Thursday, 18 February 2021
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I am deeply concerned about certain aspects of the Minister's proposed LDA. We are told that it will help tackle the housing crisis but at what cost and who stands to benefit? Similar arguments were once made about the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. The LDA has disconcerting shades of NAMA, which is a State-sponsored body with a commercial remit offering great benefits to industry participants but large costs for those with housing needs. That sounds like NAMA. There is low transparency as key aspects are not subject to freedom of information, FOI, or the Regulation of Lobbying Act as it shrouds its actions behind a supposed need to get the best deal for the taxpayer. Again, that sounds like NAMA. It is inflationary in terms of house prices due to the requirement for the LDA to buy land from public bodies at full market value even if it has a lower existing use value. If we swap the words "public bodies" for "private developers", that sounds like NAMA. The likelihood of conflict of interests arising because the absence of a cooling-off period will allow a revolving door permitting LDA employees to gain valuable insider knowledge which can be leveraged if they move to industry. Again, that sounds like NAMA.
If people are beginning to develop a sense of déjà vu, we can hardly blame them. It is often said that past performance is not always a perfect guide to future performance, but it seems clear to me that this is likely to be a case of history repeating itself, first as a tragedy and then as a farce. I am also deeply concerned about the removal of powers from local councillors once again. We know that local councillors play a crucial part in and understand areas and their needs. Why take those powers from them?
Average homes in Galway city today cost €317,000, an 8.6% year-on-year increase, making Galway the second most expensive county in the country. People are crying out for affordable homes across Galway city. For many, the concept of owning their own home is merely a dream, but there is a good way and a bad way of doing that. Sinn Féin has outlined a clear policy on how to deliver those homes without lumping massive amounts of public money into another State agency that is unaccountable.
The LDA is developing the 4.5 acre Dyke Road site in Galway which will be transformed into mixed use development with a strong residential element. Housing is needed, and welcome, in Galway. We have been told that this housing will be largely affordable in nature, but if we look at what the LDA defines as affordable, it is housing below the prevailing market price. I hardly need point out to the Minister that the current average of €317,000, which is unaffordable for most people, would technically be below market value next year if the current inflationary trend continues, and it is set to continue, especially given the shared equity scheme. It seems that when it comes to house prices for developers and banks, the boom times are getting "boomier". That is quite an achievement on the part of this Government.