Dáil debates

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)


5:00 pm

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent) | Oireachtas source

I only have ten minutes. For the record, we need to clarify what was said by a previous speaker about the property tax in Galway. When his party decided to bring in a property tax, €12 million was collected from the people and the equalisation fund was sent to Ms Angela Merkel. That was decided by a person he supports. On top of that, the water he drinks, the gas that keeps him warm and the electricity that keeps the lights on in Dublin all comes from rural Ireland. The sludge that comes out of the septic tanks and goes to treatment plants is spread in rural Ireland. Above all, most of the brains that run the country are from rural Ireland. We will just clarify that to start with.

First, I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate. At the moment people trying to buy houses must look at them on a video. No more than the Minister of State or anyone else, when we are on video or on television, we probably look a bit better than we really do. I ask that on 5 March we let those people and young couples who are buying houses into those houses. Only one or two of them are going into the house and walking around at any one time. They are not going to spread the virus around the place. I ask the Minister of State to allow that.

Second, I ask that we do not have someone from NAMA or something similar on this Land Development Agency. I support the Land Development Agency in principle and provided it works in a certain way. I will be very clear about that. We need take the brains from the private sector to spearhead it, although let me be very clear, not on big salaries but paid based on output and delivery.

Before one can deliver houses, however, there is one company that needs to deliver, that is, Irish Water. If one does not have infrastructure for water, roads and electricity going into a site, one will build absolutely nothing. There are 135,000 units around this country owned by the State. Unfortunately, many of them do not have a sewerage scheme or road infrastructure. If that is not provided, we are in trouble. That is the reason for a properly resourced Land Development Agency with the proper people in place.

The Department has had ten years and it has not delivered. It has been an unmitigated disaster. City and county councils have been depleted for the past ten to 12 years.

For God's sake, would someone bring in a bit of common sense? The inside of a three-bedroom, four-bedroom or two-bedroom house in Galway, Donegal or Dublin should be the same. There should not be five geniuses sending papers around to each other and deciding to put a different design in one. The inside of a two-bedroom, three-bedroom or four-bedroom house can be the same in every county. The facade on the outside is the only thing that has to be changed to comply with planning.

When I talk about affordable housing, I am talking about a three-bedroom or four-bedroom house that is €200,000 to €250,000 in Dublin, not houses at the figures of €400,000 that I am hearing. A couple would not be earning enough together to afford that. In this procurement process, are we going to let another conglomerate builder in with a big announcement that it will build 500 houses? If we are shrewd about it, if there are 500 houses to be built on an estate, we will let in a small builder and ask him to build ten houses. We will provide the roads and sewers in so that all the builder has to do is bring the pipework out to that and when that builder has those ten houses built, we should let him on to the next ten houses. We should put in five or six different small builders, not this big conglomerate that can screw the Government day after day for more costs that have been overlooked in the drawings. They will screw the Government. We can see what is going on with the children's hospital and the type of contract that is in place there. This can be a way to help the smaller builders to deliver on their budgets, not to go through a procurement process and decide that just because a contractor does not have such a high turnover, to say goodbye to him and leave him out of the process.

One worrying issue was brought up earlier on, namely the smaller towns around rural Ireland, in particular, in this famous Ireland 2040 framework that we are talking about. They have to have sewerage services under the county development plans now. Unfortunately, a decision was made by the previous Government that the community sewerage schemes would be scrapped and that these communities would have to tie into Irish Water. Well, just live in rural Ireland. There are some places in rural Ireland where communities ran the water for years and Irish Water was not required. It is a good job it was not required because it could not cater for all that had to be done. In those small towns, if they do not have the services, they will no longer be zoned under the Government's plan - and correct me if I am wrong - which will leave ghost towns and undeveloped towns right around the smaller rural areas. I am asking the Minister of State to remember this and to give those communities the opportunity to go back.

We need a lot of houses built fairly rapidly. I would encourage - and I have said this to the Minister - that the buildings that need to be built should be allowed to go ahead and the current stop on building needs to end on 5 March for the simple reason that we need houses. We also need the infrastructure, be it the shop that is being built or the other stuff that is being built. In fairness to the building sector, it has been pretty good in complying with all the different regulations. It is rather unusual to see someone building a shop down the road in a rural area being stopped, but someone coming from Northern Ireland is able to finish council houses on the Border and multinationals are working away on sites because they can get around the regulations. I ask the Minister of State to open construction sites to those sectors but, above all, to the couples that are trying to buy houses should be allowed to see the inside of the houses for God's sake.

I have spoken to the Department and I am expecting a briefing on some of these matters in the coming days. We need to make sure that if we are setting up an agency, it is not a talking shop, another cosy cartel or a front for the Department that has not delivered for ten years, and that it is not going to be a disaster. That is the one thing we have to watch for. We need to put in the proper people. We must poach people who have a proven track record at delivery. We must not put in every Tom, Dick and Harry. If that is done properly, the LDA should be able to deliver houses at an affordable rate, both to the local authorities and to young couples who are working around this country and who badly need housing. I am waiting for my briefing and I support this in principle. I want somebody to take this by the scruff of the neck. I do not want to see someone who had a cosy job somewhere else just going in for the sake of it. This should be a team with their sleeves rolled up and ready to go.

Another issue that is causing a major problem around this country is when builders apply for planning permission for developments of more than 100 houses, they have to go directly to An Bord Pleanála . Damn it but I have monitored the situation around Dublin over the past three months and 1,500 houses have been stopped over bats or some other thing that An Bord Pleanála has dreamed up in these areas, such as shadow. Shadow is another matter that is blocking developments. If we keep going down this road of allowing objections, it will block everything.

I expect to get more information from the Department. As I said, I support the agency in principle but if it is not put in place in the way I am saying, then it will work out to be another quango.


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