Thursday, 18 February 2021
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I am sharing time with Deputy Paul Murphy.
We are discussing the new Land Development Agency Bill 2021, which will open the door to privatisation of public land. Arguably, this may open the door to the largest privatisation in the history of the State. The only example I can think of that might rival it, and time will tell, is the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, where there was a €43 billion sell-off. The Tánaiste said some time ago that the launch of the Land Development Agency was comparable to the launch of Aer Lingus and the launch of the ESB in the past. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those instances saw the establishment of State agencies. I have criticisms of both, but they provided good employment and a service to the people of the State over many decades. The Land Development Agency is the opposite, if anything. This is a quango that will open the door to mass privatisation of public land banks.
Under this legislation the control over land banks and the disposal of assets is taken out of the hands of elected councillors, which is an extremely anti-democratic move, to facilitate privatisation. The Minister will object and undoubtedly will say that 50% of the housing built on those lands will be affordable. He was only forced to concede the 50% under the pressure of public opinion. The original plan was for less than that. However, the Bill does not define what is affordable. Is it a percentage of a person's income? It does not say. In practice, at present, affordable housing in the State is calculated on the basis of market prices minus, for example, €50,000. That is far from affordable for young people, the low paid and many middle-income workers. A tiny percentage of the new housing on these lands will be social or council housing, despite the fact there are tens of thousands of people on the social housing lists throughout the country. A large portion of the housing built on these lands will be for profit at the full market rates, which is completely outside the scope of the ordinary worker.
I will look at the example of what will happen at the Cork docklands. This is public land. There is the old Ford site, the ESB marina sites and the lands at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Kent Station, the National Oil Reserves Agency, Marina Park, Camp Field and Tivoli docks. These are public lands and they should be used for public housing. It is planned to build 25,000 new homes over a period of 20 years. This should be housing for people, not for profit. It should be 100% social and affordable housing. There are thousands of people on the Cork City Council and Cork County Council housing waiting lists who would benefit from that. There are many workers on the average wage, low paid workers and young workers who would benefit from genuinely affordable housing, in other words, cost price or close to it. Instead, there will be housing for profit. It will be housing at full market rates and housing at so-called affordable prices, which in reality are unaffordable for the majority, with just a sprinkling of social housing.
We will not be able to get to the bottom of what is happening because the designated activity companies in partnership with the speculators will not be subject to freedom of information legislation. That is a disgrace. We will fight tooth and nail against the measures in this Bill.
We are pro-housing, but housing for people not for profit.