Thursday, 18 February 2021
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I thank the Minister of State for bringing this Bill to the House. The Bill has gravely concerned me over the past year, considering its potential negative outcomes for society. However, I also welcome its potential to assist in the mitigation of our housing crisis. The two points on which I wish to speak are public housing and public land, and the removal of councillors' voting rights.
I must begin by stating that we are in a housing crisis. Therefore, it is without doubt that the primary remit of the LDA should be to provide public housing on public land. It is on the record of the Dáil that I have previously contested that the State must not be complicit in profit-driven housing models. Its objective must be to lower rental costs and make homes affordable to those who are currently locked out of the property market, paying exorbitant rents or living at home.
Coupled with this legislation is the Affordable Housing Bill 2020, which provides the mechanisms to pursue the creation of sustainable communities through cost-rental, social and affordable purchase homes on public land. Earlier this week, I asked a question at the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage. I asked how many cost-rental homes we should be building every year to lower rents. The Housing Agency replied that the number should be in the order of 2,000 annually, and both NESC and the ESRI said that multiples of this number would be required. This is the solution put to us by our national experts in relation to lowering rent costs. I wholeheartedly agree with them.
At a recent briefing, the LDA projected that it will build in the region of 2,000 units a year over the next six years. That being the case, I urge the Minister of State and the Department to heed the direction of our national experts to deliver 100% LDA public housing through cost-rental, social and affordable homes. This will show the country that we are serious about providing affordable homes in this crisis.
I am also concerned, to say the least, about the bypassing of local elected representatives through the removal of section 183 when it comes to LDA development. We lost our town councils in 2014, and now another strike is being made against local democracy. I will find this action very hard to vote for. As a councillor, I can recall how much power is concentrated in central government. The Green Party has always advocated that this power should be distributed to give local government autonomy through its local representatives, who are best placed to communicate local knowledge and the complexities of their communities. I will pursue this issue because it is most concerning to me.
I would like to believe that the LDA, local authorities and councillors can negotiate on this issue and come to agreement to build public housing on public land. I would also like to note that the LDA is currently operational in the Central Mental Hospital site in Dundrum, where there is growing frustration about its approach to community groups. It is felt that the LDA is treating the public consultation phase as a box-ticking exercise, and groups would appreciate more meaningful engagement and collaboration.
To recap, the Green Party welcomes this Bill to tackle our housing crisis. The Minister's proposal of 100% public housing on public land in Dublin, however, calls for the retention of local democracy and councillors' voting rights.