Thursday, 18 February 2021
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Land Development Agency Bill. I have concerns about it, none more than my belief that the agency will become a provider of houses in the cities and suburban areas but it will not do much for constituencies like Galway East. I also have reservations about taking power from councillors, which is anti-democratic, so we must consider its impact.
When I speak about my constituency and housing, my first argument is that the private housing market is dysfunctional because developers cannot build houses at a price where they are affordable for the people who need to buy them. Most people who tried to build houses in my constituency are looking for the local authorities to buy the entire scheme, as it is the only way they can get it sold on. The underlying reasons must be examined.
In Athenry we have a significant number of housing estates without proper sewerage systems. In 2019, a former Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, opened an extension to the waste water treatment plant. The idea was that a piped network would be put in place immediately so that all the town could be serviced. I was told during the week by Irish Water that this will not happen until 2024, which would be five years later. There are sewage treatment plants in estates, which were built on a temporary basis and that were to last for five years. They have been there for 12 years and will be there for 17 years. It is an environmental time bomb that will go off.
I also raise the difficulties being experienced in Craughwell, Corofin and Abbeyknockmoy, which applied to the Department for funding under the developer-provided infrastructure scheme. The applications were refused on the basis of a further review being required. In Athenry funding was provided to connect two housing estates to a sewerage scheme but after it was discovered the pipework does not exist, the money must go back to the Department.
In any town or village in my constituency it is not possible to get planning permission for a scheme with a private waste water treatment plant. It is impossible to get planning permission within these villages or towns for houses with septic tanks. Such applications have been refused by Galway County Council and An Bord Pleanála. There is also a move to disallow people from building in rural areas, meaning the only place people can build in Galway now is in the city, Oranmore and a few other places that have the benefit of a municipal treatment plant. This is what is causing problems so it is time for us to examine such matters. People are coming to me from an estate in Athenry to tell me the sewerage systems are not working and the tanks are full. The houses are adjacent to the Clarin river so when we see fish lying on their backs dead, we will have a big environmental concern. The same could happen with the River Clare outside Corofin. We will then be wondering what happened.
I know Irish Water is concentrating efforts on the main centres and the Land Development Agency will do the same. We must have a reality check and look at the cost of building a house, including from where we see additional costs. There are planning and development fees and levies. There are utility connection charges, which are extraordinary. There are building and environmental regulations, among others, and these are good in that they mean good quality properties are built. They are nonetheless adding huge cost to the construction. There are heating and airtightness guidelines and then there is the large tax take by the Government from the construction sector.
The Land Development Agency may do something in some parts of the country but it will not solve the problem. This debate should be a wake-up call and we must consider how to get the private housing market back on its feet. I am not trying to pander to developers. Although people complain about them, developers are currently not building private houses because there is nobody to buy them.
We cannot rely on the State to provide them all. I am asking for this to be looked at in a proper, coherent fashion, so that we can start to deliver housing in a proper way.