Thursday, 25 November 2021
Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage
I will tell the Minister what my answer is. The private developers that successive Governments have insisted must in some way be involved in this process could not bear it if there was a large amount of housing in my area built at affordable prices of, for example, €200,000 because it would be very hard for them to sell stuff up the road for €400,000 if that were happening on scale. It is obvious that is the case. The way to drive down property prices and the cost of rent is by the State doing it regardless of the consequences for those private developers. It needs to be done on scale and quickly, but it needs to be done in consultation with local communities and within the principles of proper sustainable planning and development.
If we are talking about any permissions under this new regime for student accommodation which we desperately need, it should be in consultation with the local college communities. The first people we need to talk to are the student union representatives, the college authorities and, most particularly, the students to find out what sort of a student accommodation they need and whether such a planning proposal offers them the sort of affordable accommodation they need. If there is any case at all for a special planning dispensation for private developers, it should be linked to affordability. What is the point of giving them a special process of their own if the result is not accommodation well below the completely unaffordable market prices? I do not see the case for it. Why would we give them a special process if we end up with rents of €2,500 or €3,000 a month, or property prices of €400,000 or €500,000? What is the point in facilitating that? There is absolutely no point. It is actually counterproductive.
While I accept this is some improvement on the SHD process, any special process they are given, even if it is an improved process, should be conditional on the affordability of what is delivered. The whole point in addressing the current housing crisis is delivering for people where the market has failed. We need to intervene with legislation and other measures in order to deliver for the people who have been failed consistently. This legislation should be conditional on all those things.
The Minister referred to landlords being able to rent out student accommodation outside academic term times. At an absolute minimum that should be amended to the academic year. A landlord should not be allowed to tell a student to get out on 17 December because they want to rent it out for Christmas for short-term lets during holidays or something. We need strict provisions so that landlords cannot exploit change-of-use provisions to turn what was supposed to be a strategic housing development to meet a real need into use for something completely different.
The requirement for a minimum of 70% of housing is good, but it is followed by "or other such percentage as may be prescribed". Does that mean it could be less than 70%? No way should that be allowed. I do not see the case for that discretion and it should be deleted. Similarly, on the different uses for the 30%, there needs to be close consultation with the local communities to ascertain what they want. I heard the Minister speak earlier. I take his point that we need the services, retail outlets, coffee shops or whatever it might be. However, what is needed should not be entirely or even mostly dictated by what the private developer thinks they can make money from with the development, but what members of the local community think they need when a new housing development is going ahead in their area. Doing that would allow for much more buy-in from the local community for significant new developments in an area.
It is critical that developers are required to provide-----