Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 12 November 2019
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
General Scheme of the Land Development Agency Bill 2019: Discussion (Resumed)
First, I thank the delegates for coming and Ms Graham and Mr. Coleman for their insightful papers. The reoccurring themes in our deliberations have been good governance, accountability, transparency, probity and a focus on sustainable management and structure. That is really important because it is one of the biggest things about which the public is talking. It is one of the issues that arises concerning the LDA when one sees media commentary and letters to various newspaper editors. I do not suggest it is correct, but some people make an analogy between it and NAMA or say they are similar. That is not the case, but the reality is that many see it that way. People will have a greater understanding as the pre-legislative scrutiny ends, the report is made and the Bill published.
I wish to focus on a few issues. I acknowledge that we have had two really important papers which provide great clarity. In particular, I like the tenor of Mr. Coleman's document. I get a sense from it that there is greater partnership and understanding with local authorities, a group with which I work especially closely. An issue arises about the figures of 30% for affordable housing and 10% for social housing. We all know what the mandate will be for the LDA.
Ms Graham referred to the allocation of €2.3 billion for housing. She stated: "While the nature of the provision on local authority lands is a matter for the respective local authorities, in the case of public lands Government has decided that a minimum of 30% affordable housing should be provided ... [and] 10% social housing requirement under Part V". We are familiar with this. I am encouraged by the following line that reads: "This has been articulated to the LDA and other public bodies as a matter of policy, but the Minister is opening to exploring if this requirement should be placed on a statutory footing." Will Ms Graham, please, refer to this when she responds to me because I think people would like it to happen? I personally would like it to happen. I do not wish to be too restrictive, but there is an issue. We are in a housing crisis. We know the reason the LDA has been set up, especially in accessing lands, about which I would like to hear more. I have been talking to other parties as part of my work on the Bill prior to it being brought to the Seanad. It is an area on which I am focusing and one on which a number of my colleagues want to focus. Therefore, I am flagging it here.
I wish to refer to two or three other points. On page 3 of his statement Mr. Coleman refers to timelines and says we are approaching the end of the first phase. He also says, "In particular, we are approaching a point where we will have to make significant financial commitments."
That is clearly telling us that there are timelines. As he is flagging concerns, perhaps he might tease them out with me and the committee.
Mr. Coleman is familiar with the lead agencies, as well as the development agency, particularly in the context of a strategic development zone such as that in Cherrywood. I might be wrong about this, but I read correspondence from IDA Ireland in which it flagged a concern. Does Mr. Coleman consider the LDA should be given power in this legislation to be a developer and take the lead in a strategic development zone? I would like to hear his views on that matter. I think it should, as I am familiar with the strategic development zone in Cherrywood. The issue is very clear. We should remember that at this point the planning application has gone through and that we have a master plan for a strategic development zone. Very little deviation is possible once a strategic development zone is approved and ultimately sanctioned by the Government. I am especially interested in hearing Mr. Coleman's views on that matter.
I seek clarity in situations where the LDA acquires land and on how it will pay another State agency for the land acquired from it. This was an issue of concern in the context of EU competition rules. What is Mr. Coleman's view on that issue which has been flagged for me by elected members in many local authorities?
The disposal of land under section 183 is a reserved statutory function of the elected members of a council, not the executive. How will the LDA overcome this issue? Does Mr. Coleman think it should be addressed in the legislation? Should there be special exemptions in the disposal of State or local authority lands, particularly where it can be demonstrated that they are required for the roll-out of the critical mandate of the LDA in the delivery of housing in most cases, although I am aware that it also has a commercial remit? I refer to situations where there is a strong case to be made for bringing local authority lands into play. We know that there are local authority lands sitting idle throughout the country that are not being developed. In many cases, they have been zoned for residential purposes. Does Mr. Coleman believe we should look again at how we can fast-track the release of local authority lands to the LDA, specifically for housing development, and how will local authorities be compensated for the land which, in many cases, they bought with resources from their own reserves? I am particularly keen to hear what he has to say because it will perhaps be one of the most difficult issues in accessing State and local authority lands. I expect Mr. Coleman to speak about partnership, but the reality is that there are commercial issues involved concerning offers and acceptance, about which I would like to hear more.