Thursday, 18 February 2021
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
Like the previous two speakers, I will not be supporting this Bill to set up a land development agency. It is democracy kicking democracy in the teeth. The past two Governments have been doing this. The current Government is continuing to take basic rights away from local councillors. Rights were taken from the town councillors. Former Minister Phil Hogan stood over their demise. It has turned out to be a disaster. Even though it was meant to be turned around under different programmes for Government, this never happened.
The general focus is on Dublin but the Government needs to focus again on housing. We have a housing crisis. My constituency, Cork South-West, has simply been abandoned in respect of social housing. Places such as Bandon, Kinsale, Skibbereen and Bantry are affected. People ring me in my office every day of the week pleading with me to address this. Many of them are very genuine and would love not to be looking for social housing; they would love to be able to consider a serviced site, perhaps. Such sites have proven to be successful in certain areas.
The agency is going to be set up no matter what happens and the Government will railroad it through. Is it going to focus on serviced sites? I saw them in places such as Schull, where many young families set up. It is good for the communities and schools in the locality. Unfortunately, an awful lot of people need the banks and certain Government agencies to work with them. They may not need a social house. An affordable site would be a great start for some if the banks worked with them. They would build their own houses.
A major issue arises regarding planning permission. Down my way, young people looking for planning permission face massive hurdles. They are trying to get a start in life but hurdles are put in front of them. These hurdles are very unfair, such as the one requiring residency in a place for seven years. I am not referring to environmental considerations, which are important, but to nonsensical rubbish put in front of people just to block them.
When an authority does grant permission, it gets a massive contribution for the local roadway. Despite paying planning fees, residents come back to me and tell me their local road is in an appalling state with potholes and that not a brown cent has been spent on it. Funding has dried up for the local improvement scheme. My brother is a councillor in west Cork and he is absolutely worn out, as am I, from filling out local improvement scheme forms so a little funding might be made available so people can do up the roads to their homes and other buildings, including in Goleen, Skibbereen and Castletownbere. They are refused because the funding has dried up. The same applies to the community involvement scheme.
We must give more powers and funds to councils to take over ordinary housing estates. This has been done successfully in many places in west Cork but now funds have dried up. The people of College Grove estate in Clonakilty contacted me recently.
They have been trying hard for so long to get their estate taken over by the council but they have been refused. The excuse is always given that there is no money in the pot. That is the unfortunate situation in Clonakilty There are also issues with Irish Water and major development issues in west Cork. People want areas like Kealkill, Goleen, Ballinspittle and Ballydehob to expand but sewerage systems have to be developed.
I will refer to one fabulous development in Enniskean that would be a game-changer for people of the Ballineen-Enniskean area and which has the support of GP Wood, the Carbery Group, the Ballineen-Enniskean Association and St. Mary's GAA Club. These organisations want to grow and develop their community. The Carbery Group and GP Wood give employment to hundreds of people but their workers cannot get a house or build in the locality. There is a fabulous development ready to go but it cannot start because there is an issue with the sewerage system. It is the same in Ballinspittle, Goleen, Ballydehob and anywhere one speaks about. Another 14 houses that were meant to be built in Kealkill cannot go ahead because of a sewerage issue. It is time to wake up. We have outdated systems and the Government wants to take power from local councils, which will make things worse. The county development plans need to be reviewed. In County Cork, in certain areas where 20 or 30 houses are allowed, people have been unable to get planning for the past five or ten years.
Setting up another agency is wrong. I do not agree with it and I will vote against it. The powers need to be with the local politicians, the councillors who were elected on the ground, and I will continue to support them.