Dáil debates

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)

 

3:50 pm

Emer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Land Development Agency Bill and thank the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien for his work on it and the former Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, for all he did previously. We can all agree that housing is one of the most pressing emergencies facing the country. This Bill offers real opportunity to deliver the affordable homes that we so desperately need. This year we will see the largest investment in housing in the history of the State. This is a huge opportunity to make a real difference to people of my generation.

The investment from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, of up to €1.25 billion coupled with the potential to borrow another €1.25 billion, is very significant. It gives a potential €2.5 billion of spending. That’s not just a great statement of intent but a real show of real financial backing. The LDA is the Government putting its money where its mouth is. The fact that it is being given such wide-reaching compulsory purchase order, CPO, powers means this will be a body with teeth.

Yesterday the Minister confirmed his intention for the LDA to use its CPO powers to purchase primarily private lands, for site assembly purposes, through agreement with private landowners. This is something which should be welcomed by parties of the left, because it takes power from developers, uses land that has effectively been frozen by stagnation and delivers homes for people who need them. However, cynically, there has been no welcome. I welcome the Government’s commitment to delivering sites as soon as possible and getting people into affordable homes as quickly as possible.

As we are all aware, one of the biggest issues facing the housing market has been the chronic lack of affordable housing. This was the number one issue in my constituency during the last election and is the number one issue for people my age. In fact, the housing market and affordability issues have created a situation where the average age of first-time buyers is now 35 years, a whole decade older than in the 1980s.

I know first-hand from my own friends and constituents in Dublin Mid-West that the lack of housing is a serious worry and creating serious anxiety, particularly in the areas like Lucan and Clondalkin. Everyone deserves a place that they can call home and, crucially, a home that they can afford. The biggest roadblock to progress is often ideology but for the 4,000 people on the South Dublin County Council housing list and those caught in the rip-off rental trap, ideology is irrelevant, what they want is a home to call their own. The Land Development Agency Bill has the potential to deliver that. It will allow us to transform idle State-owned land sustainably into thriving communities and provide affordable homes through affordable purchase and cost rental schemes.

Last year the Simon Community recommended that Government intervention was needed to tackle the shortage of homes, stabilise the housing market and keep families in their homes to stop the flow into homelessness. I believe that this Bill will help us address each of these problems. We must make the most of State-owned land that is currently unused or under-used. This Bill does that. It sets out to make sure that State-owned land which is determined as appropriate for housing development does not lie idle in the middle of a housing crisis.

I also welcome the commitment to building sustainable communities for future generations by adhering to best environmental practice. In the context of the global climate change crisis it is so important that the Government puts an environmental focus on new developments and an eco-slant on all our policies. Our housing crisis requires resourceful and creative solutions and I think this Bill will deliver on both.

I will address some of the points made by the Opposition today and yesterday. First, it is important to note that the LDA will deliver a minimum of 50% affordable housing on public land in addition to 10% social housing. Second, I am pleased that the LDA’s commercial activities will be subject to the Freedom of Information Acts and the plan is also to incorporate it under the lobbying register to ensure full transparency. Listening to the last speaker, one would be forgiven for thinking that was not the case. Third, while it is correct that there is no one size fits all definition of affordability, either in the Bill or in reality, it is critical to understand that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will set the definition of affordability by local authority area, on a case-by-case basis.

While it is important that we future proof this Bill we also need to be realistic about whether it will be moved off balance sheet. It is vital that sites are bought at a discounted price. That is the way we will ensure they are developed at a truly affordable rate.

I welcome the Minister's commitment to ensuring that the Land Development Agency, LDA, will pay the affordable land value, not the full market value. I would like to see us further explore how to achieve the best possible price. The LDA will have first refusal on all State land. That is critical to ensuring that public land remains public land. I appreciate that the market value must be in keeping with EU state aid requirements but it is vital that the LDA is able to purchase sites at a rate that is truly affordable to the agency, the taxpayer and, ultimately, the homeowner.

The Land Development Agency should be set up to ensure that it is able to purchase State land at the most affordable rate possible. Doing that would mean giving people my age and those caught in the rip-off rental trap a realistic prospect of owning their own home.

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