Thursday, 25 November 2021
Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage
I also welcome the opportunity to speak on this Bill and that I have more than the usual two or three minutes as well. The Acting Chair might not like this, but I am going to quote him. He said that the SHD policy was an unsuccessful and disastrous policy. I welcome those words. It was clear. I will move off the personal now, but I must add that he also said that Fianna Fáil had never supported the policy. Actually, it did for four years during the confidence and supply agreement. It had full confidence then in the Government that went with this policy. Therefore, I welcome that this Government is now reversing the SHD policy. I do have some issues regarding the minutiae concerning student accommodation, in respect of the provisions only applying to the academic year. In addition, I am concerned about the issue of public consultation, as commented on by Deputy Pringle in respect of the issues raised by the report of the committee. It is well worth looking at them. Some of them have been taken on board in this proposed legislation, such as that concerning the local authority members, while others have not.
When I have the chance, I always point out that the courts have always praised ordinary people for their role in the planning process, notwithstanding the comments made from the top to the bottom of this Chamber. Those comments have come from the Taoiseach himself, as well as the Tánaiste, regarding serial objectors. I have never found that in my 21 years, this year, as a councillor and a Deputy. I have never met serial objectors. That does not mean that there might not be one or two. I have not, however, met them. I have met people who are concerned residents and people who take on the enormous challenge of fighting the system by paying the requisite money and meeting the cost of participating in the system in that way. For doing that, they have been thanked and recognised by the courts. References are made to the trinity, namely, the developer, the local authority and the individual or community. Therefore, I would like to dispel that myth of the serial objector. Turning to An Taisce, it is usually used as a battering ram. It has done great work, as have other concerned people who have repeatedly brought to our attention the damage being done to the environment by uncontrolled projects
I return now to the comments made about this being a disastrous policy. I wish the senior Minister was present because the previous action plan for housing and homelessness was brought in in July 2016 with the support of Fianna Fáil. Key pillars in that plan were intended to address homelessness, to accelerate social housing, build more homes, improve the rental sector and utilise existing housing. None of that has been achieved. More than five years later, we are now talking about a new policy to deal with the housing crisis. The housing crisis did not emerge overnight. In going through my notes, I came across a paper from Professor Patrick Drudy from 2002, which is almost 20 years ago now. He was putting the problem in perspective then. We are often accused of ideology but it is totally on the side that looks on housing as a commodity to be traded and that profits are made on.
That is an ideology. It is neoliberalism. That was captured by Professor Drudy from Trinity College back in 2002. In a different light, back in 1999 my first public speech was down in Kerry at a Labour Party conference in respect of a housing crisis. Here we are 23 years later and it is the same thing. It has just intensified. I brought this publication down to give the Minister a break. It is the previous action plan. I also want to put another myth to bed. The Minister of State, Deputy English, has repeatedly said that there is a misunderstanding about the housing assistance payment, HAP, and that it is not a long-term solution. I will quote from page 48 of the plan that was brought in by the Minister of State and his colleagues in July 2016:
"Accelerated Roll-out of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) Scheme. The Government’s long-term vision is for rent supplement to be replaced with the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) for households with a long-term housing need, although rent supplement will continue to be available for [those in short-term need]."
It goes on to expand on how that will work as a long-term solution. The consequences were that applicants were taken off the waiting list once they went on HAP. Different local authorities and members took a different view on that and had to fight ridiculous battles. At one stage in Galway, it is probably still the case, we had two lists. We have the social housing waiting list. The Department might take note of this because it is how we get tangled up in rows when we do not want to at all. We also have a parallel list, a sort of limbo list, for those on the HAP. They are on a separate list but they are being treated the same, apparently. We do not know the rights of the person on HAP because according to the Government's policy they are adequately housed and removed from the waiting list. They are just some of the contradictions.
I always go back to the city I am from to try to put things in perspective. So bad is the housing situation that a task force was set up. I have lost track of when, but it was a number of years ago. I have never seen a report published. I have followed it. I was going to say religiously but I might choose a better word than that, to get the minutes. The minutes I have now are from April. It did not meet again until maybe September and those minutes have to be approved. The last minutes I have are from April. That task force has met for over two years now, maybe three, and we have never had a report. I would have thought a housing task force was to assess the nature of the crisis in Galway which in my opinion is worse than Dublin, and give us a report, an analysis and actions. That has never happened. I refer to what it did say. I welcome the Bill. It is putting the power back to where it should never have been removed from, that is, the local authority. The question is: how it is going to be resourced? This has been raised repeatedly. It is one thing to bring in legislation and another to determine how it is going to operate and be resourced. In respect of the Galway social housing task force, the minutes from the meeting of 21 April show that both chief executives highlighted the need for additional staffing resources in order to have the capacity to deliver on their social housing programmes and the range of infrastructural services required to facilitate such developments. I know the Minister takes a particular interest in Galway and has spoken to the Galway housing task force. It was agreed that two staff members would follow this matter up directly with the local government. The Minister might confirm whether that has happened and what resources have been put in place. The Minister must forgive me if I believe nothing because today we have a letter dated 23 November from Galway County Council telling all of us about a resolution-----