Thursday, 18 February 2021
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I am glad to have an opportunity to speak in this debate. When the Bill was first introduced, I thought it might be a good idea. However, having looked at the proposals in it, I think it will be a disaster. As previous speakers said, it will suit the developers. A huge hoarding of land has gone on since the last housing crisis and economic bust and that is all there.
I want to speak about Tipperary. We have lost everything in Tipperary. We have lost all our town councils, including the members who served there, some of them on a voluntary basis. All they got was their costs. Those councils were a huge asset to all the towns that had them. We in south Tipperary were amalgamated with north Tipperary. In fact, it was a takeover, as I call it, not an amalgamation, and south Tipperary was left devastated and plundered. We kept Cromwell out of Clonmel but we could not keep the people from north Tipperary from coming down and taking away our roads, services, planning and everything else. They took the whole lot to Nenagh. I have nothing at all against the people or town of Nenagh but what happened was totally unfair. Where the borough council previously had a budget of €15.1 million for the town of Clonmel - one of the finest boroughs in the country - we now have a pittance of maybe a couple of hundred thousand euro, if we are lucky. We are left fighting for the crumbs to maintain the town's infrastructure. It is nothing.
Getting back to land, Tipperary County Council has land that is abandoned in every town and village in the county. People were prosecuted in the past for having land with buachaláin or thistles on it, and so they should have been. Even the motorways are destroyed, with the land adjacent to them and the slopes alongside them being left to go quite wild. The council has land everywhere in Tipperary, in every town, including Carrick-on-Suir, Kilsheelan, Clonmel and Ardfinnan. Tipperary town has nearly a good-sized farm with the land that is there. All of that land could be built on by local authorities. We do not want another agency, because agencies become quangos. We know some of the famous names who did not know whether they wanted to go for mayor of Limerick or to be head of the LDA or whatever else. We do not need another agency to take away more powers from the elected councillors. We also have the 2040 plan, which is devastating rural land, and the many other new agencies that were put in to deal with people when they are trying to draw up their county development plans. We have agency after agency and most of them are useless, toothless and fruitless because they do not do what they were set up to do and instead become self-serving.
We must let the county councils build the houses, as they did in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, when they had no equipment and no big machinery. I do not know what is wrong now that we have to get so many reports up to Departments, where they stay for six months before going back to the county council and then back to the Department again. It is a merry-go-round of pushing paper and nothing being built when we have a steep housing crisis. We do not need a land agency and I will not be supporting this Bill. I do not know what my colleagues in the Rural Independent Group intend to do but I certainly will not be supporting it. It is enabling another quango.
Mention was made of CPO provisions. A CPO is certainly necessary and useful for some road developments and other very necessary projects. However, as I said, we do not want to give too much power to this quango and take away more powers from the county councils. The elected members of those councils are the eyes and ears of the public.
I wish the new Ministers well but I am not supporting the development of this agency. We need to empower the councils again and give them funding. We need to give more funding to the better ones that spend the money because some are very lethargic in spending it. We need to build council houses. There are waiting lists everywhere.
Another issue is that a Part V project can be abused. One was abused in Nenagh, where 60, 70 or 80 acres were available. A number of houses have been built on the one little green area in a housing estate and the matter is now in the courts. It should not be happening. People in estates want to keep their green areas. One would not mind if there was no more land available but there are 70 acres available on the outskirts of the town serviced by roads and everything else.
We need a means to empower local authorities to build infrastructure and have sewerage capacity in all villages and towns. One can talk about zoned land and everything else but if there is no sewerage system, one cannot build teach amháin. One cannot build any house. Eighty percent of the villages in my county are without proper sewerage and storm water infrastructure. This must be addressed. Some of the schemes were developer led and they worked out fine, and some did not because the planners did not enforce the planning conditions. There is a lot of blame that can be cast on many people but I do not believe the panacea and cure are a land development agency with a CEO and a plethora of trappings. The first thing it would have would be a big office with a plaque on the wall. There would be quite expensive furniture. The Government should stick with and support the people who want to build the houses. If people want to build houses themselves in the country, they should be allowed to do so.