Thursday, 18 February 2021
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Second Stage (Resumed)
I am glad to get the opportunity to contribute to the debate. However, as I sit here listening to the contributions, I wonder whether we should be debating this Bill because the LDA will do nothing to solve the housing problem in this country. That is not what I think it is intended to do anyway. I think it is intended to open up housing land to the private market and to private developers. It will be good at doing that because that is what the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage wants to achieve. We are all talking about housing, housing development, how we need to get housing built and what can be done about it but the agency will do nothing on that. It will just set up another quango so that local authorities will have to deal with it as well.
The best thing we could do to make housing work in this country is to fund local authorities to provide houses. That would be the biggest problem solved right away. Local authorities have been denuded from having the ability to develop housing. It is also interesting the way they are established, set up and run. The local authority county managers do not want to piss off the Department so the county managers will sit back and they will not develop any houses because they know the Department does not want them to develop houses but that it wants the private sector and housing agencies to develop house so the county managers will say and do nothing because they do not want to piss off the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications because it controls approximately 85% of the money the local authorities gets. The Department, therefore, makes sure the local authorities can do nothing and the managers are happy to go along with that.
The councillors are happy to go along with it because they do not have any say in anything. They have no role as such. That is the problem with our local authorities and that is the reason we spend so much time in the national Parliament talking about the provision of houses in local authorities. It should be the job of local authorities to provide the houses and that is where it should be done. What should happen is that the Department should simply give Donegal County Council, for example, €30 million to build houses. What happens, however, is that the Department tells Donegal County Council that it would like to get proposals from it for housing developments. The local authority staff then look around to see what land they have and scratch their heads. They then decide to buy some land because it does not have any land and, therefore, it cannot put any proposals. Three or four years pass, the council buys the land, devises the scheme and submits it to the Department. It sits waiting then for the Department to decide what it will do with it.
The Department will to and fro with the local authority for maybe a year and look at what is needed, and there will be tweaks here and there on the planning. Then maybe the funding will come and the local authority will build the scheme. The local authority will then have no land for the next scheme. That is what happens with this circus we have. I believe the Department should say to the local authority that there is a certain amount of funding and that it should make sure it spends it properly in developing the scheme. The Department should have a watching brief on it rather than deciding on everything the local authority does. Then one might have some responsibility and we might deliver houses in this country.
In the overall scheme of things, the Government is not interested in delivering local authority houses for people who need them. The Government is interested in the delivery of houses by developers in the private sector. That is where the Government is coming from. The whole focus of the Government's thinking on housing is wrong. The reality is the Government is thinking about how developers can get work and how we can deliver work to developers, not how we can deliver houses to citizens. If the Government took the view that its role is to deliver houses for citizens, this would be a completely different discussion and we would not even be discussing a land development agency Bill. That is my reaction to the debate, what I have been hearing and what has been said by other Members in relation to this Bill. I think it misses the point.
The LDA is a quango. The great Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael-Green Party idea is to set up an agency to do the work that is already being done or should be getting done by local authorities around the country. In 2020, Donegal County Council opened four social housing developments. It had been more than a decade without building social housing in my constituency, not because of a lack of ability to develop or anything like it but because of a lack of funds made available.
The LDA has been in existence since 2018 but this Bill will dissolve that entity and provide for the transfer of its assets, functions and staff, etc., to the new agency. The agency will establish - wait for it - a register of relevant public land. The agency will report periodically to the Government on public land which may be suitable for housing or urban development, and it will also assist local authorities in the performance of their functions relating to development. Groundhog Day was 2 February. It is certainly here again today.
Opposition Deputies, local authorities and front-line civil society groups are blue in the face from saying for years that the Government must provide the necessary funding to local authorities to build affordable housing on public-owned land. My blood was boiling when reading this Bill, the explanatory memorandum and the relevant documents. Section 14 of the Bill sets out the process for local authorities to request services from the agency. A ministerial direction may have to be made and there will be terms under which the agency's services will be provided. This is exactly what our failed housing system needs - more bureaucracy. It is vitally important that we have that. That allows the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to keep a tight fist and control on the spending of money. That is what this is all about.
The board will be made up of five to ten directors, all of whom are to be appointed by the Minister. Section 22 of the Bill provides for the disclosure of interests of board members, staff of the agency or a subsidiary designated activity company.