Thursday, 18 February 2021
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I have huge problems with this Bill and it should be rejected. If media commentary is to be believed, many Fianna Fáil Members also have concerns about it. I urge them, too, to reject it. The provisions regarding the LDA and the designated activity companies, as outlined in the Bill, are a bad idea. The professed objective of the LDA is to drive strategic land assets and use public lands to build affordable homes. My fear is that the enactment of this Bill will have the opposite effect when it comes to constructing affordable homes. The aim may have been to address the delivery gap regarding the provision of affordable homes but the outcome will be the privatisation and giveaway of desperately needed public land. That land has never been needed more than it is now to address the housing crisis we are facing.
Some of the proposals in the Bill are quite extraordinary and will serve to undermine local democracy. Fianna Fáil and the developers really cannot help themselves. It is outrageous that the powers of councillors can be bypassed when it comes to the sale of local authority sites to the LDA. At a time when the pending election of a directly elected mayor in Limerick is trumpeted as something that will close the democratic deficit, we are creating a deficit by enacting this Bill. Powers are to be stripped from the people who know the particulars of local areas. That is wrong. Instead, local authorities should be properly funded in order that they can build quality affordable houses. Councillors are voted in by the people and many of us in this House have served time on local authorities. I ask colleagues to imagine elected councillors being told that they have no say when they suspect that public lands that are being sold will not be used to best serve the public interest.
The LDA is not equipped to deal with regional housing systems. Public land should not be used for the construction of market-price homes. The agency will pay market prices for the land purchased, which will drive up the prices of homes. That is obvious. The definition of "affordable" contained in the Bill is meaningless. A price that is a euro less than the median house price will be considered affordable. It is just not realistic. For somebody on a lower income, the stars will really have to align for them to be able to avail of one of these not so affordable homes. None of this is great news for those seeking housing but it is a wonderful opportunity for developers and equity investors to make major profits off public land.
I am sure colleagues will recall the recent campaign by residents in Moyross to ensure a critical regeneration project, the Coonagh-Knockalisheen distributor road, will be built in full. As part of that campaign, residents met virtually with the Minister for Transport on 22 January. During what has been described to me as a disastrous meeting, the Minister discussed conversations he had with the LDA regarding what was best for Moyross. This was a new and concerning development as it was not something previously mentioned to the community or any local representatives. The Build Our Road campaign has said that the LDA has since confirmed that it did not consider plans regarding the community in Moyross. I am curious to know what discussions were held between the Minister for Transport and the LDA in regard to the Coonagh-Knockalisheen project and I have submitted a freedom of information request in that regard.
If we want to fix the housing crisis, we need to build local authority homes like the one in which I grew up. If we want to provide homes that are genuinely affordable, this Bill should be rejected. If we want to maintain democracy at local level, the Bill should be rejected. This is too important and radical a change to be passed without scrutiny. The fact that the Minister did not send the revised Bill for pre-legislative scrutiny leaves us wondering whether he wants to get it right or just get it done.