance of those sites in terms of what they were purchased for in the first place and so on.
Related to the question about whether additional funds will be required to pay for the social units and so on which are coming forward, obviously the work of the Land Development Agency is being targeted at making additional progress in respect of the delivery of the housing targets set out in Rebuilding Ireland - the 30,000 to 35,000 units or more that we require. We know that we are short in respect of the delivery of that right across the full continuum of housing solutions that we require. Obviously the Land Development Agency will be an important delivery mechanism in achieving those targets, including the provision of additional social housing solutions and so on on lands that are currently off limits in the context of the work of the local authorities and the co-operative housing bodies that Deputy O'Dowd mentioned.
Mr. John Coleman:
I thank the Deputy for the questions. I will do my best to touch on some of the points on which Mr. Cussen prompted me. I hope we are dealing comprehensively with the Deputy's queries. In respect of the use of funds and what we are going to be using the money for, that is a very important question. It is very important that the Land Development Agency will be capitalised. Ultimately we are trying to make an impact on the land market and to make land available for supply. From time to time that will involve certain actions which are capital intensive which could include, as the Deputy pointed out, compulsory purchase orders, which we may need to use as a last resort. Overall we are looking to prioritise deployment of capital in our business plan. We want maximum bang for buck in making land open and available for delivery. That does not just involve buying land or anything like that, but improving it, servicing it and getting the right planning policy in place on that land. That is ultimately where we are trying to get to.
We may need to spend money on compulsory purchase orders as I mentioned. We may, in a countercyclical way, buy some land in order to build up some land that could be made open and available. My view is that in many locations land is very highly valued currently. It would not be a particularly good use of State funds to get into the land market in a big way right now. We do not want to throw fuel on the fire of an already hot land market. My view is that high land prices are really at the core of our problem currently. If the Deputy looks at it and if we are agreed that restrictions or delays in bringing forward land cause a lack of it to be available, that causes high land values which feed into high housing costs and rents. Our role is to take the pressure out of that system. That is where we are looking to get maximum bang for our buck in terms of the funding that is being given.
How do we do that? How do we bring forward land? It could be by acquisition, as I mentioned, or by compulsory purchase order. It could be by providing infrastructure, the lack of which can cause blockages for years, as the Deputy will know, in respect of some sites and even in respect of special development zones. That must be done in a way in which the investment can be recouped and in which value is achieved for the State in terms of the money it spends in that respect.
If land that is currently unzoned is available at reasonable prices, in time it may be zoned in a very strategic way for the purposes of future infrastructure provision. I refer to projects like MetroLink. We will look at things like that. We are looking for maximum impact. We are going to be very judicious in the deployment of this option.
Our approach to the extraction of value from our dealings with private sector developers and contracting firms has always been to go up the development curve. Developers do not just build houses on land. During the development process, the creation of value and profit starts with a site that has no planning and no zoning. That site is assembled and brought through the zoning, planning and servicing processes. That is where the money is made in development. That is what the LDA is going to try to do, for two reasons. First, the agency will try to extract value for the State from the money that is spent on land. Second, it will make sure each development is brought forward and delivered in a structured way so that it is not stymied by things like infrastructure and servicing.
We will deal with developers in a commercial way. We will look to bring in covenants to make sure the land is delivered. We might have time-bound delivery commitments and licensing requirements that will allow us to intervene if a site is not being delivered for a particular reason. It is important that the State, through the LDA, can always control the tempo of delivery on each site. We do not want to lose control of what is delivered on a site. We will try to extract the best deal possible. One of the ways to do that might be to stay in for some of the upside along the way. It is hoped not only that this will be financially beneficial for the State, but also that it will help to ensure delivery.
The Deputy asked whether local authorities could be given the powers or abilities that are being given to the LDA. If one examines what we intend to deal with, one will see that we will be looking at it with other State bodies in addition to local authorities. Our initial portfolio mostly involves non-local authority land. We see big opportunities across the State sector and into the private sector as well. I think we will go further than local authority-owned land. We may involve private land as well. Given that land availability is at the core of the problem we have currently, it is important that there is an agency with a sole focus on making land available. All we do is make sure there is a supply of land. It is important that this is our dedicated focus.
It is important to note that in our interactions with local authorities, we are not seeking to add complexity or get in the way of what they are doing. A great deal of good work is being done by local authorities. We are not seeking to upset that. We are looking to get involved where we can provide additionality. The Dyke Road site in Galway is a good example of that. We have asked the local authority in Galway whether there is anything we can do to assist and whether we can bring any additionality. In that case, the council had a shortage of resources on the executive basis to bring a site like that through the planning process to delivery. We have been asked to step in on a service provision basis in that case. All we are doing is providing additionality. We are not seeking to get in the way. I hope I have touched on some of the Deputy's points. I am happy to develop them further if he wishes.
I have a supplementary question. Some of my questions were not answered, but I will come back to them in parliamentary questions. The LDA's 10% social housing and 30% affordable housing targets are in the launch document and were mentioned in both of the presentations today. It is all very well to say that those targets might be exceeded on certain sites, such as Housing Agency sites, but the model that has been proposed by the LDA is based on the controversial joint venture model and represents a poorer deal in terms of meeting social and affordable housing need. Are the 10% and 30% targets based on what the LDA considers to be a commercially viable financing model that is aimed at attracting the private sector and keeping this off the balance sheet rather than meeting housing need? I do not dispute what Mr. Coleman has said about strategic land management, but I will explain my problem with his response to my question about the residential end of the LDA's activities. We have two choices. We can pursue the model used in the case of Shanganagh Castle, which is a brilliant idea that essentially involves 100% public housing - a mix of social housing, affordable rental housing and affordable purchase - on a public site and will meet the needs of the local area. The alternative is to pursue the LDA model, which is an even worse version of what we have just been through in the case of Kilcarbery in south Dublin. In that case, a percentage of the land was made available for meeting social or affordable housing need and the rest was made available to meet private sector, open market price need. That is not a strategic use of public land. In my view, the LDA should add value by acquiring State lands from other public bodies and entering into joint ventures with local authorities to deliver the kinds of developments, like Shanganagh Castle, for which many of us have been arguing in our own local authorities. I am talking about fully public, mixed-income, mixed-tenure estates. Private developers are not needed in such cases. I accept that local authorities use private builders. All of this can be done in a way that maximises the output of social and affordable housing. I have yet to hear Mr. Coleman or Mr. Cussen explain why the joint venture model makes any sense in the context of the 10% social housing and 30% affordable housing targets. It adds complications and reduces the ability of the State to meet its social and affordable housing targets.
Mr. Niall Cussen:
I am glad to try to answer all the questions that have been asked. I want to say categorically that the 10% and 30% framework, in the context of the affordable and social housing requirement or obligation on State lands, is not based on any economic or balance sheet dogma. There is no attempt to keep this off the balance sheet. The LDA has a deliberate intention to stand on its own feet commercially outside the general Government sector. That will give the LDA a lot of flexibility in how it is capitalised and how it can function in the broader land market. The 10% and 30% framework is not being done in a way that would enable that.
I ask the Deputy to let Mr. Cussen respond. He did not interrupt the Deputy. The Deputy will have time to come back in. We will let Mr. Cussen respond. I ask the Deputy to show Mr. Cussen the courtesy of being allowed to answer the questions that have been asked.
Mr. Niall Cussen:
It is all right. The State absolutely has an obligation in respect of social and affordable housing. It also has an obligation to ensure there is effective housing supply in all sectors of society. There are people who need social housing. There are people who need assistance to ensure the houses they are struggling to provide for themselves are affordable to them. There are people who are looking to buy or rent homes and have the economic conditions to do so. That is good for them. We have to provide housing for all sectors of society. That is a fundamental tenet of Government policy. It is important, in the context of ensuring there is a braided solution to meeting complex housing requirements across society, to appreciate that we cannot lock up public lands for one segment of society only. As I have said, the 10% and 30% framework is not coming from some sort of economic or balance sheet perspective. It is coming from the perspective of securing balanced mixed-tenure communities and so on. I suppose it is very much a baseline objective. The Deputy mentioned a particular initiative in a certain local authority area. I think he will see many such projects advancing throughout the work of the LDA, particularly using Housing Agency lands but not necessarily restricted to them. It would be wrong to say that developments on public lands will never involve more than 10% social housing and 30% affordable housing. We need to provide housing for all.
Mr. John Coleman:
I have nothing much to add other than to emphasise the significance of the decision to provide for 30% affordable housing in addition to 10% social housing. It is hoped that the Dundrum site we are looking at will yield approximately 1,500 homes. If it were sold and left to the private sector, it is possible that 150 social units would come from it. As a result of the intervention of the LDA, some 600 social and affordable units will be provided at that location.
That might also include the basis of a new housing tenure, cost rental, which we are also looking to develop. There is a lot of positive activity but it is also additive, it is accretive, it is development and delivery that would not have otherwise happen had we not intervened. Overall it is very positive. I note what the Deputy is saying and understand his reasons for saying it but the impact we can have will be greater if we take a balanced view across all segments.
Mr. Cussen made an interesting point. We do not want to lock up public lands only for one segment of society which, I suggest, is what is happening currently. Let us look at the 60:30:10 mix of tenure. The average market price in a private development in Dublin today is €378,000. The proposal before us is for 60% of public land to be used to facilitate private development with prices in that ballpark, varying from city to city. Some 30% would be affordable. There is ambiguity around the affordability scheme indicated by the Minister in the budget speech and we are hoping for more detail on that soon. However, if one does the maths around what the Minister indicated in the Budget Statement, one is looking at an average of €50,000 less than market price for "affordable". That is €378,000 minus €50,000 in Dublin which means there are houses that could be in the scheme which cost over €300,000. The segment of society which cannot afford that, which does not only include young people coming out of college but also workers on the average wage, are effectively being locked out of the housing market. The locked out generation is a term that I am hearing increasingly often. According to the Central Statistics Office, the last census showed there are 500,000 young people living at home with their parents. Sure, some of them want to be there but I suspect large numbers would far prefer to be buying, renting or living independently. We do not want to lock up public lands for only one segment of society but that is precisely what is happening now: it is for people who have big money or are affluent, and the majority are locked out. This is a tremendous opportunity to turn that on its head and reverse it.
Look at the amount of public lands in the State, even the land already zoned residential. The housing analyst Mr. Mel Reynolds has indicated that between the public authorities and NAMA there is enough to build 114,000 public houses. That would put one hell of a dent in the housing crisis if we said that public housing went on public lands, by which I refer to a mix of council housing and genuinely affordable housing that is not done through developers but through the State hiring builders and selling the houses at cost price or thereabouts. A tremendous opportunity is there. The concern is that the Land Development Agency's remit points in an opposite direction and what we are looking at is not something like the ESB or Aer Lingus, as the Taoiseach said, which are State companies that did the State some service, but a new agency which oversees privatisation of land on a large scale for houses mainly built at market rates and are therefore unaffordable, or houses built according to the Government's affordable housing scheme which are also unaffordable for many. This is maintaining and copperfastening a position where large numbers of people are locked out of the housing market.
The Land Development Agency will assemble lands which are currently in State ownership, such as the health service, the ESB, Bord Gáis Energy, but also acquire some lands from the private sector. What is the mix likely to be? Is it overwhelmingly lands that are currently in State ownership, which is what seems to be the case? The intention is to release these lands for housing development, but what kind? Is it the case, as it seems, that the majority will deal with developers for 60:30:10, mainly private market housing developments, or will there be a significant level of arrangements with local authorities, and if so how much, where they have a say in the use of those lands and can use it for genuinely social and affordable housing? Unless that is the overwhelming thrust of this scheme, we are looking at privatisation on a large scale and a continuation of the majority being locked out of the housing market.
Mr. John Coleman:
I thank the Deputy for the questions and appreciate his points. When we look at how the Land Development Agency, LDA, can improve affordability, we must look at the bigger picture and the overarching reason for its establishment. While it will deliver in the short term in specific sites, that is not why it has been set up. I will refer to the tenure of the sites to which Deputy Barry referred. The bigger picture is to look at why there is a lack of affordability, what is the core, base reason, and what is underlying it all. The symptoms are a lack of affordability but we think one of the major core reasons is the lack of major deliverable development land being made available to the market, not only by the State but also private lands. Back in 2008, land was effectively frozen for six to eight years after the crash, where it was tied- up in creditor processes and for other reasons. Nothing was done with that land for long periods. There was no planning work and no advancing of the land in infrastructure and so on because the money was not available or was tied up somehow. It is not a coincidence that we have an affordability problem in Ireland now after land from all sectors was effectively locked up for six or seven years. If one believes that and that it is a core factor in the problem we have today, then it follows that restrictions or delays in bringing forward land for delivery causes high land values. It is undeniable that high land values then cause an increase in the cost of delivering a home or rent that is charged in housing that is built for rental. The LDA's core objective is to tackle that central factor and make much more land available for delivery so that we do not have these boom-bust, very high or nil values for land that we have experienced in the past ten years which is central to our issue. We will have a big structural involvement in the market. It is not only what we deliver today or tomorrow in the tenure mix but it goes to the core of why we are suffering from this issue. Ultimately, high land costs fall at the feet of the person who is buying or renting and that is what we seek to address. That is the big picture for the LDA, which I cannot stress enough.
On privatisation, some private homes will be built but that has the effect of normal people buying houses on the open market as a result of them being developed. They are going to be home owners. The land effectively transfers through the development process to homeowners. The privatisation is not to a faceless corporation or something, it is often people who want to own and buy their own house and it is a legitimate form of supply.
Mr. Niall Cussen:
I thank the Deputy for his questions. As I said, we do not have detailed legislation before us, but it is important that we have this engagement to hear the views of the committee and that we take them on board in refining the legislation.
To respond to the two specific questions asked, on land assembly, it is fair to say the LDA's focus particularly in the initial phases will be on public sector lands.
On the agency working with local authorities, particularly in the delivery of social and affordable housing, the remit of the Department is housing, planning and local government. We will be keen to identify how we can ensure the activities of the LDA enhance the opportunities local authorities will want to see included in their development plans, housing strategies and so on for the delivery of housing generally in their functional areas and also for social and affordable housing purposes. As I mentioned in my response to Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, it is important that we use new funding instruments such as the serviced site fund and the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme in conjunction with the social housing delivery functions of the local authorities and other housing providers in the social housing space, including the housing associations mentioned by Deputy Fergus O'Dowd in realising the potential of sites. We have a baseline objective, but it is our ambition to go beyond it, whenever and however that is possible.
Mr. John Coleman:
If we were to decide today to hire someone, typically that person would be employed somewhere else. As such, he or she would be bound by a particular notice period. I think 12 months is a reasonable timeframe for it to happen. Notwithstanding this lead-in time, real work is under way in respect of sites. We are not wasting any time in bringing on the sites to which we have access. We do not have to wait to do that work until such time as we have a staff complement of 25 in 12 months. We are working on these positions.
Mr. John Coleman:
I will identify them. The first is the site of the former Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. It is probably the largest site we have and there should be large-scale delivery on it. We also have sites in Skerries, Naas, Balbriggan, St. Kevin's Hospital, Cork, Columb Barracks, Mullingar, at the former Meath Hospital and on Dyke Road in Galway.
Mr. John Coleman:
The three current staff members formerly worked in NAMA, but we have been out of it for about one year.
Do Mr. Coleman agree that, to some degree, the work of the LDA is to undo the damage done by NAMA in selling €40 billion worth of property at pretty low prices to developers who are now hoarding and speculating on vast amounts of land? Does he agree that the agency is needed to deal with the consequences of what NAMA did?
Mr. John Coleman:
I do not think it is appropriate for me to speak for NAMA which is well able to account for itself. That said, I do not know from where the notion has come that somehow NAMA has injured housing delivery. My understanding is that since 2014-15 it has funded and enabled the delivery of approximately 25% of all housing in the country and that one of its core business models is funding housing delivery.
I am sure everybody will agree that 25% is a pitifully low level of delivery. We do not even know how low it is because we are continually given different estimates of what has been delivered. According to the CSO, 14,000 houses were delivered last year, which is pitiful and way below the 35,000 houses per year which according to the ESRI we now need.
Mr. John Coleman:
It has followed that mandate. NAMA's job, as set out in the legislation, was to address the banking crisis. As part of that process, it was required to enhance its return, which luckily it has been able to do. It is responsible for a very large proportion of housing delivery. One has to look at the reason it was set up and its mandate to understand the context.
I understand its mandate which was totally misguided. Nonetheless, it is a fact that it has unloaded a vast amount of property, for the most part, at the bottom of the market, with which nothing is happening. According to Mel Reynolds, of the 114,000 houses mentioned, approximately half are local authority houses. The remainder will be provided through NAMA. There are 60,000 acres of zoned land in the ownership of NAMA, on which 60,000 units could be delivered, yet nothing, or very little, is happening on it.
Okay, but the housing crisis indicates otherwise. I will move on.
I am in favour of and have argued for having a centrally planned agency, although the local authorities should be the main source of housing delivery. Co-ordinating that delivery in a strategic is the right way to go. However, I have a problem with the fact that within this plan 60% of housing will be privatised. This will create huge problems. Once the State interacts with the private market we will be back to the problem we have with NAMA, in that it will have to negotiate with people whose interest in the process will be to make money. The State will have to negotiate with them an arrangement, whereby they will make money from land that it is giving to them. Mr. Coleman has mentioned that this land will be serviced. The agency is trying to drive down the cost of the land, which means that they will get it on the cheap and then walk away with a profit. They will not get involved if they will not make a profit.
As Deputy Fergus O'Dowd mentioned, It causes a range of difficulties, including the question of transparency and whether we will be able to find out the price at which land is disposed of. The answer is that probably we will not. Perhaps the Land Development Agency deputation might tell me. When it disposes of land public land to private developers, will we know the prices? Will we be able to know the conditionality surrounding the sale of land in the context of housing delivery?
Mr. John Coleman:
I wish to touch on a couple of the points made. The reason land in some locations is expensive is there is not enough of it available. That is what we intend to remedy. We can fundamentally impact on the land market in that respect.
Reference was made to developers walking away with a profit. As I mentioned, in the development and delivery processes the elements at the end are not necessarily the largest parts in terms of profitability. It is a question of the elements that happen beforehand, including land assembly, planning, zoning work and servicing. These are the areas in which much of the profitability arises. Where State lands are involved, they will be captured for the State's benefit. As well as increasing the supply of land, it should help to moderate the cost and feed into housing affordability. That is the bigger picture with the Land Development Agency.
I totally understand the need for accountability and transparency. As we move through the design of the agency through legislation and the appointment of the board, it will be of primacy for us to ensure the committee, the Oireachtas and all stakeholders have full confidence in the agency and its dealings. We have yet to work out the details. There will be some tempering, perhaps in the confidentiality of any commercial arrangement entered into, but transparency and accountability will have primacy in design approach we are taking.
To be honest, that does not really answer my question. It is not enough for Mr. Coleman to simply assert that the agency is cognisant of the need for transparency. He has also said there are commercial sensitivities. I simply do not see how the two can marry. The answer to the direct question of whether we will know the price at which the agency will sell land to private developers is "No", unless Mr. Coleman can tell me that we will know.
To be fair, the legislation has not yet come before the Houses. Mr. Coleman probably does not have the final answers to these questions. The legislation will be back before the committee for pre-legislative scrutiny when I presume all of those questions will be answerable when the agency officials will have definitive answers. If there is some way Mr. Coleman can answer the question, that is great, but I will understand if he cannot.
Under Rebuilding Ireland, the Government has identified a requirement to deliver 137,000 social housing units. If it actually delivers them, it will effectively account for all projected housing development. The ESRI maintains that there is a need for approximately 35,000 units per year. Thus, in the coming four years, to deliver on Rebuilding Ireland, everything will have to be social housing. In reality, it will not because 100,000 units of the total to be delivered under Rebuilding Ireland will be accounted for under the housing assistance payment scheme. In other words, we expect the private sector to deliver them. We will then rent back from the private sector. That is the plan. Am I right in saying that is essentially what agency will be doing? Will it be trying to deliver on these targets instead of the State directly trying to ensure these targets will be met by it in building public and affordable housing? We will deliver a small portion directly and the agency will work with private developers for the most part to build on public land. The State will then end up renting the properties back from the developers to which it will have sold the land. That is the balance and they are the targets. There will be 37,000 units delivered directly by the State. Of the total of 137,000 units, 100,000 will be covered by the HAP scheme, the rental accommodation scheme and leasing arrangements. These figures are all for social housing. I do not see how anything else will happen other than that. Is there not something a little mad about it? The agency will help to deliver directly a small proportion of the units to be delivered under Rebuilding Ireland in conjunction with the local authorities and approved housing bodies. It will flog off the majority to developers. If we are to meet the targets set, the developers will have to lease back the properties to the State.
Mr. John Coleman:
I can only speak for the Land Development Agency and what it is going to do. We can touch on the larger Rebuilding Ireland targets separately. It is not that we are selling to private developers without any delivery commitment or retaining any interest in schemes. The agency will seek to retain an interest in them. That could be done through licensing or other arrangements to achieve value for the taxpayer and the State. Not all of the properties will necessarily be rented back on the open market. Normal people will be taking out mortgages, buying and living in the homes as owner-occupiers. It is not the case that they will all be placed back in the private rental market.
To try to assist with affordability measures, we are targeting a figure of 30%. A minimum of 30% of the housing delivered on State lands must be designated as affordable. One of the tenures we are trying to develop in that respect and which is still new in this country is cost rental. A cost rental arrangement pares the level of rent down to the minimum needed to cover the cost of producing the unit. These are positive developments in the context of affordability, as well as the wider picture of enhancing affordability through better land supply management.
Overall, the arithmetic does not work out. The other day Mr. Brendan Kenny said to us that if Dublin City Council were to build property directly on its own land, it had one port of call, namely, the Department. That is where the council must obtain approval, money and so on. However, with all of these mixed tenure arrangements, essentially the agency will have three ports of call. Am I right in saying that? The arrangement for the public housing element will involve the Department. There will then be another set of financing arrangements for the affordable housing element. There will be another set of financing arrangements for the property to be disposed of to private developers.
Mr. Niall Cussen:
That is not the case. It is absolutely the case that we want to ensure the Land Development Agency will assist and enable the work of the local authorities in carrying out their various housing functions and that it will not add operational or other complexity. Let us come back to the fundamental function of the Land Development Agency. In effect it is about broadening the supply of delivery options for development in the broadest sense, as well as housing, beyond what is available in the market and to local authorities. From a policy point of view and in terms of how we build the legislation, it will be very much about dovetailing with the systems and processes in place. We know that they are continually being enhanced and improved in the approval of social housing delivery programmes more generally. From the point of view of the Department's policy, it is absolutely the case that we do not want the Land Development Agency to add in any shape or form to the burden local authorities already have to handle in the context of their statutory functions and EU requirements and directives on procurement and so on. We actually want to assist.
I welcome the advent of the Land Development Agency. I know that it has taken a long time to come to fruition and very much welcome the overarching principle of what it is trying to do, but, to date, the approach has been piecemeal. We are trying to work collaboratively and share responsibility with the local authorities. Aside from the physical resources the agency will provide, where required, what other additional supports can it give to local authorities? I have in mind sites on which it is taking a long time to get to a certain point in providing 100 or 150 units.
I take great offence when anyone uses terms such as "flogging off State land," as if we are simply going to throw it away and get nothing back in return.
That is a little misleading. I concur fully with Mr. Coleman that the initial part of bringing a site to the point where it can be developed is extremely costly. If it is more beneficial to flip it and get something back in return, for example, 30% affordable, public private partnership or joint ventures, we have to examine those proposals in detail and determine what is in the best interests of the State in value for money terms.
The 10% baseline that keeps coming up is exactly that, a baseline. People are misconstruing it. It is a minimum requirement. Nowhere does it say that cannot be exceeded or increased. It is the same with the 30% affordability on the particular sites mentioned earlier. Some sites outside Dublin will have a natural affordability but that is never mentioned. What is never mentioned either is something I point to in relation to a site we have in Dún Laoghaire, Fitzgerald Park, where we have 50 social houses which will be delivered this year. It took years to get to this point. They are magnificent homes built to a really high standard which we are providing to families to give them a safe environment in which to raise their children. No one ever asked for 10% affordable on those. No one ever asked for mixed tenure on those sites. There can sometimes be an imbalance on that side too. Bearing in mind that we have to look after the most vulnerable in society first, affordability is as much of a problem as social housing. For that reason, I welcome very much the initiative establishing the Land Development Agency and principally what it is set to do.
When it comes to the board that will be put in place, I presume those appointed will be highly qualified and vastly experienced to deal with what is ahead of us. While people can talk about salaries and misconstrue them in any way they want, if one wants to get qualified people with experience from the private sector, one has to pay them accordingly. If one wants them to leave very valuable jobs, they have to be paid accordingly. In return for that, we have transparency and can question the board where it is accountable to the Oireachtas and everyone else. To get qualified, vastly experienced people, however, they must be paid accordingly.
Local authority social housing targets are similar to the 10% baseline in that they are targets. They are not a minimum requirement but are expected to be exceeded. In that regard, how will the agency, through collective and shared responsibility, help those local authorities where possible?
Mr. John Coleman:
A good example of the resourcing support we can lend is one of the initial sites in our portfolio, namely, the Dyke Road site in Galway. The Chairman asks if there is anything else we can do in this respect. One of the things we want to do is take blockages out of the system. We want to understand where those blockages are and what we can do to smooth them over. People talk often about procurement as a blockage. That might be in relation to the procurement of professional services or a builder or developer partner. We are seeking to design our procurement frameworks from the ground up for both those segments, namely, the professional and the development side, as slickly and as tightly as possible to take as much time as possible out of it. We are also looking to make those panels available for use by anyone in the public sector, including local authorities. We are hoping to make a meaningful and material improvement to help with mastering those blockages that sometimes exist on the procurement side.
The Chairman said it was unfair to refer to the involvement of developer partners as the flogging off of State land. On the private side, where a private development takes place on sites, we will do everything in our power to ensure delivery happens within the bounds of time commitments. It is not that a site is gone and it is for the developer to do with it as he or she pleases. It is that we will put time-bound delivery restrictions in place for the commercial transactions we undertake with those developers where we engage those practices. I note also the Chairman's point about natural affordability, especially outside Dublin. With some of the sites we have, especially some of the larger ones, including in Dublin, any private sales that happen tend to be at the more affordable end of the scale. The Chairman pointed out that affordability is as big a problem as social housing, which is true. The more supply we have coming into that space, the better, as far as I am concerned, especially where that supply is at the affordable end of the scale.
When one looks at what we are trying to do, competition ultimately takes place in three different areas in the development process. The first is in the buying of the land. The second is within the development piece and the methodologies used to develop sites. The third piece is in the sale of the houses when they are built. Currently, all of the competition is in buying the land because not enough of it is coming out. That is where we will help to put more land in there. That will put the competition into the space of developing the house and selling it. That is where we want competition and we will help with that by supplying land into those segments. That is all I have to say on the Chairman's comments, but I am happy to elaborate if she wishes.
I apologise. I had to pop out to speak in the Chamber. I emphasise one point to Mr. Coleman. When he spoke about Dundrum, he referred to the comparison between it being sold privately where there would only be 10% Part V and the LDA model which is 40%. However, that is not really an appropriate comparison because it is public land. The real comparison should be between the utilisation of 100% of that to meet social and affordable housing need and whether it is 40%, 45% or whatever it ends up being. I impress on Mr. Coleman the need to think about this as different from the use of Part V of the Planning and Development Act. When he comes back to us with legislation, we will look very carefully to see what targets are provided for and engage with the agency at that point.
The strategic land management function is absolutely spot on. However, in the example Mr. Coleman gave of Galway, all the agency brought to the table at that point was additional resources. The Department could have done that itself without the agency to assist the local authority, which would have been able to function just as well as it does with the agency. As such, the agency has a long way to go to make the case for what is in front of us. I look forward to engaging with Mr. Coleman when he comes back at the legislative stage.
I would like to hear a clarification on that because more than 700 staff were approved for local authorities to deliver housing. However, one of the problems we are hearing about from local authorities is the length of time it takes to appoint someone through the Public Appointments Service. By the time an appointment goes through, the candidate might have been picked up by the private sector. Where the Land Development Agency kicks in is that it has that resource there and ready. It is not stuck in one local authority and can help to solve a problem in one place before moving on. Is that the key mechanism?
Mr. John Coleman:
I think so. To touch on Deputy Ó Broin's point, I am very encouraged that everyone buys into the idea of the active land management role of the agency because that is the core role. I would not focus too greatly on the ancillary activities we can engage in to provide resources and so on because the agency's core role and selling point and the rationale in establishing it is active land management. I am very encouraged that everyone on the committee appears to agree with that.
I thank the witnesses, Mr John Coleman and Mr. Niall Cussen, for attending today. If the legislation is drafted and ready for pre-legislative scrutiny, the committee might allow us to work on that before Christmas. If so, we might have the witnesses in again. I apologise for having run over time. I propose a suspension for a few moments to allow the next group of witnesses to take their seats. Is that agreed? Agreed.
In our second session we will continue our consideration of the appropriate use of public land. I welcome from South Dublin County Council, Mr. Colm Ward, from Fingal County Council, Ms AnnMarie Farrelly and Ms Mary Egan, from Cork City Council, Ms Ann Doherty and Mr. Brian Geaney, and from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, Ms Catherine Keenan and Ms Mary Henchy.
Before I begin, I draw the attention of witnesses to the fact that by virtue of section 17(2)(l) of the Defamation Act 2009, they are protected by absolute privilege in respect of their evidence to the committee. However, if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence on a particular matter and they continue to so do, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that, where possible, they should not criticise or make charges against any person, persons or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.
Members are reminded of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable.
I call Mr. Ward to make his opening statement.
Mr. Colm Ward:
I thank the Chair and members. The following challenges are critical to the considerations of South Dublin County Council regarding the appropriate use of public land for housing delivery: ensuring sufficient supply of homes across south Dublin; determining the appropriate mix of private, social and affordable homes to be delivered on available sites and across the county; and utilising the full range of options envisaged by national policy for delivery of homes while taking location, infrastructural requirements and social context into consideration. I have provided the committee with an overview of the status of the housing supply programme in south Dublin for current projects, future plans and proposals under consideration, together with the status and indicative number of homes for each area, a total of over 800 homes. This shows our commitment to the delivery of social homes on available land within the county.
In regard to the larger sites available to the council for delivery of homes, the recently approved Kilcarbery project has been through a two-year process of master-planning, legal and financial modelling, competitive dialogue and procurement. The elected members of the council approved the disposal of the 72-acre site at Kilcarbery for the development of 975 housing units, 294 of which will be for social housing. The development is in tandem with and adjacent to 109 houses approved as part of the initial public private partnership bundle, giving an overall mix of 40% social and 60% private on this fully planned, integrated community which will also benefit from a crèche, community centre, school and retail centre.
The project commenced in the absence of an affordable housing scheme but with the council fully cognisant of its role as a housing and planning authority and the need for the provision of homes in line with Pillar 3 of Rebuilding Ireland. The enabling infrastructure works are being funded through the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF. Some 50 homes will be sold at a discount to market prices to offset the drawdown value of the LIHAF funding. The project also includes a social employment clause which stipulates that 10% of person hours are for those on the local register of long-term unemployed.
The next stage involves the preparation of an environmental impact statement and application to An Bord Pleanála as a strategic housing development by the successful tenderer to secure phased delivery of homes on site commencing in 2020 and to be completed by 2023. In addition to providing for the delivery of much-needed homes, the economic yield to the council from the sale will enable the strategic acquisition of additional land for future housing development.
We have shared the detail of the Kilcarbery model with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and other local authorities and our team members will continue to make themselves available for consultation and to offer guidance on the process to others developing similar plans.
With the benefit of this experience, it is intended to develop housing on four other large strategic sites owned by the council, namely, Killinarden, Rathcoole, Clonburris strategic development zone and St. Maelruans. These are currently being allocated to consultants for high-level master-planning in conjunction with our internal team to assess their potential unit capacity, infrastructural requirements and social environment context. The budget announcement relating to affordable housing is very welcome and allows this tenure to be factored into plans for these sites. We have advised the Department of our intention to apply for funding from the serviced sites fund in 2019 in respect of each site.
The sites have a range of contrasting characteristics, including greenfield, brownfield, urban, rural, town centre and strategic development zone. Some are adjacent to large areas of social housing and others are on the outskirts of a rural village. These characteristics will inform the master-planning context and the potential distribution of social, affordable and private housing on each site.
This mix will be developed in conjunction with the local elected members and will be informed by best practice and national policy on housing integration and sustainable communities. It is estimated that all five sites, including Kilcarbery, will yield circa 4,300 homes. As a housing authority, it is our view that the sites will have different solutions, which will all include provision for social, affordable and private housing.
There are 7,055 applicants are on the council's housing list. We will continue to examine opportunities for in-fill housing, turnkey acquisitions, including through Part V, and partnerships with approved housing bodies to supplement the major housing supply projects on our available land. In addition, housing solutions provided through the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, housing assistance payment, HAP, and leasing options are all being actively pursued and utilised in south Dublin.
The current actions and future plans I have outlined demonstrate the strategic approach being undertaken by South Dublin County Council to ensure the effective use of available land throughout the county to deliver an optimum integrated housing mix to meet the housing need for the people of south Dublin.
I thank Mr. Ward. We have received all the opening statements and most members will have read them. While the witnesses should feel free to read them out in totality, they can also provide a summary. I will leave it the witnesses to decide. I invite Ms Doherty to make her opening statement.
Ms Ann Doherty:
I will do as the Chairman suggests and focus on some of the key points in my statement. I thank the committee for the invitation to address it on the appropriate use of public lands. This statement addresses both land supply and its importance for housing, the most crucial issue that now needs to be addressed for Cork to continue to its growth as envisaged in Project Ireland 2040. This statement is structured to identify the major areas of publicly owned land in Cork city and the strategic priorities that will guide the continuing development of that land under the framework of Project Ireland 2040. The strategic priorities for the future development of Cork city are set out in the Cork city development plan 2015, the Cork local economic and community plan 2016 and Cork 2050, which is a joint strategic pathway developed by Cork City Council and Cork County Council as part of their contribution to the national planning framework.
Cork city is due to expand substantially in the next local elections. The area of the city will increase from 37.3 km2 to 187 km2, which is a fivefold increase. The population of the expanded city is due to grow significantly, as projected in Project Ireland 2040. Project Ireland anticipates that 50% of this increase in population must be accommodated within the existing built-up area. In tandem, the population of wider metropolitan Cork is due to expand significantly.
Lots of encouraging things are taking place with regard to economic development. These underline the urgency of addressing the housing supply shortage, the existence of which presents a whole set of challenges. Not only is the supply issue a social challenge but it is also an economic challenge. Unless it is tackled, it will clearly present an obstacle to future employment and economic growth in Cork city. Early resolution of this issue will reap long-term rewards in local and regional tourism, enterprise development and foreign direct investment, aside from the obvious quality of life and liveability benefits of a vibrant and compact waterfront city, one that is a harbour of opportunities.
To achieve these development targets, the city needs land to develop. The primary need at present is for housing and its associated infrastructure. My submission contains a table setting out an estimated total yield on zoned land based on the existing city boundary, the estimate yield without infrastructure and the potential yield from that in terms of where there is an infrastructure requirement and where there is no such requirement. Development activity in Cork city is showing strong signs of increasing after the period of recession. However, actual construction of housing and apartment developments, with the marked exception of Cork City Council's social housing construction programme, remains slow. The most active private sector is student accommodation with a number of beds under construction while planning permission is pending for others.
A presentation by Cork City Council to the Oireachtas Committee on Housing and Homelessness in July 2017 concluded that a number of issues were affecting housing supply. As the Chairman suggested, I will not go through all of them but the obvious ones are the scarcity of development land within the city boundary, a growing population, changing demographics, a tendency towards urban living, the need to build sustainable communities, a lack of investment in existing older housing stock, our autonomy in terms of decision-making and viability issues. Unfortunately, these issues remain the primary challenges with regard to housing supply in Cork city.
Focusing on public land, we have outlined for the committee in our presentation the public lands we have identified in public ownership in the current city. There are 155.15 ha of publicly-owned land. I have set out the different stakeholders in the presentation. Cork City Council owns 41.25 ha of land and we are actively pursuing development of 34.9 ha. There are two significant developments in this land. Cork City Council is the freehold owner of the landbank at Old Whitechurch Road on the north side of the city, which was assembled some years ago for residential purposes. It comprises some 22 ha on a southerly sloping green field site zoned residential in the Cork city development plan. The council has been working to unlock the potential of that land because it has some very significant infrastructure challenges such as power lines and road infrastructure. To this end, the council has committed to the local infrastructure housing activation fund to do the infrastructural work that is required to bring this land to market and development.
The landbank is a highly accessible site as it is proximal to the Blackpool retail and business park and close to the city in terms of neighbourhoods. The council's vision is for this landbank to be fully developed to provide a sustainable housing development. The landbank has an estimated capacity for 600 units or more subject to planning permission. The council envisages it being a mixed development covering all housing needs and would have an associated neighbourhood centre to balance the prevalence of social housing in the north of the city. The council also has a site at Boherboy Road, which is in the north east of Cork city. It has planning approval from the neighbouring local authority for 147 housing units. We have made an application to the serviced sites fund operated by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and it is intended to develop the scheme as a mix of both social and affordable housing. We are awaiting approval but we are very optimistic that this will be forthcoming.
The other stakeholders are listed and range from the HSE, the ESB, Iarnród Éireann, the Port of Cork and Bord na Móna to the Department of Defence, Bord Gáis Energy and IDA Ireland. Having engaged with all of these stakeholders, the council has a fairly good understanding of what their position is with regard to this land. These lands are a major resource in our city and it is Cork City Council's position that they should be brought forward for development as soon as practicable. We have already notified the Department with regard to that. We have had one meeting with the Land Development Agency and another meeting is due to be scheduled to progress our collective thinking on this. These lands are also zoned for development and have the potential to make a massive contribution to the sustainable development of Cork city. We caution, however, that proper urban design principles must be adhered to and we must future-proof to avoid the temptation to address short-term needs.
There are many underutilised private lands in Cork, mainly adjacent to the city because we have probably brought forward most lands within the city through our public housing scheme. These private lands also need to be addressed. While there have been encouraging developments recently with regard to the supply of housing in Cork owing to our enhanced delivery of social housing, there is still a significant impediment to achieving other housing solutions in the city. I hope our paper is of help. We are very available to answer any questions.
Ms AnnMarie Farrelly:
I am director of planning and strategic infrastructure at Fingal County Council. I am joined by my colleague, Ms Mary Egan, from the council's housing department. I thank the committee for the opportunity to appear before it to discuss appropriate use of public land. The focus of this statement is the council's approach to the development and use of public lands for the provision of housing and sustainable communities. Fingal County Council is the second largest of the four Dublin local authorities and has the third biggest local authority catchment area in the country. The results from Census 2016 show that Fingal is Ireland's fastest growing county with the youngest population and also that Balbriggan is the youngest town in the country.
Fingal County Council supports the ongoing development of the county in accordance with the national, regional and local planning frameworks to which it has actively contributed. Fingal County Council is committed to ensure the area develops in a sustainable way and supports the key principles of healthy place-making, climate action and economic opportunity. In view of the current housing crisis, it is Fingal County Council's priority to form effective and innovative approaches to mobilise development on public and private land to create housing and quality urban neighbourhoods. Consequently, any development, including that of public land, is positioned against national, regional and local policies and objectives.
To this end, Rebuilding Ireland, the national planning framework, the Fingal development plan, LIHAF and other such policies and programmes set the context for future development. These enabling policies are in place and will facilitate Fingal County Council in developing sustainable communities.
Facilitating the provision of the right quantity of appropriate housing in the right locations that is accessible and affordable for all residents is crucial for Fingal County Council. To this end, there are 72 active private development sites which will deliver more than 12,000 homes in the county. There are also existing planning permissions for a further 55 sites, with the capacity to deliver more than 5,000 homes. The provision of housing in Fingal, as with all planning authorities, requires facilitating policies and principles within the county development plan and the core strategy. These policies enable the delivery of quality dwellings and help to create and maintain sustainable communities and neighbourhoods.
In Fingal we have employed a number of policy responses to facilitate housing development, namely, the adoption of a core strategy which allows for the development of 49,000 housing units on more than 1,700 ha of zoned land. To ensure the development of sustainable communities that are economically, environmentally and socially healthy and resilient, significant master planning has been carried out and is ongoing. Furthermore, there are local area plans in place across the county and others under draft. Hansfield strategic development zone, in Dublin 15, continues to work as a successful policy tool, with a high rate of completions in the second quarter of 2018. We are on target to deliver in excess of 2,000 homes in 2018. That will compare to a figure of 2,700 in 2008 and the trend is favourably upwards. In 2014 there were 300 completions. There has, therefore, been a significant change in recent years.
Fingal recognises the benefits of the parallel delivery of supporting infrastructure. A review of the critical infrastructure required to unlock the significant residential zoned and serviced land banks available in Fingal was undertaken as part of the Fingal development plan in 2015. On the back of the work carried out as part of this infrastructure audit, the Fingal County Council sought funding from the central government LIHAF initiative launched in August 2016. The council was successful in securing total LIHAF funding of €26.58 million for essential infrastructure required on three multi-unit housing development sites, the second highest allocation of the 13 local authorities that were successful in October 2017. In the short to medium term LIHAF funding will unlock 2,200 residential units on lands in Donabate, Swords and Baldoyle. Approximately 7,000 residential units will be delivered in the longer term.
Fingal County Council is actively planning the development of five key publicly owned sites for housing. Three of the sites are council owned and located at: Ballymastone, Donabate; Cappagh, Dublin 11; and Churchfields, Mulhuddart. Two of the sites are Housing Agency owned at Castlelands, Balbriggan and Hacketstown, Skerries. Fingal County Council has engaged with the Land Development Agency about these sites in recent weeks. The council’s vision for these lands is to deliver successful and sustainable communities through the provision of high quality and attractive residential developments, with a focus on best practice urban design and layout and the provision of accessible community, open spaces and recreational facilities. These developments will provide an appropriate mix of house sizes, types and tenure to meet household needs and to promote balanced communities. The lands are key locations for population and employment growth, aligned with committed infrastructural investments. Project Talamh, an internal project office in Fingal, has been set up to co-ordinate and manage the development of these lands. The programme office analyses proposals to select the best approach to the projects and co-ordinates resources to procure, manage and deliver each project. It is essential that the lands be developed in the most advantageous and efficient way for the council. To this end, the development approach is tailored to the individual requirements of each site and adjoining area. The council is working collaboratively with relevant stakeholders to ensure the development of housing across these sites is facilitated. Our strategy supports the creation of sustainable communities. We cater for all members of society and seek to deliver a range of house types and sizes which will provide more opportunities for people to stay and live locally at every stage of their lives. In simple terms, we want Fingal to grow in an organic, sustainable way and ensure seamless integration between established and new communities. The development plan sets the parameters for the development of the sites and it is envisaged that up to 3,730 homes could be provided on them.
I have included a lot information on the individual sites in the statement and will go through each of the sites presently, but we are open to working with all housing providers on a mix of tenure perspectives such as private house builders and approved housing bodies that may work together in developing each of the sites. In total, the sites provide 100 ha of development land. They are all zoned for housing and have the potential to deliver in excess of 3,700 units. Fingal County Council acknowledges the role these strategically located sites can play in the wider Fingal region in terms of their potential to support a high quality of life, with the offer of culture and heritage, access to the coast, waterways, the city and the airport. As such, the council is focused on delivering successful and sustainable communities through the provision of high quality housing and physical and social infrastructure and improving connections between new and existing communities. It recognises that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to the use of public lands and the delivery of housing. Realising a mix of solutions which work for individual sites is the current priority.
Ms Catherine Keenan:
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to the Joint Committee on Planning, Housing and Local Government. I am the director of housing and joined by my colleague, Ms Mary Henchy, director of planning. I will focus on the main points, rather than read through my prepared script. The submission was compiled to have regard to the broader topic of appropriate use of public land, with specific emphasis on the Woodbrook/Shanganagh lands, as circulated with the invitation to attend the meeting. The regional planning guidelines for the greater Dublin area for the period 2010 to 2022 forecast a population of approximately 240,000 in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown by 2022. This equates to the provision of circa1,500 homes per annum over a period of six years.
The quarter 2, 2018 Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown housing task force returns for sites with greater than ten homes show that there are 41 active sites that account for circa1,300 homes under construction and that in the first eight months of the year planning permission was granted for 3,790 homes, more than treble the figure for 2017. The primary challenge for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is providing the infrastructure required to open up the new growth areas of Kilternan, Glenamuck, Woodbrook, Shanganagh, Cherrywood, Stepaside and Sandyford. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has already maximised the use of the bulk of its viable serviced lands, in particular, for smaller in-field developments of two to 50 homes, in conjunction with the downsizing campaign. Since 2015 a total of 120 social homes have been completed, with a further four sites, comprising 129 homes. The council is at tender stage with a further 19 homes and feasibility stage with 729 homes, including the site at Shanganagh Castle. It is also working in partnership with three approved housing bodies to develop a further 208 homes.
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown saw the fastest surge in prices in the capital in July, with prices up by 9.8%. By contrast, south Dublin saw an increase of just 5.2%. The median price for Dublin as a whole was €360,000 in July, while in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, it was €527,000, compared with €320,000 in both Fingal and south Dublin. The affordability problem is, therefore, unique to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. It is extremely important that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council seek to maximise affordability on its own lands. The council is commencing development of its larger sites, including at Shanganagh Castle. The sites are mainly located in the southern part of the county. Larger sites will naturally take longer to build on. When we move into larger sites, there are economic, financial, planning and environmental considerations which add to the complexity of delivery.
In line with the EIA directive, certain developments, including on the Shanganagh Castle site, must be assessed for likely environmental effects before planning permission can be granted. Planning applications under Part 10 go directly to An Bord Pleanála. This applies to the Shanganagh Castle site as it is proposed to build more than 500 dwellings. Tenders for the master plan to prepare the scheme for compliance with the EIA directive, in preparation for Part 10 planning permission, were sought in quarter 1 of 2018. The integrated design team has commenced its work and preparations for this stage are expected to take at least nine months.
The public spending code was introduced in 2013 and provides for best value for money for public funds. It introduced a set of rules and procedures for projects with a value of more than €20 million. Under this code, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is obliged to carry out a cost-benefit, cost-effectiveness analysis. It must consider the option of a PPP and is obliged to engage with the National Development Finance Agency to examine finance and apportionment of the risk and balance sheet considerations. Projects are reviewed by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and also peer reviewed by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
Assuming an average build of €250,000, the public spending code applies on sites of over 80 homes. The public spending code applies to Shanganagh, which has an estimated cost of €132 million. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is working with the National Development Finance Agency to develop funding options for Shanganagh. At the same time, in order to expedite matters, we have appointed a design team to progress the master plan in preparation for Part 10 planning.
In conclusion, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is actively managing its landbank and is now moving into larger sites which have more complexities in terms of delivery. As outlined in the submission, the public spending code provides important procedures for ensuring best value for money. However, it may be helpful if the threshold were increased to allow for quicker build on sites of more than 80 homes. Downsizing incentives would also assist in making better use of our housing stock for larger families on the waiting list.
I thank the witnesses for taking the time to come in. I appreciate they are operating within Government policy so while, in the privacy of their own offices, they might have their own views on some of the issues we are about to discuss, I accept they are constrained by that Government policy.
To put in context the concerns of some of us, one of the reasons many members of this committee are getting so exercised about land is because, the more we look at it, the more we see there is a mismatch between the targets for the delivery of social housing in particular, and also affordable housing, and what is being promised through Rebuilding Ireland and the other mechanisms. By way of example, we know from the most recent housing needs assessment there are some 73,000 households on the council waiting lists, 40,000 households on HAP and another 19,000 households on RAS, and in Dublin in particular, RAS is experiencing some real difficulties. This means there is a real social housing need for about 132,000 units yet Rebuilding Ireland will only meet 23% of that need through units owned by local authorities and approved housing bodies. Mr. Ward will know that, in the local authority we share, the figures are just a little better, and some 27% of need will be met on the basis of the Government's targets. However, when we look at land, particularly the larger tracts of land, many of us are wondering how we can make the case for a larger delivery of social housing on that land to meet the growing need.
The issue of affordability is the same. We still do not have a measure for how many people or households need affordable rent or affordable sale. One very important piece of research was published in June and it has not got enough attention, although we will look at it in committee in the new year, and I flag it with everyone I talk to in this regard. Eoin Corrigan, Daniel Foley and a number of other ESRI economists have done a very detailed study looking at affordability since 2003. What they found is that, of the people renting and paying mortgages but not getting social housing supports, 32% are paying more than 30% of their income on accommodation. More worryingly, in the bottom 25% of income earners, the percentage of people spending more than 30% of their income is 70%, so one can see already, just in those initial figures, there is a huge level of need. One of the worrying aspects of the study is that this is not just a current problem because the authors note that their modelling back to 2003 shows it is a structural feature of our system. I say this because not only will we meet only about 23% of real social housing need by 2021 on the basis of the Government's targets, but we have no notion of how far we will be from meeting affordable rental and affordable purchase need.
I would like the witnesses to say as much as they can within the limits they are operating under. My concern is that the conversation we have just had with the Department and the Land Development Agency is essentially about taking very large tracts of public lands and constraining the extent to which they can meet social and affordable housing need because of the use of the joint venture structure. For example, if the various local authorities represented had all of the advantages the Land Development Agency has and did not have to do the value for money exercises for the larger projects, if they did not have to go through the cumbersome approval process and had more flexibility in terms of tendering and employment of staff, and if they had the very large multi-annual funding the Land Development Agency will have, I presume they would be able to deliver larger-scale, mixed income, mixed tenure projects like Shanganagh without needing help from anybody, apart from a little oversight from the Department. If the witnesses are willing to put it on record, and I understand if they are not, surely that would be a better way of meeting that need.
I will outline one of the dilemmas we have. We all support the Shanganagh Castle project, which is a brilliant project and, from everything I know from talking to the chair and councillors locally, it is designed to meet the needs there. One of the difficulties we have with Kilcarbery, and I do not want to mention the war, is that while it is a really great project in its design, is well integrated, has land for schools, has a community centre and has retail, the great tragedy is that 70% of the units in the joint venture will not be affordable, or certainly the vast majority will not be. Although Mr. Ward has only come in at the end of it, we are trying to find if there are not better ways of using the public land to meet social and affordable housing need. That is not to say one could not use some of that land for market price houses, but surely it would be better if the local authority was selling those houses and recycling the profits back into the housing system to meet other needs.
My questions are twofold. First, if the local authorities had all of the powers and advantages the Land Development Agency is going to get, could they significantly increase their output above the current targets under Rebuilding Ireland? What are the current constraints in place preventing them from moving forward at a faster pace, for example, with the kind of proposal under way in Shanganagh? Second, with regard to Cork, some issues were mentioned in the presentation around the possibility of needing to review some of the potential constitutional restrictions on accessing private land. I would be interested to know if the witnesses had a view on that.
I will start on the point Deputy Ó Broin finished with. Ms Doherty's submission includes the following very significant comment: "Cork City Council also urges Government to address in appropriate circumstances underutilised private lands, even if this requires a re-examination of the protections currently afforded to private property in the Constitution." That is a significant statement from the chief executive officer of one of the largest local authorities in the country. I would certainly draw attention to it and I support that statement.
I will not do the big block of talk as I am looking for a bit of back and forth. I will start with social and affordable housing need and use Cork city as an example. I will pose my questions to Ms Doherty and Mr. Geaney. The first is about length of time on social housing waiting lists. We hear a lot about the numbers on social housing waiting lists but we do not often discuss the length of time. When I throw open the doors of my clinic on a Monday afternoon, I have people coming in to me who have been on the housing list for seven, eight, nine, ten, 11 and 12 years. Are the witnesses in a position to give even an approximate profile of the position with the current social housing waiting list in Cork? For example, how many people have been on the list for more than five years or more than eight years? It seems to be backing up.
On the question of getting a picture of affordability, the Cork City Council CEO will know I have had dealings in recent times with the firefighters in the city. We had a controversy there, and that is fine. In the conversations I held with firefighters, one of the things that struck me was that very few of them live in the city and the journey time they have in the morning or afternoon to come in to work their shift. Why is this? It is because they cannot afford housing in the city as prices are too high. Here we have a group of workers who, I imagine, are at least on the average industrial wage, if not a little more.
I hope I am not wrong about that but firefighters will soon let me know if I am. I believe the same applies to nurses, teachers and so on. Workers on average wages cannot afford to buy in the city. Is that exceptional or part of the general picture? If the former is the case, will the witnesses comment on it? I will make my some further points later on social and affordable housing.
Deputy Barry has prompted one question because people need to understand the seriousness of the situation in Dún Laoghaire. To my knowledge, from my clinic in Dún Laoghaire, there are people who have been on the housing list for up to 19 years. I would be interested to know if Ms Keenan has figures on the average waiting time. In any event, it is shockingly long. Does Ms Keenan believe we can meet the housing need? She might clarify the position on the latest figures in Dún Laoghaire. How many people are on the housing waiting list and how many on HAP transfer lists and the rental accommodation scheme?
I do not know if Ms Keenan has the answers to those questions with her now. We asked our witnesses to come in to discuss the appropriate use of public land, not waiting lists. If Ms Keenan has those figures to hand, that is great. If not, she might send them to the committee. The topic today is on the appropriate use of public land.
I thank the Chairman for the steer but I am heading towards that because the appropriate use of public land depends considerably on what the needs are. It is, therefore, very relevant to the issue of-----
Yes, and they might have it but if not, they can pass them on to me. They are still relevant questions. To meet that demand which, in total, depending on how the figure is calculated, will be approximately 5,000 households in real terms over the next few years, and to reduce those waiting lists, we would have to have a considerably higher level of delivery than we have currently. I do not see how we can do that with our current plans for land use. If we take the Shanganagh site, for example, we are only talking about 200 social houses. Ms Keenan might clarify the number of Part V housing units she expects to see delivered. She can extrapolate from the figures she gave on planning permissions, although getting planning permission is not the same as houses being built. I refer to all the other sites also. Work on the Shanganagh site will not start for some time. Ms Keenan indicated it will take nine months just to get through the various bits and pieces that have to be done. The houses must then be built and so on. After that, I do not see where the rest will come from for years. Is that a fair assessment of the dilemma we face?
How can we accelerate the process? Does it not necessitate getting a much higher proportion of public housing on the lands we have, rather than entertaining public private partnerships, PPPs, and so on, which will lower the proportion of public housing we get on those sites, never mind the complications that might arise? Ms Keenan seems to be saying the public spending code is limiting her because of the threshold. She inferred that the threshold should rises. Is it not a major problem for the council, in trying to work out what affordability is, that there is a requirement to have a proportion of affordable houses and also, as she stated, to consider PPPs? The need to consider the finances of all of that is slowing everything. The council cannot progress because it must consider a PPP, which is, I presume, related to the financing of the rest of the sites, and must also consider affordable housing, with which it is having difficulty for the reasons Ms Keenan outlined. These include that the housing market in Dún Laoghaire is highly inflated and trying to work out what affordable is and how it can be financed is a complexity. Would it not be easier to develop the entire Shanganagh site as public housing because the council would not have those problems? It would also mean that we would get close to hitting our targets in terms of social housing need.
On another issue I raised previously with Ms Keenan, Mel Reynolds has made a suggestion which, given the scale of the demand, I believe we should consider. On sites like Cherrywood and other private development sites, we are waiting for the social or Part V element to be delivered. We do not know when the developers will deliver it and we do not get it until the developments have been completed. Mel Reynolds has said we should take 10% of the land upfront to avoid being dependent on the developers. If we did that in Cherrywood, we would have sufficient land on which to build 800 houses. Four or five different developers own Cherrywood and we have no idea when that housing will be delivered. We have to wait until the end of that process to get our portion and we will have to negotiate prices with the developers, which almost certainly will be very high. Would it not be better for us to get the 10% of land upfront and build out ourselves, rather than waiting for the developers to build? Would that not accelerate the delivery of the Part V housing?
I have some general questions also, in particular on downsizing options. The committee did a substantial report on housing options for older people. We visited a number of sites where downsizing is taking place. I am biased and perhaps not as au faitwith the other three local authorities in Dublin, but Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has been at the forefront of delivering housing options for older people. Not least among these will be the launch on Friday of the final phase of Rochestown Park. Are we failing to maximise the sites we have in towns and villages to enable downsizing, or "right-sizing" as we prefer to call it, because of the infrastructrure that is required to achieve this? Are we looking at State-owned land in these areas to build private housing for older people to right size if they choose to do so? Have any policies been introduced in that area?
I am interested in finding out who is involved in the programme office team in Fingal County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Are further resources needed or are there barriers in that area? While the representatives of Fingal and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown county councils referred to their teams in their opening statements, I would like to hear from all four local authorities what teams they have in place to deliver their housing programmes.
When in quarter 1 was the design team appointed in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council? We need to know when nine months will have elapsed.
I share Deputy Boyd Barrett's frustration about the Shanganagh site, which has been mentioned countless times in this committee. I differ with him on the proportions for social and affordable housing but that is for the local authority and councillors to decide. It is not for members to get into such detail here. However, I recognise the complexities around it, notwithstanding that it is frustrating. What additional resources may be needed to progress the development more speedily? Were there areas that could have been addressed by the Government side to deliver it faster, notwithstanding the two tranches of LIHAF funding that have been allocated?
I welcome that Cork County Council identified all the private or semi-State lands available in the city. How proactive are the local authorities in dealing with approved housing bodies? We have heard from AHBs that they have contacted various local authorities, not just in Dublin, and have been told that particular sites have already been identified for housing. I have looked at some of those and I did not see any schemes for those sites. What is causing confusion in that respect?
While I know cost rental is a fairly new initiative, have any of the local authorities represented here today identified sites for cost rental apart from Enniskerry, which has been in train for a long time and has now finally been signed?
I commend the local authorities on developing smaller sites, often more complex and more difficult sites to deal with, where they are trying to maximise with eight, ten, 20 or 50 units. The local authorities have targeted those first because of the potentially quicker turnaround. Some local authorities have not been able to do that. What are the main barriers to doing that?
Do the witnesses feel we are getting the maximum from the sites we have? Some sites around Dublin have apartment blocks all around them and yet the local authorities are only building two-storey housing or much smaller infill schemes. Why are we not maximising the number of units on those sites? Is it because of sensitivity in the area? Is it because of the money to fund these projects? Are the local authorities going for the smaller amounts to turn them around quicker? Are there other reasons for that or is it just too complex to maximise them at the moment?
The witnesses all said that where they have come in with schemes, funding is not a barrier. We want to tease through the difficulties between local authorities and the Department. We are not on either side. We are just trying to arbitrate and tease through.
Some of us are. We are trying to facilitate that as much as possible. I have obviously attended all the housing summits and have heard much of the good work that is happening which does not always get out into the media. Recognising where we have come from, we have now turned a corner, but it has taken time. The local authorities have done considerable work to get us to that point. There are many pinch points. We all know of particular sites in our own areas that cause frustration. We recognise the complexities, but at some point we have to move forward.
Mr. Colm Ward:
On the question of the powers and resources of the Land Development Agency, we need to work through the detail of what that will involve. We can then see how we can work in tandem with it. We are completely open to working in parallel or jointly to free up land and sites.
Regarding the resources we have, the Kilcarbery site was a high-level project across the local authority. It was not a dedicated team. We pulled in the outside expertise as we needed it. We have a significant number of staff both in the housing department and architectural services working on all our projects. We have resourcing through our workforce plan.
On the different sites and the different solutions, we will bring proposals for the building of approximately 2,000 homes at Clonburris which will in the main be affordable and social housing. The fact it is in the wider context of a strategic development zone means it will provide for 6,000 private homes. We are focusing on the social and affordable element of that. In some of the other sites we have we will need to look to include private ownership, particularly in areas such as Killinarden which already has a lot of social housing. Different sites will require different solutions.
On affordability, the new affordable housing scheme will be at the forefront of our minds. We progressed the Kilcarbery project in the absence of that. We were quite open all along that we had to work within the constraints of policy. That will follow on in terms of a cost rental scheme. We are waiting for the detail of a cost rental scheme. There are all sorts of views on what that will entail, how we future-proof it, and the length of time involved.
We are actively working with developers and we are trying to front-load some of the Part V units. If we get land, we have to go through the process of Part VIII and developing that ourselves. I am speaking about South Dublin and I know the Deputy referred to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Ideally in a development, we would work to get the units front-loaded. There are certain examples of that, such as Shackleton Park, where we would be working to get units upfront. That is to the fore of our concerns in that regard.
I have identified 7,055 on our housing list. I do not have the average waiting time for a home. There are additional numbers on the transfer list and on the housing assistance payment list. If people are accommodated on social housing, it frees up other options for people who do not have those options. We work with approved housing bodies, AHBs, consistently and we would aim to have about 400 units from AHBs in the next couple of years. We would also envisage 500 units in the timeframe to 2021. On top of the 800 units, we are delivering through our own smaller build programmes within local authority areas along with green space and open space that we have, supplemented by the large sites. We are actively working on a significant supply pipeline to deliver homes throughout the county.
Ms AnnMarie Farrelly:
We have taken a similar approach to what is proposed by the Land Development Agency. We are getting housing land ready for housing delivery. We use the time when the sites are being serviced to get ready to have the housing delivered. That is through the typical methodologies of joint ventures, direct delivery by the local authority and at times more active collaboration with the private sector.
We have done the site-by-site assessment of the potential of the individual sites and the constraints on the individual sites. We know the sites well which allows us to plan how those sites might be developed. Our project office takes very much a project management approach, drawing on the expertise available across the departments in the council - our housing, planning and architectural staff and then, when necessary, bringing in outside expertise to assist. It is very similar to the approach of the Land Development Agency. In Fingal we have found that the higher the number of active sites, the greater our ability to have short-term delivery. The key thing is to have more sites active. Large sites deliver at a similar pace to the smaller sites. The Land Development Agency can assist us in having more sites active. We have five key public housing sites, three of which are being progressed by us and the additional two will now come earlier to the market because of the involvement of the Land Development Agency.
The Cathaoirleach mentioned maximising the sites' potential. There is a dynamic between delivering appropriate densities and being able to deliver affordable units. The cost of the unit is key for affordability. The higher-density schemes seem to cost more. That is something we are working out. Different parts of Fingal have different affordability issues. The Castlelands site in Balbriggan will be developed by the Land Development Agency. It has the potential to deliver affordable units without much need for discounts in terms of the land value being brought to the table. That will be worked through over the coming year.
The first thing to get right is to master-plan the site, knowing what should be on the site and what can developed on the site in line with the potential constraints of that site. That is why we focus very much on ensuring a framework is in place. That framework will be used by ourselves where we are developing directly, but also by the Land Development Agency when it progresses the sites in which it is involved.
I will ask my colleague, Ms Egan, to answer the social housing questions.
Ms Mary Egan:
I agree with my colleague from South Dublin County Council on Part V delivery. In general in Fingal, we find we are getting delivery of Part V units upfront by developers. As Ms Farrelly mentioned, the bigger the sites and the more sites we have, the more opportunities we have for that.
Regarding taking the land ourselves, we have similar difficulties to South Dublin County Council with the procurement issue and bringing it on for development. In Fingal we do not have a difficulty with the early delivery of Part V units. From 2015 up to the end of this year, we will have delivered approximately 300 units through the Part V process. With the planning permissions and the active sites throughout the county, we would have another 1,000 to 1,200 Part V units being delivered as those planning permissions are worked through. With regard to Part V, taking the land would not be beneficial in Fingal.
The Chairman asked about downsizing and older people. In Fingal we are working through a number of older persons accommodation schemes at the moment.
We are hoping to bring those forward through the Part 8 process in the coming year. We are working closely with the approved housing bodies, particularly those which specialise in that type of delivery. We are encouraging people in larger local authority housing to downsize, if and where possible, to those homes. The main incentive would be that people would be moving to a new property which would be much more efficient in which to live. We work proactively with all of the approved housing bodies across the spectrum, especially the main tier 3 approved housing bodies. Several of our sites have been given to them. We have one about to start in December in Mulhuddart with Clúid Housing which will provide 164 units. We are working with Túath Housing on two other significant sites in the county.
We are also working with them on bringing cost rental into our schemes. Again, we have to wait for the experience from the pilot schemes which are under way.
Ms Ann Doherty:
The Land Development Agency can bring added value in the sense of dealing with the other agencies. Its establishment, where it sits and its legal context will be important in bringing in some of those other lands which we have identified. They will have far better chance of success because of its status.
There may be some issues with underutilised private lands. That is about people sitting on land and landholding. Some may have bought at the right price but others at the wrong price. This can cause a rise in land values which is adding to the cost of housing.
One reason people were not choosing to live in Cork city was because it did not have a boundary extension for 50 years. Accordingly, development around the city resembled a doughnut of greenfield development. The attractiveness of urban living has changed in society recently. People now want to live in central city locations.
We have derelict and vacant site tools available to us but they are slow to progress. There may be, on occasion, some sites which require different solutions.
Mr. Brian Geaney:
As the Chairman outlined, I can make available the profile of our housing lists. The approved list of applicants in Cork City Council’s housing list from September came to 3,872. When there has been little or no activity for nearly ten years, waiting times are substantial. The Deputy outlined some of those time periods. They would not be exceptional.
Mr. Brian Geaney:
It depends on the area of the city the applicant is looking for. We have just over 2,600 people who are actively engaging with our choice-based letting system. People will, at times, wait for the area and the offer they want. We have had 32 refusals of accommodation to date this year from people who are in emergency accommodation.
Cork City Council will complete a 30 unit scheme this year for downsizing which will be used for local authority houses which are underoccupied. We have a financial contribution scheme in place for private homeowners. Our intention under our housing programme is to develop more of those. There is a substantial demand in the city for that.
On design teams and our programme delivery team, we have augmented resources over the past 12 to 18 months. As projects are coming through the system, project costs are being made available to the local authority. We are satisfied that we have adequate resources in place to go forward with a substantial construction programme. We have just over 1,200 units in our project pipeline. Of these, 345 are under construction and more than 200 will be completed in the current year.
We have active engagement with the approved housing bodies sector. All the major bodies are met on a bi-monthly basis. We also have a memorandum of understanding in place with them to ensure they are not competing with each other or the local authority as development opportunities come up.
On cost rental, the council approved a substantial scheme of 112 units in Blackpool recently and we are looking at a mixture of social and affordable rental at that location with the housing association involved.
In the city we have 16 brownfield sites under construction. There is a lack of greenfield sites in the city, meaning that we rely on sites that deliver ten, 15 or 20 units. There are 345 units under construction.
All members are aware of the four-stage approval process. Timelines have improved. We are certainly making good progress with the Department on various projects that we put before it. Part V, as the chief executive alluded to in her statement, is slow in Cork because the majority of construction is either in social housing or student accommodation where Part V does not apply.
Ms Catherine Keenan:
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has 4,500 on the housing list. Quite a considerable number of those households might also be on other Dublin housing waiting lists. I expect the real figure to be more in the region of around 3,000. We have 320 people on the rental accommodation scheme and a similar number on housing assistance payment. One factor that is not taken into account is the re-lets which happen every year. While it is not all about new construction or acquisitions, we have around 150 re-lets every year. People get those from the social housing list.
We also work in partnership with approved housing bodies. We are working with them to develop 209 homes, a considerable number.
We are open to working with the Land Development Agency when we have further information. I welcome the additionality that will come as part of that. The Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum has the potential for an additional 600 social and affordable homes.
There is a huge affordability issue in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. It is important for us to develop affordable units on our own lands.
As such, and while Deputy Boyd Barrett suggested that it could all be social housing, the right mix is social and affordable.
Under Part V, we have secured approximately 170 housing units since 2015. I will pass over to my colleague, Ms Mary Henchy, to discuss the query on getting the land up front.
Ms Mary Henchy:
The Deputy asked whether we had considered a site like Cherrywood and having the local authority use one site for 800 units instead of waiting for individuals. I concur with much of what my colleagues from the other local authorities have said. The Deputy will know from the golf course lands in Dún Laoghaire that it has not been the case that social housing has come last. Rather, it has come up front. This is all part of the negotiations. In a scheme like Cherrywood with higher density housing, one can achieve more by working with the totality of the landholding than by splitting off elements. There are circa ten landowners within Cherrywood. To combine their holdings into one site would be a negotiation outside of what is facilitated by Part V, which is site specific and dependent on the planning application that is lodged. Permission only comes into play when it commences. Rather than Part V, what the Deputy is asking about requires a different set of rules.
I thank the witnesses for their answers. While many of us are supportive of the Land Development Agency, LDA, as a strategic land management agency that moves around public land, the part of its function around residential housing development concerns us. That is partly because some of us take the side of councils, in that they would be better placed to be given the power and money to deliver residential housing, but also because of the model being used. I will ask a couple of technical questions to help me understand these matters, but I will first emphasise the concern that some of us have. If the LDA develops along the lines of its initial proposal, I fear that local authorities will be reduced primarily to developing infill and small social housing developments, working with approved housing bodies, AHBs, and then managing the growing stock. Given their direct experience of joint ventures, will Mr. Ward and his colleagues compare the timelines involved versus a comparably sized mixed income and mixed tenure project that is local authority-led? The processes are different. Is one faster, more complex or more cumbersome than the other?
We discussed with the LDA whether the exact breakdown of the tenure mix in a joint venture was determined by the financing requirements of the overall package rather than by an area's social and affordable housing needs. Do the witnesses have a view on that matter? Delivering affordable housing within the joint venture context is complex, given the many types of funding involved. There could be a sites fund, a Rebuilding Ireland home loan and so on. Does that not make it inherently more complex than local authorities building houses in the traditional way in their own developments and then renting and selling them at affordable rates to people on various income thresholds?
One of the changes to the serviced sites loan relates to the equity stake. If I understand it correctly, there is a €40,000 or €50,000 subsidy, although 25% of that must be covered by the local authority. I am not sure whether the money is there to do that. Does adding the equity stake complicate the loan more than the Ó Cualann model, of which I am sure the witnesses are aware? Does the €40,000 or €50,000 meet the council's costs in terms of land and site servicing?
A matter discussed in the budget and relevant to this discussion is the changing of the financial threshold for the one-stage approval process to €7 million. My understanding is that the process adds a significant level of liability to local authorities, which is one of the reasons they are not keen on it. Perhaps the witnesses will talk us through the matter. Even without those liabilities, the €7 million threshold would only allow for small projects. Would it be of much use?
Regarding compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, I appreciate that the witnesses may feel it is not possible to answer my next question. Local authorities have CPO powers. The problem is that, unless the Department gives them the funding and political backing to use CPOs for a Dublin Bus garage or a part of the Cork docklands, for example, they cannot use them. What would stop Cork City Council from going out tomorrow and using CPOs in respect of some of the large sites that were identified in its report?
A number of witnesses mentioned working with the LDA. I understand the part where it acquires land and develops it with a council afterwards, but the witnesses might address a specific concern of mine. If it is the council that has the land, how will that situation work when the LDA approaches it? The council would be involved in the master plan, but would the land then be handed over to the LDA for a joint venture with a private developer? We are still in the early stages, but do the witnesses have thoughts on this?
The Cork cost rental information was interesting. What is its financing model? Where is the council in terms of establishing rent setting, for example, a single rent or several bands of rent? Dublin City Council is exploring these matters, so any information that Cork City Council has on it would be interesting.
I accept that re-lets form part of the work but, given the nature of the stock, they are a small number and the net churn will not be significant overall.
Regarding the Central Mental Hospital, 600 social and affordable units would be fantastic. However, the site will hold 1,500 units. Am I wrong about that? Would it not be much better to have a number of great mixed income and mixed tenure units for sale and rental at affordable rates? A total of 1,500 units rather than 600 would be a better outcome in terms of meeting social and affordable housing need.
Ms Doherty pinpointed an important national issue, including for Cork city, when she referred to land hoarding of such a scale that it was causing an increase in land values. The knock-on effect of this land not being utilised is a housing shortage, causing an increase in the price of housing and a significant increase in the cost of rent. We must focus on this issue. What is going on is, in my opinion, criminal. It might not be breaking the law of the land but, in anyone's moral code, it is criminal that, in the midst of the greatest housing crisis in the history of the State, there are wealthy individuals further enriching themselves through this activity. It needs to be tackled. That is one of the reasons I welcomed the comment about examining the protections afforded by the Constitution to private property. CPOs have been mentioned. I am not necessarily in favour of limiting ourselves to CPOs that end up with us paying top dollar for land. Some people have profiteered from hoarding land, so the State acquiring it at rates that are nowhere near to top dollar market rates is in the interests of society and those who are suffering during the housing crisis.
I noted carefully Mr. Geaney's comments about eight years on the housing waiting list not being exceptional in Cork. If we could get a breakdown of those figures, it would be interesting. I suspect that, when we examine them forensically, we will probably see that a period of ten or 12 years is not exceptional either. I cited the example of firefighters, nurses and teachers being unable to afford to buy in Cork city.
Let us get down to the brass tacks. We have land, albeit not a lot, in the council's ownership. The last large council landbank is on the Old Whitechurch Road.
Given the points that have been made about affordability and people being locked out of the market, even people on average wages, and given the idea of a social housing waiting list with nearly 4,000 people on it, on which spending eight years is not at all exceptional, the use of 100% of those public lands for public housing - by which I mean council housing and units genuinely affordable for working people, which the State contracts a builder for and provides at cost price - is clearly needed.
I am completely opposed to the Land Development Agency ratio of 60:30:10. I will ask a question about this in a moment. If a ratio of 60:30:10 was applied to the Old Whitechurch Road, it would mean the following. If there were 600 houses, 360 would be priced at the market rate, which is unaffordable for very many. Some 180 would be what the Government defines as "affordable", the market rate minus maybe €50,000, which is still unaffordable for young people who have come out of college and worked for a couple of years and for older workers on the average wage. For 10% to be social housing would mean providing 60 units when there is a housing list of nearly 4,000, with many people waiting for ten years or more. I have a direct question for Mr. Geaney. What is the envisaged mix on the Old Whitechurch Road, as an example of public lands in Cork? Why would we not assign 100% of that site and similar sites to public housing, that is, council housing and genuinely affordable houses?
A long list of sites was provided by the speakers from Cork City Council, belonging to the HSE, ESB, Iarnród Éireann, the Port of Cork, Bord na Móna and the Department of Defence. One of the biggest concentrations of State-owned land outside of local authority control in the State is in the Cork area. A lot of it is NAMA-owned, though not exclusively. The Land Development Agency is being set up so that those public lands will be privatised, with at least 60% going to developers for resale at market rates. I would love to see a situation where the likes of Cork City Council could play a central role in building on those lands and overseeing the development of 100% social and genuinely affordable public housing because clearly that is needed. I wonder if the speakers from the city council would like to comment on that.
I know there were a lot of questions, so I am not criticising witnesses for not giving an answer. However it is worth getting an answer to dramatise the problem we are facing with waiting times in Dún Laoghaire, because they are shocking. A wait of eight years is shocking. That relates to the question about the plans for direct public housing provision by the local authority itself. I accept that we need affordable housing. Of course we do. People who are not eligible for the list have to be housed, and even more so when the median price in Dún Laoghaire is €527,000. However, if we are trying to meet the demand to reduce those shockingly high lists, it seems to me that the planned council housing provision cannot impact in any significant way on them. On a site where we could have got 500-odd units we will get 200. After Shanganagh I do not see where the rest is coming from. The witness said that 197 are coming down the line. Re-lets will account for 150. I was not quite clear on how many Part V units we hoped to get. If we add it all up, we might get 1,500 over the next two or three years if we are lucky. So much for council housing, against a list on which people have been waiting for 17 years. I do not see how we are going to get anywhere close. In the intervening years more people will join the list, which will further reduce the impact we have on it. We have to have a plan to house anybody on that list. We do not have one. One way or another, we have to ramp up the planned provision of public housing. I would like the witnesses to answer that. I know part of this is to do with Government policy, but that seems to be a statement of the obvious fact that we are not going to be able to meet the need for public housing.
On affordable housing, do we not have a real dilemma? The witnesses are alluding to it. They have to be careful in what they say but if €50,000 below the average price is considered affordable, and the average or median price in Dún Laoghaire is €527,000, "affordable" means nothing in Dún Laoghaire. It is complete nonsense. We cannot deliver affordable housing on that basis, at Shanganagh or anywhere else. We have to have another scheme. Clearly the Government scheme cannot deliver affordable housing on the basis of that price minus €50,000. To what extent does that conundrum slow up progress at Shanganagh, and is it likely to slow up other sites? In other words, how can we get the affordable housing we want to get, when we cannot get it because it is totally unaffordable?
The Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown submission states that as part of the public spending code we have to consider public private partnerships, PPP. Could the witnesses elaborate on that? I want to know what that means. Does that mean that when we are looking at Shanganagh we have to consider the possibility of selling part of it off in order to finance the unaffordable affordable housing and the public housing? That is a mess. In that context, would it not be easier to just build council houses? Then we would just have to go to the Department and say we are building 500 council houses. Maybe we would need to alter the eligibility scheme for it, maybe we could even decide on our own affordable scheme afterwards. However, that mess seems to be delaying the whole process.
Lastly, I take Ms Henchy's point Mary on Cherrywood. However, is it not fair to say that we have no control over when housing is going to be delivered there? Hines has just flipped some of the land to Cairn Homes, and Cairn Homes has told its own shareholders that it is drip-feeding to keep the price up. They have actually told the shareholders they will drip-feed and not build all of it out, in order to keep the value of the property up and to keep the dividends flowing to the shareholders. Is it fair to say we have absolutely no control over that? Is there anything we can do to take hold of that process? Ms Henchy can remind me of the planning permission that did go through with Hines. Was it 1,200 units? I am told it will start at the end of the month. When are we getting the Part V allocation from that? Will that come upfront? What price will we pay for it? Has that been negotiated yet? It has been bandied around that Hines will sell the houses back to the council for up to €430,000, on land that was originally sold to them by NAMA. Can the witnesses give us any further information on that?
It might be worth the while of the Dún Laoghaire people here, Deputy Boyd Barrett, Senator Boyhan and myself, to meet with the witnesses again about Cherrywood. It is so vast. Needless to say, we will discuss our big plot of the quadrant and what is going to happen. There is huge scope in the amount of local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, money. Perhaps the committee should meet Dún Laoghaire County Council on that separately. I would welcome that.
Do the witnesses have a date on which the design team was appointed?
I want to mention and welcome something referenced by the witnesses from Cork City Council, which is the amount of student accommodation coming onstream. The fast-track planning process has facilitated this. The amount of student accommodation coming onstream and that has been built is very much welcome. It takes students out of the private rental sector, which eases that for us. It is also recognised in the CSO figures because it is shared accommodation and does not come under the principal builds. It is never really included although a huge volume is coming through.
When it comes to affordability this is where I disagree with Deputy Boyd Barrett. Affordability is based on the cost of the land and the cost of the development. It is not necessarily the average price in that area. We can have different figures on different sites. A substantial proposal was made by a number of councillors in Dún Laoghaire, including John Bailey and Michael Merrigan, which was supported by the 40 members of the local authority. It looked at affordable purchase, affordable rent to buy, social housing and step-down housing for older people. While the concept will have to be tweaked in some shape or form to make it happen, where is the scheme with regard to the Department because we are getting mixed responses on it?
When it comes to appropriate use of land, is there a scheme for the Mount Anville depot site in Goatstown? While I have ideas for the site and I know other things are happening with regard to it, I would be loath to sell any piece of State land in an area such as this when we have an affordability crisis. It would be ideal for the cost rental model or the affordable purchase model. I would be against any sale of a piece of State land in an area that is hugely resourced by infrastructure and with accessibility to the facilities in the area.
Dundrum is hugely important but I would rather see us deliver Shanganagh first before we start to dilute the resources we have. While Dundrum will be welcome, the focus must be on the Shankill site first. I would welcome a separate meeting on Cherrywood because it is too complex for this meeting. We would want to get into far greater detail on it but it was not what the witnesses came to discuss to be fair. Some detailed answers on this would be welcome.
Mr. Colm Ward:
We have been through a complex process involving two years of massive planning getting down to the nitty-gritty of what the community will be like but also the supporting surveys to de-risk the planning process. That has taken two years but it has provided certainty. We now have a preferred bidder who, all going well and working to the timeline we have discussed, will be on site in June. It is a two and a three quarter year process to get on site. If we were to manage design, approval and permission for something similar I could not quite quantify it. I believe we will manage it in tracts and it would not be to compare like with like. We do not envisage a scheme where we have the resources to manage the complexity of more than 1,000 units. We will not be able to compare the two.
In terms of affordability we will have to go to the market at some stage to determine the price at which homes will be built. The market will determine that and the affordability is a question of a percentage or fixed amount of it. There is variability. South Dublin County Council has a different consideration to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and we look to apply an appropriate percentage. We are very much aware of this. This brings in the service sites fund and offsetting costs. We have signalled our intent to utilise the fund in 2019 on the four large sites I mentioned. We have some concern about what will happen the land we put in and whether we will get full value back for it. We must work that out fully with the Department. It is a concern.
In the overall context of the impact, we have outlined 800 home build units. We have approximately 200 re-lets per annum so that would be 800 if we are speaking about 2021 as a timeframe. We have 500 Part V units and approximately 400 approved housing body units. We have our large sites which will yield thousands. People on the housing list will graduate to affordable housing when the schemes are onstream. Suddenly we reach a large number that will begin to encroach significantly on our housing list of 7,055. There is a bigger picture view of trying to meet the target and trying to deliver the required numbers.
With regard to the Department's approval process and increasing the one stage approval process to €7 million, we have not utilised the €2 million approval process but we will certainly look at it if the limit is €7 million because it will bring in a lot more scope for us. We will certainly look at the detail of the revised procedures.
The Land Development Agency has not identified any sites in our administrative area. We certainly do not see it as having a role in the sites we have identified and on which we are progressing to master plan. We are going with them and our master plans for those sites will be ready in the first quarter of next year. I do not believe the Land Development Agency will have a responsibility for those sites. We are working on them on the premise its focus is not on local authority land. We will see whether it works out differently.
Ms AnnMarie Farrelly:
I do not see the Land Development Agency being involved in local authority-owned sites. The local authority can progress those sites itself unless it needs additional resources, which the Land Development Agency has stated it can offer if needs be. Where there are non-local authority public lands its assistance in that regard will help bring them to development. It can engage with other public bodies to ensure the land is made available. I do not see the end purchasers of the units necessarily being a complicating factor. It is welcome that the Land Development Agency proposes to fund the development of some sites. I see the issue as being who will pay the development costs. If it is the private sector that will necessitate the procurement process of joint ventures and public-private partnerships and there is no avoiding it. If it is public money we can go more directly to market and engage with it to build the units and ultimately decide how the units are used and whether they are sold on or used as social housing. We can work well with the Land Development Agency but I do not see it getting involved in developing local authority-owned lands.
There is merit in continuing with the sustainable communities approach. The mix of private, affordable and social housing is a good mix and has been proven to work historically. The increase in the number of sites will increase the delivery and supply of units.
Questions were asked about social housing and the approval process and I will ask Ms Egan to speak on them. More generally it is about activating land. We all need to use our joint resources to ensure this happens.
Ms Mary Egan:
On the approval process, similar to South Dublin County Council, Fingal County Council has not used the one stage process, which has had a limit of €2 million, probably because it has a limit of €2 million and most of our schemes are above this threshold. We would welcome the one stage process being extended to €7 million. We will explore it and make full use of it where applicable.
Ms Ann Doherty:
To answer the question on CPO, I do not think that process is right for the public lands we have identified. Having an independent Land Development Agency could bring huge value to addressing some of this issue. These lands are owned in the main by a State and semi-State organisation so there is more merit in having an independent Land Development Agency. If we go down the CPO route it would end up costing the taxpayer a lot more. We have used CPO in our city very much with regard to dereliction.
As we said previously, we do not have much land available in private ownership. With regard to local authority building and local authority houses, I put in our statement that we need to be careful that we do not address short-term needs. I appreciate how serious they are but there is a longer-term societal gain to seek. Local authorities have a huge role in sustainable development, as my colleague said, and in proper urban design and planning. I mentioned the growth in the population of Cork city and its suburbs of 115,000 people, with 70,000 jobs. These workers are not all Irish but are from across the world and they need a solution to their housing needs. Not all of that is ownership. It includes affordable rent too. Local authorities have a wider role than just providing the units. I urge us all not to forget that. That probably covers most of my piece. I ask Mr. Geaney to address some other issues.
Mr. Brian Geaney:
I will answer Deputy Ó Broin's question. We have not used joint ventures to date at the scale that Dublin has but where we have entered into joint ventures, we have used a competitive dialogue process in Cork on 11 sites and we used our own Part 8 development application with approval by members for eight of those sites. Our experience with timelines for that has been largely positive. For example, the 30 unit scheme that I referred to earlier for downsizing had Part 8 approval from our members on 31 July last year and will be delivered before the end of the year. There is a good timeline and good experience with that. With regard to the serviced sites fund and the main project that we have made an application for, Boherboy Road, we are lucky that we have no land debt on that site. We have some design costs. Sales prices have not been determined yet but we will have to go to the market and hope the funding is approved through that fund. The local authority needs to come up with that 25% which will pose some difficulties for us. Like South Dublin and Fingal, Cork City Council has not availed of the €2 million single stage process for the reasons outlined earlier. On cost rental, we are lucky with the housing association in Blackpool. Rents are being looked at and due to the volume of social housing on the site, some could be made available for cost rental, at probably 25% to 30% under market value.
Mr. Brian Geaney:
Bands of rent are being looked at, depending on household income.
With regard to significant landholding on Old Whitechurch Road, Deputy Barry is aware that Part 8 development has now been advertised for to have the major infrastructural works on the site carried out. That will go before our own members before the end of 2018. If approved, we intend to carry out the enabling works on the site. There will be social and affordable housing on the site but it would be wrong to have that debate today, with respect to this committee. We should have that debate in our own council chamber but we acknowledge the comments the Deputy made.
Deputy Brady asked about student accommodation. He is correct about the large-scale student accommodation currently under construction. That is freeing up units in the private sector and is a welcome development.
Ms Catherine Keenan:
Deputy Ó Broin asked about the Land Development Agency, LDA. If we are developing our own sites and at the same time the LDA develops sites such as Dundrum, then the social and affordable housing could come more quickly, which is to be welcomed. Waiting times are approximately ten years but I can clarify that. With regard to delivery, some options which have not been mentioned are housing assistance payment, HAP, rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and leasing. There are other options. These are options which many of our tenants actually want. That will help with the entire delivery programme.
We are currently negotiating 43 Part 5 sites which would deliver 498 units. The issue of Shanganagh is about affordability on our own lands and not the market price. We are currently working with the National Development Finance Agency, NDFA, looking at funding options. As part of that, I am obliged to look at a public private partnership, PPP, with the NDFA. That does not mean that is the outcome. It is part of what I am obliged to do. While we might all intuitively feel that social and affordable housing is the right thing to do, I still have to follow procedures. We are awaiting the outcome of that but in the meantime we did not hold back on Shanganagh in any way. We went to the design team to progress with the master plan.
This is a technical question as much to understand the logic of the value for money exercise as it is the Shanganagh site. The witnesses have to go through cost approvals on regular projects with a value for money exercise on anything over €20 million, then have to go out to the market, tender, and allow the market to set the prices for the build. It seems like the value for money exercise makes no sense in that there are already checks and balances on the cost of it. From Ms Keenan's understanding, what is the purpose or the logic of the value for money exercise? How much time does it add? If the value for money exercise in Shanganagh comes back to say that is fine and to go with the proposal from elected members and the witnesses, how much time has that added to the overall development timeframe? It seems unnecessary. I know Ms Keenan will not say she thinks it is unnecessary although I saw a glint in her eye as she told us how often she had to do it, so she probably thinks it is unnecessary.
Ms Catherine Keenan:
When I talked about that, I was talking about intuitive views that one might have. There are obviously procedures that one has to follow for value for money. We have been doing this for a number of months but it has not held us back because we are working in tandem. We have appointed the design team to work and we tender for the design team before that.
What is Ms Keenan discussing with the NDFA? She and I can sit down and have a discussion now. It takes an hour or two. We have our discussion and then move on. What is the sticking point with the NDFA?
Ms Catherine Keenan:
It would not just be discussions. It is about modelling different options relating to funding opportunities. It is not just discussions but going back and forth with the NDFA.
The National Development Finance Agency would help us with that. Its role is to advise us on various options.
Yes, but it has to be turning on the question of affordability and how one pays for affordability given the market prices. Ms Keenan is saying we have go to PPPs. If we do not like it, what does that mean? What does that consideration involve? If it were just about building the houses, it would just be a matter of our going to the Department to outline our scheme and ask for the money for the houses. Instead, we are going through a process that I do not fully understand. I do not understand what these modellings are. Essentially, they seem to revolve around the insistence that we consider PPPs and figure out the finances regarding affordability, which is difficult in the context of Dún Laoghaire. When did this end?
Ms Catherine Keenan:
One of the options is to consider a PPP or joint venture. Alternatively, we might consider an SPV or other ways fund the affordability. There still could be a subsidy required so we might have to examine that, whether we can borrow to achieve this, and the effect it might have on the overall balance sheet. There are various aspects so it is not just a discussion-----
A final question, for Mr. Geaney, is on the Old Whitechurch Road site. There is a debt on that site. Was it the Housing Agency that purchased it in order to stop it from falling into the hands of the private sector? It was at the height of the Celtic tiger. The figure is in the region of €30 million. If Cork City Council is to deliver affordable housing on that site, one of the things that will need to be dealt with is the question of that debt. It should be written off. The council's position is that it should be negotiated downwards. Has there been any progress on that? Is there any information we can be provided with on that front?
Mr. Brian Geaney:
Regarding the overall debt on the land, the majority of the land was purchased by compulsory purchase order and the value was set through the independent arbitration process. In terms of the scheme progressing, our approach to date has been to deliver the enabling works and have the scheme publicly advertised. Once the master planning process is completed, we will determine what can be done with the debt. It is a major challenge to the council. I refer to the overall debt for a project that might deliver 600 homes.
I am not answering Deputy Boyd Barrett's question but, while we disagree on the make-up of the site, I concur that the scheme proposed by the 40 councillors in Dún Laoghaire was considered in light of various framework options that existed over a year ago. They were costed. Reference was made to the question of how the scheme would be funded. A substantial document was submitted by the 40 councillors, principally from the three councillors mentioned earlier. It is now a year on but I have not seen why the proposal does not work in principle. I look forward to the workshop. I stood on the site well over a year ago. Having been 12 years in a local authority, I, like Deputy Boyd Barrett, have a vast understanding of the complexities involved in delivering social housing in local authority areas. We have not really received sufficient feedback on the Shanganagh site. I am not blaming people; we are just trying to get answers to move the work forward. That is all. Dún Laoghaire is well resourced considering our capital programme, what we take in through local property tax, and the proportion of it that goes towards housing – €18 million. We are in a good position. I look forward to in-depth responses during the workshop programme. I hope a meeting will be facilitated regarding Cherrywood also.
I thank all the witnesses who attended today. Some had to travel a little farther than others. I thank them for the detailed statements they issued us with. If they want to send us further information, we will be delighted to receive it. These kinds of engagements really help us when we are going though policy. We are also questioning the Department. I thank the witnesses for their attendance. I am sorry for delaying them this morning. We have gone well over the allotted time but it was a really interesting discussion.