Thursday, 25 November 2021
Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage
Okay, and I will get on to the Bill, but we have to learn the lessons from what we did wrong in order to get this Bill right. That is my point, because the Government is still trotting out that the problem, and the reason we do not have the housing we need to address the housing crisis and affordability, is all these terrible objectors. I am still hearing that, and it is just not true. The facts bear it out in respect of the SHDs because the developers got their own special process and the nasty objectors were pushed aside. They got the grants and the process did not deliver. It facilitated speculation. The lesson to be learned is that private developers will say absolutely anything to get a planning permission to increase the value of the site and to facilitate their profit taking, which very often involves hoarding, speculation and flipping properties. Let us learn the lesson about listening to the lobbying of these private, profit-driven property developers.
Second, it was premised on another ideological assumption - it is textbook neoliberal economics, but a load of nonsense - that if we increase supply, the price will drop. That is just not true. It does not matter how many economic textbooks say it because one need only look at the experience of this country. We had record levels of supply; at the height of the Celtic tiger economy there was three times what we have now. Did prices, rents or anything else drop? No, they continued to rise all the time. That is what happened. If we do not learn that lesson, we will not bring forward the legislation necessary to deal with the problems we face. It is not just me, Karl Marx or whoever saying it. The head of Tuath Housing Association said recently at a conference that we need to get rid of the "red herring" that if one increases supply, the price comes down. He is absolutely right. It does not.
The problem is that these private developers have no interest in the prices going down. If they are the dominant force in setting the legislative agenda and the policy and in controlling a large part or most of the output in the housing sector, they will never, ever increase supply to the point at which their profits go down. That is what happens when property prices and rents go down. Why on earth would they do it? They will not. Can we please learn that lesson? Then we might have the wisdom to develop the necessary legislation to facilitate proper, sustainable development and the level of output to deliver the affordable housing we need to address the housing crisis.
The Minister says we should move on to the legislation and what is in it, which is the end of the SHDs. No, it is not. Consider section 17. First, we had to push it out after the announcement in July that it was going to be the end of October. Then we had to push it out a little further. Now we have created another out for the developers if they can get in the pre-planning application meetings and requests. Then we can push it out further into next year. Why are we doing that for a process that has patently failed? We should not allow any more of this process to continue. It has done zilch - zero. In fact, it has exacerbated the housing crisis and is often linked to the speculation and so forth I spoke about, the profit taking or, indeed, deals with local authorities over extortionate costs for leasing back properties and the builds-to-rent that cost an absolute fortune, inflating the housing assistance payment, HAP, bill and the rents ordinary people have to pay. We need to cut it dead and there should be no get-out clause. We have tabled amendments to that effect.
What else do we need? I agree that at the pre-application stage we should deal with all the potentially relevant issues. That is fine if it helps to move things along, but there must be consultation at that level with the stakeholders, the local communities and so forth. The beginning of wisdom is to listen to ordinary people. They are not the enemy in delivering housing. What they want is sustainable development of their areas and they want housing that their children and community can afford. They do not want development that is going to be extortionate in cost and that will only facilitate money making. People are also very aware that just letting things be developer-led in the first place can lead to the type of catastrophic consequences we saw with the economic crash in 2008 and 2009, so let us understand the wisdom of local communities.
When talking about student accommodation we should have a condition for even consideration of this new special process. The point I want to make is that we are replacing the special process developers got with SHDs with a new special process. It is a better special process. It has to take cognisance of the local county development plans, which the other process did not, and so forth, but it is still a special process for them. I am not really sure why a special process is justified at all. Surely one of the things we have learned from all this is that the question of them getting planning applications was not the block. Much as they claimed it and much as the awful objectors were blamed, have we not now learned that it was not blockages in the planning process that were the problem in delivering the amount of housing we needed and the affordability that ordinary people need to afford that housing? It begs the question: why do we need a special process for them at all? The real problem is that they are only going to build when it is profitable for them and we have to short circuit that. That would be primarily done by the State delivering a large enough amount of public and affordable housing on scale so that they do not control the sector, control the rents and control the prices.
In fact, they are put under pressure by the scale of public and affordable development to actually drop their prices because that will force them to drop their prices. I heard today from officials in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council that it could be the end of next year before the development in Shanganagh, which was supposed to have been on site by the end of this year, gets going with the famous LDA, which is extremely disappointing news.