Thursday, 25 November 2021
Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage
This is an important day for the many people who come to our clinics because often they are on two sides of the development coin. On one side are the many people who are looking for and who need housing, often in very difficult circumstances, and on the other side are communities concerned about the impact of planning and development on their area. The solution for one side is met by ensuring we bring on a solution for the other. That is what this Bill does.
It is significant that we are ending the SHD process, which did not deliver housing and did not deliver for communities. The previous Government left planning and provision to the market. It is very clear that a new Government with a new Minister has resulted in new policies and that all the measures we have brought in, not only to ensure public housing on public land but also to increase the obligations of developers on their own private land, have outlined the commitment of Fianna Fáil in particular and our colleagues in the Green Party and the impact we have had on Government policy. I say to the people out there who voted in the last general election that when you vote, your vote is converted into change.
That change happens in this Chamber with new legislation and by a new Government, and that has happened here today. The strategic housing development, SHD, process is at an end and will not be extended. I say to those people that the concerns you had were listened to by me, by my colleagues and by the Minister.
The commitment to use public and private lands for the delivery of housing is very important because there is no one solution. There is no one way that we are going to deliver homes and communities. Of course we are going to need affordable housing and an affordable purchase scheme, which was brought in by this Government for the first time in a decade. We will need the cost-rental scheme, which has been brought in by this Government after just 18 months, when other parties in opposition who were in government failed to introduce a cost-rental scheme.
We will need more social housing and we must make sure that this social housing is in mixed communities. I represent the areas of Ballymun and Finglas, which have big estates that were built in the 1960s that did not have the tenure mix, the income mix or the services and facilities that they should have had. It took decades for those communities to recover from that. Housing was provided but it was not a mixed community. This planning process will ensure that those new communities are delivered. This is because the planning process restores the local authorities as the first port of call for the assessment of these applications. This is crucially important. As the Minister has said, when councillors and communities are denied their opportunity to assess planning applications they have no option but to go on to judicial reviews. I saw this in my community in Glenhill and in Santry. Communities felt that not only was the planning developer-led, what was being delivered was also developer-led. The developments were delivered by institutions for buy-to-let. That was a real error because it meant that communities had no stake in what was being delivered. The needs of the persons coming into a Deputy looking for housing were not being met by the projects being built in their communities.
It is not only about public sites, affordable rental, affordable purchase and social housing: this Government has taken on the developers with regard to private sites too. We have doubled the obligation on developers for social and affordable housing. We have brought in a new vulture fund stamp duty tax. I hear some Opposition parties speaking about that, but they were actually in government when the vulture fund budget was introduced.
On private land, the owner-occupier guarantee is also significant for two reasons. It restores to local authorities more powers. For decades, central government has taken powers away from local authorities but this Minister is giving powers back to local authorities. This will ensure that the local authority planners take into account private homeownership as part of housing objectives and priorities. We are aware that homeownership and people who have a long-term stake in a community are very important in the community because it means that they can invest in the community infrastructure and networks. Anybody involved in community development knows that asset-based communities are there because the assets are the people in those communities. With homeownership and long-term tenancies, people are able to do that and not be afraid that they will have to move on after five or ten years. This is what the Minister has done with the Bill.
We have ended SHDs and we have brought in as a priority in housing needs assessments that homeownership would be something, which is an owner-occupier guarantee as the Minister has said.
Many politicians sometimes use the fact that people object to a particular development as a stick to beat them. I am not comfortable with that and I will tell the House why. Sometimes there are genuine reasons why a person should vote against or object to a development. It may not be the right fit, it may not have the right mix, or it may not be the right delivery for that area. I find it very difficult, however, when politicians do not do it for those reasons and do it for political reasons.
I was particularly disappointed this week with regard to a site in Dublin city that has been empty for 40 years. That site was purchased by Dublin City Council in 1977, which was the year I was born. A deal for 850 homes was rejected by the two Opposition parties sitting here today. Some 850 families could have lived in those homes. The deal was significantly better than the deal proposed by Sinn Féin in 2015 or the deal proposed by Sinn Féin in 2019. When people vote against a deal that is better than the one they proposed on two occasions, Members on this side of the House are going to start asking questions. Does the Opposition really want the housing crisis to be solved or do they just not want us to solve it? Does the Opposition not recognise that things we are doing will make life better? It may not happen in the five years we are in government, and maybe not even in time for the next election but in time, these measures will improve things, and they will be improved for decades to come.