Monday, 12 July 2021
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Committee Stage
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 8, line 8, after “provisions” to insert the following: ", which days shall not be before the publication of the final report of the Commission of Investigation into the National Asset Management Agency".
This amendment relates to the commencement of the legislation. It suggests it would be advisable if the commencement of the Act were not sooner than the publication of the final report of the commission of investigation into the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA. The Minister will be aware that, in 2017, the Government set up an investigation into NAMA, particularly Project Eagle and the associated portfolio. The reason this is relevant is that I believe we have a record in this State of having an agency set up at a slight arm's remove from the State to which the State has given immense power. NAMA was given access to an extraordinarily large portfolio of properties.It was regrettable that more of those properties designated to NAMA were not directed towards addressing our housing crisis. In fact, there is a strong record of NAMA selling many of its portfolio properties in bulk to investment firms. That is the basis of the current investigation into Project Eagle. The report on that, which has been postponed a number of times, is due in September this year. Given that the report is due in September, it would seem advisable to wait until it is published before we commence another very large agency, which will also have extraordinary powers and access to a large portfolio of properties, so we can ensure that if there were structural or systemic problems or faults within the operation of NAMA, we can learn from them, apply them and ensure the same or similar mistakes are not made in respect of the land development agency, LDA. I hope the Minister will be able to accept the amendment.
Unfortunately, I am not in a position to accept the amendment. The Senator has explained her position and why she believes it is appropriate. I oppose it on the basis that the LDA is entirely separate to NAMA. We have spent a lot of time on this. The LDA exists, and has existed for a number of years now, but it does not have legislation to underpin it. We need to get the LDA set up on a primary legislative footing so we can actually capitalise it, allow it to get on with delivering homes for people on State-owned land and put that land to productive use on behalf of our people. The objective is to enable the LDA to undertake strategic land assembly and to effectively use lands for the public good for the provision of social and affordable housing, initially on the nine sites it has but on more sites after that.
The independent commission of investigation into NAMA relates, as the Senator said, to Project Eagle, which was around the sale of its Northern Ireland portfolio. There is zero link between the LDA and the investigation into NAMA. While I accept the reason the Senator believes it is of importance, I cannot accept an amendment that will effectively delay the formal establishment on a legislative footing of the LDA on the basis of waiting for a report about an agency that has nothing to do with the LDA. It is absolutely possible, and I do not have this information, that the commission of investigation could seek an extension to its timeline, as it is able to do, beyond the current deadline of September 2021. If I were to accept the amendment and the commission were to be extended further, where would we go with the LDA? Unfortunately, I cannot accept the amendment.
There is that possibility, as the commission has sought numerous extensions. That is one of the concerns because everybody wants to see a sea change in the relationship between the State and investors, including speculative property dynamics. It is a concern to many people that many of those whose risk-taking drove the State into great risk and debt and, indeed, into the crash in 2008, seem to have emerged very successfully from it, while in many cases the public has lost out in terms of opportunities. There is a concern and a hunger for transparency around NAMA. I was hoping my amendment might have the double benefit of encouraging the final publication of that report on NAMA, which is very overdue, as well as, crucially, giving us the learning from it.
I will not speak further because others will come to it, but many of the concerns about the suite of measures being put forward at the moment are about the fact that there is still a relationship with investment funds and speculative dynamics. That is why we need to be extra careful to structure this as well as possible. I understand the Minister cannot accept the amendment.
Amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, and amendments Nos. 8, 12, 18 and 19 are related. Amendments Nos. 4 and 5 are physical alternatives to amendment No. 3. Amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, and amendments Nos. 8, 12, 18 and 19 may be discussed together by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 8, line 11, after “of” to insert “public”.
I am conscious that many others have amendments in this grouping. The core of this amendment is "public". We are hearing many references to public land, public use of public land and public building on public land, which is what everybody wants to see. The piece that is certainly up front is the discussion on social, affordable and cost-rental housing, but the concern is that, as the Bill is currently constructed, there is a lot of provision for all kinds of other uses for the land, including commercial housing. Many of the points relating to amendment No. 18, and I recognise that others, such as amendment No. 19, address a similar point, is that the functioning and clear remit of this Bill should be to address the crisis in social, affordable and cost-rental housing. We should not have a land development agency that is simply seeking to intervene, and play a role, in a private housing market or which is inviting a private housing market to play a key role in relation to it. The attempts to narrow the function and purpose of this Bill are the concern.
The earlier amendments specifically address that issue because the key purposes and functions of the Bill only refer to housing and do not specify public housing. The Bill refers to housing and the inclusion of affordable and social housing. Of course, there is also a very big difference between affordable and social housing. Affordable housing, for example, might only be public for a very few moments and then you have a direct purchase arrangement so, ultimately, it is on its journey to leaving the State. Cost rental, as set up under the Affordable Housing Bill, unfortunately allows firms to build cost-rental housing and, potentially, reclaim the properties as assets at the end of a period of time. That is some of the concern we have.
This amendment copper-fastens that the public good should be the core and, indeed, only focus of this Bill, and should be the test against which the powers, functions and actions of the LDA are set. Others have similar amendments.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I am speaking to amendment No. 19. All 14 of the amendments I will be dealing with, which I will not go into now, are not mine but are the work of the Association of Irish Local Government. They are the result of engagement with the joint Oireachtas committee by members of the association, which represents all parties in this House. It is the work of members of the association. I acknowledge their enormous work and thank them and their executive for the amount of work they did in preparing these amendments. I have only undertaken to be a conduit for these amendments, but I happen to believe in them too. They are very important amendments. I will be pretty tight in my contributions today because I am very conscious of the time we have allotted to discuss this important legislation.
The rationale for amendment No. 19, which proposes to delete line 18 on page 9 and replace it with "so far as is necessary for the provision of social, affordable and cost rental housing and to achieve the purposes specified in this section", is to seek to restrict the LDA's ability to engage in commercial activities. While some involvement in the market can be beneficial in order to generate funding, it must be the case that these funds are funnelled straight back into the housing supply and the agency does not function as a revenue-generating project for the Exchequer. To this end, the agency's involvement in commercial activities must be in keeping with its mandate, which is, as the Minister knows, to provide social and affordable cost-rental housing.
I will address all the amendments in the group and speak to them. The Affordable Housing Bill just went through the House. Members will know that we accepted some Opposition amendments when we could. We are always open to doing that but these amendments seek to amend section 2 of the Bill, which provides for the purpose of the Bill by inserting a reference to public, social and affordable housing. I am opposing these amendments because there is already a reference to affordable and social housing in this section, as there is in multiple sections throughout the Bill. This is about the activation of idle, State-owned land, on many sites all of us are aware of, to deliver social and affordable housing.That is what we want to do.
These amendments - I say this respectfully - do not add anything further to the section and only seek to rephrase what is already in the Bill. The purpose of the Bill, as Senators will know, is to establish the LDA and make appropriate arrangements for the utilisation of public land for housing. That is it, simply - that is what it is. We have the first nine sites and many more are to come. The Bill is seeking to increase the supply of housing, especially affordable and social housing, by ensuring that public land not being utilised or being under-utilised is made available for housing. We have made significant changes right through the Bill to further reinforce that and to ensure we have the agency in a position whereby it will be able to break ground this year on its first project and deliver cost-rental affordable and social homes. This is exciting but we should be doing more. That is why we need this Bill through. We have covered amendments Nos. 2 to 5, inclusive, 8, 12, 18 and 19. I cannot accept any of them.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 8, lines 11 and 12, to delete “housing in the State and in particular affordable and” and substitute “public and affordable housing in the State and in particular”.
I will move and withdraw the amendment.
I move amendment No. 6:
In page 8, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following: “(b) to provide land for the provision of Traveller specific accommodation,”.
I will speak on the amendment briefly as it is self-explanatory. It proposes to change the purpose of the Act to include provision of land for Traveller-specific accommodation.
Amendment No. 7 does the same thing with regard to asylum seekers or accommodation for those seeking asylum. We will come to that.
Amendment No. 31 amends the Bill in respect of the Traveller community. The purpose is to develop or facilitate the development of local authority sites for the housing of Travellers in a manner that is culturally appropriate and complies with the Traveller accommodation strategy prepared by the local authority concerned.
I am speaking in favour of this because it is related to an amendment we have submitted. Local authorities have the responsibility of developing Traveller accommodation and a Traveller accommodation strategy. It is important that the LDA will be cognisant of the responsibility it has to the Travelling community in the development of public land.
One thing that arises is that local authorities do not spend their budgets when it comes to the provision of Traveller accommodation. The Minister knows about this because it comes up at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Key Issues affecting the Traveller Community when we are discussing accommodation. In many circumstances local authority members refuse to vote for Traveller accommodation or through other means oppose it or use value for money arguments for certain sites. We saw a local election candidate who is now a Minister do this when it came to the provision of Traveller accommodation for people who had been made homeless as a result of the Carrickmines fire. The attitude is prevalent in Irish society. We have the opportunity with the LDA Bill to address this. An agency that is developing public land for housing needs to include the Traveller accommodation strategy in its work. I appeal to the Minister to accept the amendment. This could be helpful in terms of developing Traveller accommodation. Some local authorities have frustrated that process over the years.
I am happy to co-sign amendment No. 31 and support it. For too long we have seen Traveller accommodation not being delivered or delivered on unsuitable land. Sometimes it has been left to the end of allocation when almost every other purpose has been looked at before the land is allocated to Traveller accommodation. This is completely unacceptable. All of the things we look for in every community, including connectivity, good sanitation, access to amenities and access to education are crucial for the Traveller community. In anything that addresses public housing on a large scale it is important that there would be such a consideration. It may well be that the LDA can add value and look to co-operation between areas in that regard.
I support the amendment. If the amendment is accepted, that is great. If not, I may return with another amendment on Report Stage.
I wish to point out there are intersections between those in the Travelling community and those who have disabilities. Another thing that I will be talking about is appropriate accommodation for persons with disabilities within any large-scale master planning. We should recognise there may be overlap in those areas.
We have made some changes already. This came up on Committee Stage at the joint committee and there was a good discussion around it. I brought in an amendment on Report Stage. I believe the LDA can add value here.
The Government and I have always completely supported the provision of Traveller accommodation. I have always done so right through and I feel strongly about it. This year we have seen an increase in the budget for Traveller accommodation of €15.5 million and it will all be spent. Points have been made around underspend and they are correct. Some local authorities have underspent. This year that will not happen. The Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Peter Burke, is doing a really good job in this area.
I will not be accepting amendments Nos. 6 and 31 but I want to explain why. I brought an amendment on Report Stage in the Dáil to insert an expanded provision in section 15. That is in place. It is to ensure that when local authorities request the services of the LDA in respect of the development of large-scale sites in areas with a population greater than 30,000 - this is the area where the LDA will be operating - the agency can, where appropriate, assist in the delivery of Traveller-specific accommodation.
One thing I do not want - I do not believe Senators want this either - is for local authorities to be uncertain about their role. The provision of Traveller-specific accommodation is a matter for local authorities. I have no wish to undermine the role of a local authority or the view of the role a local authority has. There may be an unintended consequence if we were to move this role towards the LDA. I realise Senators have no wish for that to happen. I have changed section 15 following good discussions at the joint committee in this regard to ensure that Traveller accommodation is specifically mentioned. Nevertheless, we need to be clear that the relevant local authority in any given area is the body responsible and resourced for the provision of good-quality Traveller accommodation.
Thankfully, this year we will see the capital budget fully expended. Last year, the allocation was over €14 million. In 2020 all of the capital envelope was spent, as is appropriate, for the first time in six years. We need to continue that. Unfortunately, I cannot accept the amendments.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 8, between lines 12 and 13, to insert the following: “(b) to provide land for the provision of accommodation for those in the asylum application process,”.
I have spoken to this. This amends the purposes of the Bill to include ensuring that the LDA provides land for accommodation for those in the asylum application process. It seeks to amend the purposes of the Act.
There is a Government commitment to ending direct provision and we will do this. The Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and others have been involved in the publication of the White Paper in this regard. I have been heavily involved, as has the Minister, Deputy McEntee, on the justice side, because we want to and will bring an end to direct provision. I have had discussions with the Minister and this has also come up at the joint Oireachtas committee. It is for the specific Department to source the necessary accommodation for persons in the asylum process and I have offered the expertise of the Housing Agency. We worked through this with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to assist that Department by providing expert advise on the sourcing, delivery and management of accommodation. While the LDA has a specific role to assist local authorities in providing accommodation, this is an acknowledgement of the statutory role of the local authority as a housing authority. The LDA will not be a housing authority or a planning authority. Therefore, I cannot agree to the expansion of the LDA role to include provision of accommodation for applicants for international protection.
Where the LDA's expertise is sought or required, it will be given. We have had these discussions already. The Housing Agency, as the joint committee discussed in detail, will have a specific role in advising the Department on asylum seekers and bringing about the much-needed end of direct provision, which is what we want to do. I cannot accept amendment No. 7.
I move amendment No. 9:
In page 8, to delete lines 15 and 16 and substitute the following: “(c) to ensure the delivery of vibrant and sustainable mixed income communities,”.
We spoke about this during the debate on the Affordable Housing Bill earlier regarding the definition. The Minister made a lengthy contribution on that. This is to reflect what we view as more positive language, in terms of the communities we want to live in, "to ensure the delivery of vibrant and sustainable mixed income communities".
I will speak to my amendments. I am trying to build on the same kind of points. "Social background" is problematic language. We discussed it at great length and quite philosophically during the Affordable Housing Bill so I will not rehash that. There were concerns across the House in relation to it. The question of income was raised. I give credit to the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, for accepting my amendment on diverse, sustainable communities and diverse, intergenerational and sustainable inner-city communities. I may submit that language again. I encourage the Minister to consult the Minister of State because it would be useful if the same language was used in the Affordable Housing Bill and this Bill. It brings a wider and more holistic recognition of what we are trying to create, rather than the narrow idea of social background. I would also bear in mind that if we end up with what we are seeing, which is estates 20%, 30% or 40% owned by the same company, that is not giving us a meaningful social mix.
I will speak to amendment No. 11. I am concerned about the language. It suggests "sustainable development". I am all for that phrasing and for sustainable development goal 11 on sustainable cities and communities. However, "new and regenerated communities" contains an assumption that these are new communities or communities that need regeneration or have deteriorated. I propose the idea of "existing communities" because, in many cases, we have vibrant and thriving existing communities, inner-city communities in many cases, which have a growing housing need. We have a new generation who wish to remain and live there. In some cases, it is not a matter of regeneration. I worry that we could drift into language of gentrification when we talk about new or regenerated communities, rather than existing or expanded communities, which are also part of the picture. It is about the signal that sends.
I will follow up on that in relation to subsection (p). It is inherently bad value. There have been counterproductive attempts to constantly push private partnership into situations where public delivery should lead. The problem is subsection (p) is muddy and it talks about public-private collaboration in relation to private land, agency land and public land. We know public delivery of public housing on public land develops better public value in the current context. Yet the insertion of private bodies into that mix means those bodies' goals have to be satisfied. In many cases, those goals are a profit and a dividend. If they are commercial bodies, that is their goal and function.
I am concerned. Perhaps there will be scope when the agency talks about what are or are not appropriate mechanisms but many of the mechanisms which have been used in the State's relationships with private and, in some cases, speculative bodies have not been appropriate.
I had not intended coming in but I have to. We had people saying in the earlier debate that we cannot have leasing. Now we are told we cannot have public private partnerships. We do not want to vote for an LDA which will be tasked with providing public housing on public land. I have said time and again we have to use every mechanism at our disposal, be it the councils, the approved housing bodies, the Land Development Agency, public private partnerships, leases or private builders to solve the housing crisis. We consistently ask in this Chamber to tie two hands behind the State's back and still resolve the housing crisis. It cannot be done. Please allow this Government to use every tool at its disposal in order to solve the housing crisis. Otherwise, do not complain that we cannot get on top of our figures. The only way we will be able to do that is by giving the State every tool in its armoury to deliver for individuals and families.
I have the floor so I will speak. Leasing has been appallingly bad value and it was flagged early on. Strategic housing development has not led to the desired outcome. I have been in this House over six years and have been lectured on the urgency of suspending normal planning processes and of leasing. At the same time, I have seen local authorities have their hands tied behind their back by housing Ministers who have not allowed them to purchase. They have forced them into leasing, instead of buying or building.With respect, when we talk about tools, it is appropriate for us to say that some tools are better than others. Of course, we are pushing for action and investment but, to be very clear, we want to make sure that investment delivers housing for the long term. When we talk about public housing, we want to still have that public housing in 25 years rather than a lot of public land having left public ownership and no longer being available, condemning another generation to struggle for public housing. With respect, there are nuances and differences between tools. In fact, the criticisms that have been levied and which this side of the House has put forward numerous times have been proven correct. In that regard, we should be allowed to engage with the Minister. We will make our points and he will take them on board in whatever way he wishes. I will certainly not apologise for raising nuanced points regarding the difference between what is truly public and what is private.
It is an important point. When we are talking about housing, we are talking about people's homes. We are also talking about the provision of homes and the State taking a lead in the provision of social and affordable homes for our citizens. We are doing so in the context of a crisis. We are coming out of a decade of undersupply of housing. We are also doing it in the context of Covid, which led to a complete shutdown of construction. Amplifying that problem, much of our population has been displaced outside of the urban centres. The housing crisis has only intensified.
On the suggestion that leasing is bad value, let me say two things. I speak as someone who has spent time on a local authority and who has spent more than 15 years supporting people and helping them to avoid homelessness. Local authorities did not have the tools to provide affordable housing or 100% public housing on public land. This legislation and the Affordable Housing Bill 2021 are changing that. It will not change it for only the next five or 25 years, but for generations to come. Public houses will be built on public land and it is to be hoped that they will be there for 100 years or more.
In the here and now, we provide more than 70% of all of the emergency homeless accommodation in Dublin within my constituency. In this area, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive will pay twice as much for what I consider substandard emergency accommodation than what it would pay for a 25-year lease on a brand new, purpose-built home with an energy rating of A. In a human crisis, it would be negligent and abusive of any of us to tell the Dublin Region Homeless Executive or Dublin City Council not to lease those homes, to leave those people in that substandard emergency accommodation, not to let them move on with their lives and to traumatise them and their children because we have a principle of not leasing homes. That is what is being suggested here. I, for one, will not stand over that.
I will just deal with the amendments before me. To remind Senators, we are seeking to use land that is lying idle right now. We talk about new communities or regeneration but we are not excluding anyone. Some of these are old industrial units or old hospitals, such as the site in Dundrum. In many instances, it is about creating new communities. The amendments tabled, specifically Nos. 9, 10 and 16, seek to amend section 2 to include reference to “vibrant, sustainable, mixed income communities” or to change references to social background. As currently drafted, section 2(c) provides that one of the purposes of the Bill is "to counteract segregation in housing between persons of different social background". Section 2(n) provides that a purpose of the Bill is "to facilitate measures designed to achieve socially integrated housing". These are very strong, clear provisions. I oppose the amendments as I believe the issue is adequately covered and the amendments do not substantially change anything. We all want the same thing. It is covered in the Bill. We want the Land Development Agency, LDA, to actually deliver and build homes.
We all recognise the importance of greater integration in housing and the delivery of mixed-tenure affordable and social public housing on public lands. We are trying to achieve that with this Bill. If one looks at the original general scheme of the previous Bill on the LDA, one will see that we have moved forward a great deal. It is now focused on delivering mixed tenure and social and affordable homes. That is key to building sustainable communities.
It is vital that the State uses its land to provide affordable homes for purchase and rent as well as social housing using, as Senator Cummins said, all the means at our disposal. We have to do that as we are still in a crisis. We may deliver 20,000 homes this year, between public and private. We need to be building 33,000. We needed to build 33,000 last year but built 20,000. Already, 26,000 homes that should have been built were not built because of Covid. That is the situation we are in. We cannot continue to debate matters back and forth, although it is another thing to say that in a debating chamber. We just need to get on with it. The Affordable Housing Bill has just passed without any dissent in this House. It passed with 101 votes for and 8 against in the Dáil. That gives us the tools to deliver affordable and cost-rental housing at scale. Through the Land Development Agency, we have an opportunity to ensure the State uses its own lands properly for the good of everyone. What can be wrong with that? Most people will agree that is where we should be. Some do not and I respect their position but they must be really clear. I am not making a political point with a view to causing difficulties but I cannot agree with parties that say they want a Land Development Agency but that they do not want it to build or plan for homes. We need an agency that will partner with that awful thing, the private sector, in some instances. That will happen and it will deliver homes for people and for families. It will deliver more public homes than have ever been delivered before. These are good things. To be fair, I know that all Senators recognise that and want it to happen.
I cannot accept amendments Nos. 9, 10 and 16. Amendment No. 11 seeks to amend section 2(d) by inserting the word "existing" after "new". The subsection already provides for the sustainable development of new and regenerated communities. The State has lands on which there was never housing before. I am not talking about gentrification of areas but about bringing lands that may have been industrial or commercial lands back into use for housing to bring about regenerated communities. I do not believe this amendment adds significantly to the provision. I will not be accepting amendment No. 11.
Amendment No. 17 proposes to delete a subsection which provides for the establishment of "appropriate mechanisms and collaborative structures between public and private bodies to develop relevant public land, land owned by the Agency and [in some instances] land that is privately owned that is identified as suitable for the strategic and timely delivery of housing". I oppose that amendment because it would shut off an avenue completely. We had a discussion on this matter in the Dáil as well. We also got to a stage when discussing elements of the Affordable Housing Bill at which it became clear that some Members would never accept any type of private finance and that they would only accept the use of Exchequer moneys. That is not sustainable. We need both. The State needs to lead. We are the biggest investor in housing and the biggest builder, and rightly so. The State will do that but it is necessary and wholly appropriate for the LDA to partner with other bodies and to establish commercial arrangements, where appropriate, in line with other commercial State bodies. In its role as a development agency, the LDA will work with other public and private sector landholders to develop larger sites for the provision of housing and the regeneration of communities. This happens in many other countries. These countries do not just say that one cannot touch public lands. While these provisions are fully appropriate, I remind Senators of what is important with regard to the LDA in light of some of the concerns that have been raised, which I do not share although I do understand them.The Land Development Agency will remain in the ownership of the State with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform as its only shareholders. It is a public body and there is no provision for any other shareholders. In addition, all dividends will be returned for the benefit of the Exchequer. Ministerial approval will also be required for the establishment of any subsidiaries of the LDA and, with significant oversight, the LDA will be fully accountable to the joint Oireachtas committee in any of its activities.
Amendment No. 30, which I believe is the last one, seeks to amend section 14 by replacing "facilitate the provision of housing for the public good" with "deliver social and affordable housing". We are talking around this because this is what we are already doing and it is not necessary. The housing will, of course, be for the public good and we want to ensure that it is. It will be social and affordable and it is clear from the Bill that the LDA will be delivering affordable, public and social housing on public land. I will therefore not be accepting any of the amendments that have been tabled. I thank the Senators, however, for having done so because it allows us to have this discussion around the important elements of housing delivery through the LDA.
We need to be clear that we are not misguiding people. This is not that complicated in respect of the Land Development Agency. Currently, we have a great deal of land all over Ireland and nobody knows who owns it or what we own. This agency will finally now enable all State land to be put on paper to see what we own, where it is and the best way we can use the land to get the houses. If one looks at land, it is the key component of housing. We, not us, but previous Governments, have made mistakes in the past by allowing the market to lead and putting houses in the wrong place.
When one looks at what the LDA hopes to achieve, this Bill is long overdue. The McKinsey report said that unlocking land at the right location is the most important lever-----
-----but if they are all social and affordable houses, nobody can then ever own a private house. We must stop simplifying this into some kind of an "us and them" thing. It is about finding the land and building as many houses as soon as possible that are affordable and social. That is the top priority.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 8, line 24, after “deficiencies” to insert “and speculation”.
Mindful of the fact that we have a great deal to get through I will be as brief as I can. This is the core of it and it is not a question of not liking it because I am very happy for a private market to exist and for the State to engage in the use of private land. I discussed that with Senator Casey on the Affordable Housing Bill. The key concern is the use of market dynamics and these amendments amend that section in the Bill which talks about "deficiencies in the housing market and to alleviate the shortage of land available for housing in circumstances where that market is experiencing a systemic housing shortage". We need to be clear that this is allowing the market to lead, where it has, in fact, already led much of this and where there has been an over-reliance on the market. That is why my amendments say that if we want to be real about addressing and delivering housing, we need to identify two of the problems and name them.
Two of the problems I suggest we name are speculation and exploitation of scarcity. The core dynamic of speculation and of large-scale investor, commercial, property investment is the logic whereby scarcity creates demand. The fact is that again and again this and the previous Government have constantly tried to encourage the role of speculative property investors to engage and these Governments have tried to think of what they need to do to persuade them where we have in fact ended up creating endless perverse incentives. We have strategic housing developments, the majority of which have not been started even though they got fast track planning permission. We also have a lowering of standards, which we have read of in the reports, leading many of those who are shovel-ready to go back to the planning process again because they know that their political pressure will allow the standards to be lowered so that they can fit more units in. These are the facts.
We know on leasing and can see that dynamic whereby we have created competition. It is not a matter of local authorities having to make that hard choice in these matters. We know that there are situations where local authorities are competing with investment firms for housing in this State. Those are the market dynamics because the market will be given what we have heard about which is risk-free leasing with guaranteed returns over long periods of time, an asset at the end, with the mortgage having been paid. I am saying this to simply point to the fact that we need to ensure that we do not make the same mistakes again. We do not need to but if we frame this approach as simply as being shortages that have just magically happened to the market rather than the fact that we know that there are tens of thousands of planning permissions that are not being used because the land value is going up all of the time. That is a market dynamic that needs to be addressed.
That is also why in amendment No. 14, I specifically suggest that the agency, among its many functions - a great deal of which are very laudable ones - should not permit private investment funds to purchase lands, developments or housing for private profit. If it is going to be public land for public good then let all of it be public land for the public good. I am suggesting that there be an explicit exclusion here which would send a signal that this is not business as usual, that this is not simply a scaling up of business as usual and that there is no danger of us transferring further resources. People have seen that they bailed out the banks and developers, that they are transferring money in a large-scale way through leases, and are worried now that public land is going to end up being transferred again to benefit a cohort of people. That is a very real concern based upon a real record of matters, as we know what drove the property crash in 2008. That is the context of my amendments. I will not have many more such amendments on the Bill which will talk about this point as the rest of them are very technical. If we set this in a wrong way at the very beginning under the purposes of this Act, how we frame the Act and as to the problem, then we will not arrive at the solution that we need. The fact is that property speculation is not part of the solution but is a large part of the problem.
I will deal with the amendments shortly but if anything, having an agency that will ensure that State land comes out and into the market, for want of a better term, that in itself could have a very significantly positive effect with regard to land price and cost, etc., because we will be activating lands for use. We reckon that we have enough zoned and serviced State land to deliver about 114,000 homes across the country but what is happening with it? Very little and that is why this Government wants to get to grips with this through the LDA to deliver it. In some instances it will mean partnering with the private sector and I do not see anything wrong with that as we need homes for people. We can either have the ideological discussion back and forth and say that I want this but do not want it this way. As I said earlier on, we are 26,000 homes behind in two years because of Covid-19 and we really do not have that luxury. Some of the instances and concerns that the Senator has raised will just not come to pass because they are protected against already. We can live in a world in which conspiracy exists or we can look towards what the reality of the situation is.We want an increase in the delivery of housing across the State and, in particular, on affordable housing where it is so acutely needed. I remind the Senators opposite that the budget passed for 2021 was the biggest public housing budget in the history of the State. I accept that the Covid pandemic has affected delivery, but we will get back and make up for lost time. Some €2.1 billion in capital has been allocated. We need to ensure that we keep up social housing provision, but that we are also delivering affordable homes and cost-rental homes as provided for when we passed the Affordable Housing Bill earlier without any dissent in the House. That is a good thing.
One of the key principles of the legislation relates to delivery of affordable housing. Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 make reference to speculation and exploitation. The subsection in the Bill provides that one of the purposes of the Act is to address deficiencies in the housing system and alleviate the shortage of land for housing where the market is experiencing a systemic housing shortage. It is very clear. I cannot accept amendments Nos. 13 and 14.
Amendment No. 34 seeks to insert a new provision that prevents the agency from permitting any private investment funds to purchase land. I remind Senators of what the Government has done recently. We have basically banned the bulk sale of all new properties. Section 57 deals with the disposal of land by the LDA and subsidiary DACs and provides that ministerial approval is required where the LDA or a subsidiary seeks to dispose of land. Ministerial approval is also required because of the change in legislation I introduced very recently where more than one house is being sold as part of a linked transaction. That is specific to the LDA. The agency will not be able to dispose of more than one house to a single purchaser without seeking ministerial approval. That is what we have done. I think the Senator will recognise the importance of that.
Of course, there will be occasions where it may be appropriate to sell more than one home, such as where the LDA is selling to an AHB, perhaps for cost rental, or to a local authority. Ministerial consent would not be required for the disposal of a single house for sale or purchase, but it will be required for multiple units. We are well covered in that space. I know the point the Senator is making. We do not need to see speculation or exploitation, but the Bill as it is structured is all about releasing idle public land for productive use, which will have a calming effect on the rest of the market because we are getting more land into the market to build homes for our people, which is what we wanted to do.
Therefore, I cannot accept amendments Nos. 13, 14 and 34.
I move amendment No. 15
In page 8, line 30, after “practice” to insert “, universal design”.
One of the stated purposes of the Bill is the promotion of best practice in housing development, including best environmental practice, which I hope will include consideration of embodied energy, innovative construction methods and climate adaptive housing. The amendment seeks to include universal design so that we would have homes suitable for people of all ages and crucially homes that are accessible, helping Ireland to meet its obligations under UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD. The Minister will be aware that we have ratified that convention. In dealing with best practice, it would be appropriate to refer explicitly to universal design and the UNCRPD as part of best practice in construction.
Senator Boyhan will remember the previous time the housing committee prepared a detailed report on the complexities of applying universal design across all housing. It would not be practical at the end of the day. We always felt there was an element when designing a complex of housing where a number of units would be designed with universal design in mind so they are protected for people for the long-term future. However, having universal design across all housing is not practically possible. If we were to do so, it would increase the cost of housing substantially. I believe the report indicated it could increase the costs by 7% to 8% per housing unit. I understand the concept the Senator is proposing, but it would not be practical to apply it across all housing. However, we need to consider universal design as a proportion of all housing being built.
I thank both Senators for their contributions. The subsection as currently drafted states that one of the purposes of the legislation is to promote best practice in housing development. This amendment would go further and Senator Casey has dealt with it very well there. The LDA will promote best practice in housing development and in line with this provision will use innovation and innovative construction methods. Like any builder, it will be required to comply with all appropriate building standards that are in place. Universal design is one thing and we also have the design for life. We are moving more towards not needing as many adapted homes as currently. We are well covered with a broader definition within the Bill as it stands without seeking to include a specific reference to universal design. While accepting and recognising why the Senator tabled the amendment, we are well covered in that area and I cannot accept it.
I move amendment No. 20
In page 10, between lines 16 and 17, to insert the following: “ “cost rental dwellings” means dwellings the rent for which is to be calculated so that it covers only the cost of building (not including the cost of site provision but including the cost of any loans), managing and maintaining the dwellings;”.
The subject of amendment No. 20 was discussed at length during the debate on the Affordable Housing Bill and the battle has been somewhat lost regarding the limited profit associations that operate in Germany and Austria. However, in Germany and Austria, limited profit associations are legislated for in respect of cost-rental accommodation, whereas we do not have that. I do not see why ethical investment firms, as the Government side refers to them, could not already build cost-rental dwellings without the need for legislation and to have a limited return unless public money is provided to them. We discussed this matter previously in the debate on the Affordable Housing Bill and I made my displeasure known at that stage.
Amendment No. 77 seeks to ensure that on the LDA land and the land that the agency takes over from the State, local authorities, the OPW, the Prison Service etc., the provision of housing is 100% public housing, that is, cost rental, affordable, affordable purchase and social.I acknowledge the acceptance by the Minister of amendments in respect of this on Committee Stage in the Dáil. They will affect some of the larger towns, with populations of more than 150,000, namely, Dublin and Cork. There are other cities and towns, however, that are affected by this. As a policy, where the LDA takes over land, it should be exclusively for the delivery of long-term public housing, and that is what amendment No. 77 concerns. It will provide for a number of grades, starting with 20% to 40%, in order that each individual site can be then broken up according to what is appropriate. It is unfortunate that in Limerick, for example, which has a very significant need for social and public housing, potentially 70% of the land available there could be sold on to the private market and private developers and lost by the State forever.
The one amendment I will push is No. 77. I ask that the Government take it on board, although I do not expect it to and I acknowledge the moves it has made in respect of Dublin and Cork. They are too limited and I would prefer the provisions to be applied nationwide and to all lands that operate under the LDA.
I will speak to amendment No. 79, which concerns section 75. It states: "In page 49, line 8, to delete 'Minister' and substitute 'relevant local authority'." It is a clerical amendment to change the reference to section 77, which will be amended by our next amendment, No. 84, which we will come to later. As the Bill stands, the Minister may set any percentage he or she wants for the number of houses in a development that will be affordable or cost rental, and we want to change that to make it the decision of the local authority, which is the rationale behind the amendment.
I have a number of amendments in the grouping. I would prefer if my amendment No. 80 were accepted, although I am happy to yield to amendment No. 79, from Senator Boyhan. A number of the amendments in the grouping are related to the question of cost rental. They concern the factoring-in of equity return, which is ultimately an additional cost and one that is unnecessary in the context of cost rental. That is why, with my amendment No. 80, regarding what cost-rental dwellings might be eligible, I have narrowed the definition. Amendment No. 20 seeks to do this as well.
We have talked a great deal about the fiscal opportunity. I have engaged with the Minister over the past year and a half and talked about the window whereby low-cost public financing is available. We are seizing that, but it is important for the record that when we say we should seize the moment in regard to low-cost public financing, we should take steps that will lead to long-term benefit, such as the excellent idea of cost rental. The money can be taken and there can be access to the capital upfront to build something, it will be paid back over a long period and there will be an asset to the State or to an approved housing body at the end.
What we are not saying is that we should use this moment of fiscal opportunity to create future dividends for equity firms. That is the concern of the involvement in this. It is important to recognise that just because financing can be accessed and paid back over a long period now, that will not always be the case. That is why when we talk about good value for money, we want to ensure that in 25 years, the State will be left with an asset it can use to deliver future social public housing. Similarly, in the case of my amendment No. 81, where public land is made available for the purposes of the development of cost-rental dwellings, that public land at the termination of the cost-rental period will revert to public ownership.
The nature of cost rental is such that those who have fronted the money have been paid back for what they have put in. If they are not motivated by profit, it is enough for them to be motivated by being paid back, and there are many provisions and details regarding how they are paid back. If their motivation is equity return, unfortunately from my perspective they get an equity return every year for which they have that investment as well. They do not need to walk away with a property on public land as well at the end of it. That is why amendment No. 81 is so important. The sentiment of my amendments regarding percentages are worded better by the amendment tabled by the Labour Party, so I will not move my amendments in that regard in favour of supporting amendment No. 77, from Senator Moynihan.
Our amendment No. 78 seeks to guarantee 100% social and affordable housing, rather than leave it to the Minister's discretion. While I support the sentiment of the Labour Party amendment No. 77, I am not inclined to support it. The percentages should strive to be 100% social and affordable but should be left to the discretion of each local authority, based on its assessment of local housing needs.
I am sure the Minister will agree that every opportunity should be availed of to provide 100% public housing on public land where it is needed and that he will support that. We should remember that, as drafted, the legislation provided for 30% and that, in fairness to the Minister, that was increased to 50%, while the Part V provision was increased by a further 10%, which brought it to 70%. The Minister then increased it to 80% and 20% for the cities of Dublin and Cork, and that must be recognised.
It does not always work out that when a policy has been drafted at national level, it works its way down to county level. In the north of my county, Wicklow, I know that if there was public land there, it would be used 100% for public housing. Moving farther into the more rural areas of the county, however, we would probably be trying to attract in private investment and build private housing along with public, cost-rental and affordable housing. We all agree that public land should be used for public housing, but we also must recognise that sometimes there is a need to bring in some private housing to create the mix of communities we all desire. I could highlight areas in Wicklow that are crying out for private housing rather than social housing. We need to incentivise that, and in the case of public land, we probably could create a better mix.
I fully accept the idea of 100% public housing for public land, but there are cases where we need that flexibility. Moreover, I am not in favour of central government dictating all the way down to local level. We need to give that flexibility regarding the type of housing down the line.
I agree with my colleague Senator Casey. The importance of the legislation relates to the flexibility. I know of specific similar cases in Wexford where in order to get the development up and running, we will need to attract in a private developer, and that will mean allowing for a mix of types of housing on the land. We could say about some of these sites that we will be very ideological and that there will be only social and affordable housing on the sites, but that may mean those homes will never be built. It is important that we do not tie people's hands.
The Minister has moved considerably, particularly in urban areas where it is almost easier to direct the building of social and affordable housing, but for many rural areas, that represents a much greater challenge. It should be acknowledged how far he has gone. Like Senator Casey, I am not in favour of a centralised control whereby the Minister would direct exactly what should be done throughout the country. With the Office of the Planning Regulator, we have seen some of the difficulties regarding allegedly centralised control.I do not think we should move to that situation. Local circumstances will demand a local response. As the Minister said earlier, if we could get more than 100,000 homes built solely on public land tomorrow morning, it would be fantastic. However, the problem is not going to be solved by a centrally driven ideological approach. It has to be examined case by case. Outside of the major urban areas, a partnership with the private sector may be required. If we were to take too rigid an approach, as per these amendments, it would present some problems.
Another question that needs to be asked, and which is core to some of the discussion around ideology, is what is the problem people have with the private sector? There is a notion that the private sector is some sort of evil body. In most cases, the private sector in local communities are local builders. They want to contribute to the construction of social and affordable homes, but they know they need to get the right mix within the local community. They are committed to the community. That may mean some private homes needs to be built on the site to make the overall project viable.
The Minister's flexibility on all of this should be acknowledged. It is essential we allow some flexibility, particularly outside of the major urban areas.
There are a number of issues amalgamating here. One concerns the Office of the Planning Regulator. Has the Land Development Agency engaged with local authorities that currently are compiling their area, county or city development plans? We must learn from the past. We must not replicate the mistakes we made in previous generations. That is why, in section 77(2)(c), reference is made to the need to counteract undue segregation in housing between persons of different social backgrounds. As Senator Byrne said, we all want to deliver the right mixture of housing for our fellow citizens. If I am honest, my natural inclination would be to support the Labour Party amendment. We need to get the mix right. To be fair to the Minister, he has come on a huge journey in terms of the percentages in the context of what we are delivering. I will not repeat what other Members have said.
Affordable and social housing is being built and developed on public land. I am thinking of two sites in Cork in particular, namely, St. Kevin's and Boherboy Road. There is also a third site in the docklands of 146 acres. This Government has awarded the local authority the largest amount of money ever to regenerate Cork city and to include social and affordable housing as part of that development. The Minister is right. It suits the narrative of some not to recognise the awarding of €2.1 billion. Do we know what €2.1 billion is and what it will deliver and the empowerment it will give to citizens to have their own home? Do Members know what €2.1 billion is? As I said earlier in the Chamber, we can have a hooley in the land of milk and honey, but some of us live in the land of reality. We can record a 60-second video segment, but it will not build a house. Senator Byrne is 100% correct. Many of the builders I know are living in the community, employing in the community and contributing to the community. Some may argue they are making a profit. That is their job. Are we telling the local hoteliers and restaurateurs they should charge for rooms and meals at below cost? Of course, we are not.
I am all for, and support, the concept behind what Senator Moynihan is trying to achieve in her amendment. My concern, however, is that, on another level, we are not going to engage with the Office of the Planning Regulator and we are going to tie the hands of local authorities. I am thinking in particular of Cork, where parts of the city were located within the county boundaries previously and there is a planning problem. A logjam is being created there. I do not recall which Member said it previously. At one level, the policy is brilliant but the practicality of it on the ground is completely different. The one thing I do not want to do is to centralise the power completely in the hands of the Minister or the officials in the Custom House because I trust the officials in Cork city and county, for example, to do the right thing. Looking at the plans that have been drawn up for the Boherboy Road and St. Kevin's developments, not one person in this Chamber would vote against them. There was a segment in a radio programme today about the criteria for selection and the waiting list. We could have the ideological debate all night. Do we really want to have houses built and public lands utilised or do we just want to create the political football and fail to recognise the views and needs of people? If those of us who are practising politicians listen to messages from people, whether it is in by-elections, door-to-door canvassing, in shopping centres or when we meet them elsewhere, it is clear they want Government to act and deliver. They are tired of the sloganeering and the soundbite politics. They want houses delivered. They want to see bricks and mortar put on public lands in the context of this Bill.
The whole incentivisation piece is one that I think we should discuss further. I said as much today in the debate on the Finance (Covid-19 and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. I will return to the issue in respect of another section.
We need to drive it on. It is about building. It is about the public realm in our cities and counties that will be delivering housing for people. That is the essence of what we should always keep at the forefront of what we do.
I thank the Senators for the amendments and the contributions they have made. I will not detain the House any longer than I have to on these amendments other than to state I cannot accept amendments Nos. 20 and 77 to 81, inclusive. I wish to explain some of the rationale that has been addressed as part of the discussion.
Amendment No. 20 seeks to amend section 4, which provides definitions of references made in the Bill. I already made substantial amendments previously. I brought forward amendments in Part 9 on Report Stage in the Dáil to align the provisions of this Part more closely with the recently published Affordable Housing Bill and Part V of the Planning and Development Act. As part of these amendments, a new definition of cost rental has been included in section 74. That is why I cannot not accept amendment No. 20 as tabled by the Labour Party Senators. There is a new definition that is fully aligned with the Affordable Housing Bill. We needed to make sure that happened as both Bills pass through both Houses. It ensures the cost rental housing delivered under this Land Development Agency Bill is exactly in line with the definitions set out in the Affordable Housing Bill. It provides that any affordable housing delivered on relevant public lands by the Land Development Agency or any other developer for purchase or cost rental will be fully in accordance with the provisions of Part 2 of the Affordable Housing Bill.Senator Casey and Senator Buttimer already mentioned the changes that we made, especially in urban areas of population of over 150,000 like Cork and Dublin, where, by the way, affordability is at its most acute. That is why in those areas we have upped the rate to 80% of affordable housing. When we include the Part V provision of 20%, it is 100% affordable and social there.
Senator Byrne mentioned a pertinent point around the mix. We made some changes around the phrase "undue segregation". We do not want communities to be segregated and I agree with every Senator who says that. A Senator may say he does not want communities to be segregated on the basis of social background or the type of housing. However, if we double down by simply saying it must be all public in a given place, then we are bringing about that segregation. We must look at areas where it is more appropriate to allow flexibility. There are parts of the country where no private homes are being built because of a viability issue. Basically, the only homes being built in some areas, especially in areas near the Border and midlands, are public homes. Then there are many people who cannot qualify for those homes. We have to try to get the mix right. This can be through what we did earlier with the Affordable Housing Bill and through the LDA in areas where it will operate by activating the land and getting it back into use. It is far more appropriate for the developer of a site to agree the appropriate tenure mix for affordable housing.
Every Senator has mentioned the local authority being central to this. Who are developers going to agree the mix with? It will be with the planning authority, which is the local authority, as part of the planning process. That is the most appropriate place for it.
On the one hand we have some Senators backing local authorities and saying they want local authorities to do it, but on the other hand they want to tie the hands of local authorities by setting a specific percentage. I understand and respect why it is being set. It is not that I disagree with anything in it but I believe we are being far too prescriptive so I cannot accept that.
Everyone knows the provision of affordable housing is of the utmost priority for those of us in the Government. When the legislation was first drafted and published, work was not completed on the Affordable Housing Bill. That is why I made the changes to section 9. The aim was to align the affordable housing definitions directly with the LDA because both tranches of legislation will deliver significantly on the affordable housing side. It is appropriate that the delivery of affordable housing under this Bill is linked for the first time to actual definitions within the Affordable Housing Bill for cost-rental affordable purchase.
Amendment No. 79 is about the percentage to be developed on relevant public land. I am opposing the amendment for many of the reasons I have outlined.
Amendments Nos. 80 and 81 seek to introduce limits on cost-rental dwellings under the Bill. I am unsure whether that is something we would want to do. Again, it would be removing input from those who know best. I will not accept these amendments as any cost-rental housing delivered on relevant public lands either by the LDA or another developer will be provided fully in accordance with the provisions of Part 3 of the Affordable Housing Bill.
I thank the Senators for tabling the amendments but I will not be accepting any of them.
I move amendment No. 21:
In page 11, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following: “(3) Notwithstanding subsection (1), the following shall not be relevant public land for the purposes of this Act:(a) any land that is being managed, maintained or developed as a nature reserve or a national park by the National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Housing, Heritage and Local Government;
(b) any land that is being managed, maintained or developed as a heritage site by the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland; and
(c) the Phoenix Park, Dublin.”.
I had hoped this would have been accepted on Committee Stage in the Dáil. The amendment is to ensure any public land that goes to the LDA which is under the control of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the Department, the Commissioners of Public Works or in the Phoenix Park in Dublin is not transferred to the LDA.
It is important that certain lands within the country have a great amenity purpose. From time to time there are proposals on the table, especially when we move in and out of the boom and bust housing cycles that we have had from the foundation of the State. We had them in 1970s, 1990s, 2000s and so on. There is always a call or something of a move to build on or provide housing on certain sites. I want to ensure limits if we are transferring land to the LDA. We do not necessarily have the accountability in the LDA that we have when land is under the control of a Minister. We want to ensure these lands are not transferred.
I had thought that it was self-explanatory and that the Government would have accepted it. The provision tries to ensure that the Bill is future-proofed. I am not suggesting that the Minister has any proposals like that on the table but I believe it is important for future-proofing.
I will come to another amendment that I have proposed which might seem a little strange. It has to do with co-living and student accommodation on LDA lands. I will give an example of why I put this in. Last summer I put in-----
I am speaking to the background to it.
The Meath Hospital site in Dublin 8 was in control of the LDA. I put in four parliamentary questions to see if co-living accommodation was to be built on it. The four parliamentary replies that I got back said it was not. I know it was under consideration by the LDA.
This is trying to future-proof it, as the other amendment is. It is to try to ensure that the LDA, the board of the LDA or certain people involved on the board of the LDA are unable to do these things. It is there to copper-fasten.
I am happy to co-sign this amendment. I saw it put forward in the Dáil and had expected that it would be accepted because it is eminently sensible. We talk about public land. It is about making clear that certain kinds of land serve other purposes that are core to the public good and are part of our responsibility in terms of biodiversity, the environment and public amenity. This includes lands that are national parks, heritage sites and the Phoenix Park. It is especially important that we copper-fasten this. The Minister will be aware of the concerns now that the heritage portfolio has fused with the housing portfolio. Some of the normal checks and balances we might have had between Departments may not be in place. It is useful to show or indicate the importance of the heritage part of the housing, local government and heritage remit by excluding certain lands with a core heritage function from potential transfer to the LDA. I may bring a version of this amendment on Report Stage that would look to special areas of conservation and national heritage areas. It would be appropriate that they would not be transferred to the LDA.
I had the privilege to grow up surrounded by a national park. I grew up beside one of our greatest heritage sites. When I saw this amendment I was unsure whether I was reading it correctly. I cannot for a moment see the LDA approaching any of these lands in respect of development. However, I understand the concerns that the Senators have raised. We have county development plans under which all these lands are protected. Section 52(3), which relates to the report that has to be provided by the LDA, states:
In providing a report under subsection (2) the Agency shall, in relation to each parcel of land referred to in the report, take account of: (a) the objectives of the development plan and local area plan in force for the area where the land is situated;
(b) any masterplan affecting the land ...
All of these lands are protected by legislation and the development plan process in every county. I cannot fathom, even with the greatest stretch of my imagination, how the LDA would look at any of these parcels of land with an eye to the potential of building houses.
I look forward to the Minister's response to this and to a confirmation that neither the LDA nor the Government have any intention of building homes in the Phoenix Park. I wish that the Office of Public Works would renovate some of the vacant homes in the park and make them available to be inhabited. A good number of the park lodges have been lying empty for far too long. As Senator Casey said, local authorities all over the country spend the best part of two years every five years making development plans for their counties. They take great care and interest in the management of the lands within their local authority areas. It is with that great care and interest that they make zoning decisions. There is no suggestion from this Government or the Department that any lands that have been zoned which are not zoned for housing would be built on. Phoenix Park is a UNESCO heritage site. Most of the lands are protected through zoning and other designations under planning. I look forward to the Minister confirming that. There has been much miscommunication about what the Land Development Agency will do. It would be an alarmist message if it was to go out of this House tonight that we are in any way supporting the destruction of or building on any of our heritage sites or indeed open green spaces and recreational areas, which are so valuable to us, not just here in the city but also to communities all around the country.
In the context of the amendment, I understand and agree with the remarks of my colleagues. I do not envisage any of the lands in question being developed. I am thinking of Regional Park Ballincollig and Fitzgerald's Park in Cork. I have a question arising from the amendment about old, disused Garda barracks and Army buildings. Some retired members of our Defence Forces need housing. How can we use those types of dwellings to assist in the provision of housing for these men, in particular, who have served our State?
I have a question about the county and city development plans. We have all seen the utilisation of public space in a better way. Cork has 17 streets pedestrianised. We need more green spaces and public parks rather than fewer. Like Senator Fitzpatrick, I do not think that any of us are seeking a debate about using national parks for the development of housing but some buildings can be used to assist in the provision of housing. That should be considered but nobody from our side of the House has any notion of developing those places. As Senator Casey said, we have the buffer of the city and county development plans at any rate.
I do not want to be too provocative but I want to say that I know where Senator Moynihan is coming from. I will use this opportunity to talk about the Phoenix Park. There is vast real estate in the Phoenix Park which I have had the privilege of visiting recently. Many Senators will know that the HSE has St. Mary's Hospital in the Phoenix Park, which has significant issues with dereliction. There is an old military school, which is empty and derelict. There is a beautiful Anglican church, which is locked up. There are amazing mews and old military buildings. It is an amazing place. I would love to see it developed and I would like to see houses and homes in it.
The LDA is developing Shanganagh Castle, which is an amazing site. It was once a prison. A beautiful building will come back to the local authority. The LDA has an amazing plan for the Central Mental Hospital. They are all purpose-built, period, amazing buildings. Had the local authority and a number of other people gone inside, they would have made everything protected structures and we would not be doing anything there either. We can be imaginative. They do not all have to be institutional, modern buildings. I believe that the LDA has the capacity, and I am confident that it has the willingness, to attract architects, designers and new people to reimagine our built living space. Why can we not have public realm, theatres and interaction at the top? Why must everywhere have shops on the ground floor, offices on the next floor and three or four residential floors? Turn it all on its head. I do not know if anyone has been to Malmö in Sweden, where there are theatres and libraries at the top of buildings. It is a matter of reimagining the opportunities to build.
I am not singling out the Phoenix Park but we cannot stand over the amount of amazing buildings in this national park that could be put to use. A number of gate lodges are all derelict and empty, all of which are protected structures. There are buildings all around the park. There is a substantial opportunity to develop St. Mary's Hospital and the military barracks, which are at the edge of the park, at the lower road. Perhaps we have the foresight, vision and boldness to move out and close down the clapped out, disgraceful facilities that are there. Everybody will know about St. Mary's Hospital from television and various news media over the last year. The staff do a great job. Many of the patients have no alternative services. Would it not be fantastic if we could have a financial package that would see everyone transferred out of there and a new development and purpose-built health facility for the people who were there?
There are many barracks in this city. They will be politically difficult for people to take on board but many could be relocated and the buildings could be turned into housing schemes. I support what Senator Moynihan is talking about. I did not want to let this opportunity go without highlighting the vast real estate and potential in the Phoenix Park. We should have the courage, guts, energy and imagination to develop them appropriately and sensitively, to revitalise that part of our city. With all this amazing public realm all around us, would any one of us not want to live up there? Let us get out of the box, imagine, push out the boundaries, and empower the LDA to look at projects like this. That would be a good day's work.
It is nearly a case of repetition at this stage so I will be brief. When I looked at this amendment, I was surprised. I respect the right of Senator Moynihan and indeed any of her colleagues. I would never be against people tabling amendments. It is unfortunate that we have created a debate as if somebody on the Government side of the House had this in mind. This has come from an amendment from the Opposition. As far as I am aware, nobody is in favour of development on these open spaces. That is quite clear. I am protective of open spaces. Senator Boyhan made a point about derelict sites in Phoenix Park and other areas that have been neglected. Doing something with those would be perfect. To support Senators Casey, Fitzpatrick and Byrne, nobody on this side of the House is saying that anything in this Bill will try to take over some of these areas of natural beauty, which are so important to all our people, for building houses. I look forward to the Minister clarifying the matter this evening, once and for all, because I do not think it exists. It is unfortunate that sometimes we start these arguments when there is no truth to them at all.
I agree with comments from my colleagues. I know Senator Moynihan is genuine in her belief about the provision of public housing but I was disappointed with the Labour Party's approach to this. It stated that following the establishment of the Land Development Agency, it would have compulsory purchase powers and would be able to take over large tracts of land in areas such as the Phoenix Park to turn into public housing.As Senator Casey outlined, there are clear safeguards and protections in place in legislation today. As Senator Murphy said, it is unfortunate that this approach is being taken. I agree with Senators Fitzpatrick and Boyhan, who have said that there are under-utilised buildings on many Office of Public Works, OPW, lands and not just in the Phoenix Park. We can be more imaginative in using those. For a long time, there has been talk about an official residence for the Taoiseach. Why not use some of the under-utilised buildings in the Phoenix Park for that purpose? I do not necessarily expect the Minister to comment directly on that. There are many under-utilised public buildings. We could be more imaginative in terms of how we use them. It was unfortunate that the LDA was presented as seeking to take over some of this land that is valuable to all of us.
There are 268 acres in Malahide Castle. I wonder why that land is not covered in the amendment because obviously, we want to build on that too. This amendment was not moved with as much gusto in the Dáil by the acting spokesperson, Deputy Duncan Smith. Even Deputy Smith understood the purpose of this amendment. If one was ever to look at creating an issue out of a non-issue, this is probably one of the most spectacular examples of it. It is a magnificent misrepresentation and manipulation of the facts. Senator Byrne was right. The debate has taken place in good faith this evening. However, everyone knows that the aim here is to have a register of relevant public land identified in one place. Other Senators are talking about bringing amendments on heritage sites, and this type of thing. That creates an idea that the LDA is the bogeyman under the bed. We might as well put in the GPO so that we can say we will not convert the GPO into co-living apartments. That is where we are getting to with this type of amendment. The Bill deals with relevant public lands in ownership of public bodies in areas with a population of over 10,000. The Senator may know this from the research she did when she tabled this amendment, as well as from all the publicity that was garnered from this amendment over the past number of months.
Section 3 of the Phoenix Park Act 1925 confirms that the park is for the general purpose, recreation and enjoyment of the public. That is the clear position. Senator Casey has rightly said we have copper-fastening of county and city development plans all over the place. This is not what the LDA is going to do. All Senators know that. We all know that this is not the case. It is a register of public land. This is an example of raising an issue to say anything - an amendment has been proposed just in case the LDA is going to build in the courtyard of Dublin Castle. It will not do so. It will not transfer Dublin Castle out of the OPW to build apartments. It just simply will not. We have spent longer on this amendment than it warrants. I will not be accepting it.
I am glad that the Minister has pointed out that co-living will not be built in Dublin Castle. However, the LDA wanted to build co-living on one of its sites last year. I put down four parliamentary questions. Each of the replies that came back said that it did not.
Absolutely you did. The board of the LDA discussed putting co-living on a public site, which was the former Meath Hospital. I want to clarify that. We can have such situations with the board of the LDA, or with people involved with the board of the LDA. This Bill says that the LDA has the ability to acquire land by compulsory purchase order if it is of strategic importance or if it is needed to connect sites. The legal protections that apply to the Phoenix Park do not apply to the OPW-owned lands in Farmleigh. The LDA is not accountable to the Oireachtas. It is accountable to the Minister. Under the powers that the LDA will have, it could potentially decide that it is going to connect up sites in the Castleknock and Blanchardstown areas of west Dublin and it needs a portion of land to do so. I am not saying this would happen under this Government. It is this type of thing that the amendment is trying to protect against. Again, in national parks such as Killarney National Park, there is a land population. I am not saying that this is going to happen, and I do not think it will. There will certainly be enough public land available to the LDA. However, co-living brought home to me how the board of the LDA might think in terms of things like that. I am seeking to copper-fasten in legislation that they will not be able to do these things.
As a member of the Green Party, I thought it would be appropriate for me to come in on this matter. I thank the Minister for clarifying that this Bill is not doing anything more than what it says. It is not changing any legislation, unless the Bill specifically says that it is changing legislation. There is no legislation being changed that will put in jeopardy lands that are mentioned here, such as lands under the National Parks and Wildlife Service. I am not entirely sure why the Phoenix Park has been singled out. There are lands all over the country. However, I thank the Minister for putting that on the record. We need to be careful that people do not worry about the lands they use for recreation and, quite apart from that, our nature reserves all over this country. This is important to us. We certainly would not sign up to or vote through anything without having checked this.
I welcome Senator O'Reilly’s intervention. We should be having a wider debate on Senator Boyhan’s contribution in the context of how we can develop in tandem with the LDA to work in partnership with local authorities, the Army, the Garda or whoever in looking at different models around the development of housing. We should not be afraid to be ambitious and different. If this means having an honest conversation, let us have it. I often look at this, as a member of the Constitutional Convention. I think the Minister was on it also. He mentioned Malahide. The Citizens’ Assembly and the Constitutional Convention have done a power of work. This is an area we could look at, if Oireachtas committees have not done so. We must look differently now.
Senator Boyhan mentioned the city of Malmö. He and I have been in other cities, such as Geneva, where we saw a model of housing being developed that is different from here. As the world evolves and changes, we should look at how we can remodel and refit some of our public buildings. I go back to my fundamental point, which is that there is a need to reincentivise, to reinvent and to provide for affordable, cost-rental or social housing in parts of our cities where there are buildings lying idle for a variety of reasons, such as dereliction. In some cases, councils do not have the wherewithal to develop. The living over the shop scheme, for a variety of reasons, has not worked. That needs to be looked at again. There are parts of this city, of my own city and of other cities, where we can-----
In relation to national parks, amendment No. 21 refers to "any land that is being managed, maintained or developed as a nature reserve or a national park by the National Parks and Wildlife Service". That is why Killarney National Park was appropriate to be discussed at the time.
On the basis that it is misleading, I ask Senator Moynihan to withdraw the amendment. She has created a debate that is not necessary. The Minister has replied as to how the Phoenix Park is protected. She made some reference to the old site of the Meath Hospital, which is a completely different scenario. I ask the Senator to consider withdrawing it.
Every Senator has had an opportunity to discuss national parks in their constituency. I would have great concerns if there was potential to have anything built on the Burren, other than the retention of the dolmen that is currently in existence. I would not want that ancient burial ground desecrated in any way. It is appropriate we discuss these matters.
I move amendment No. 22:
In page 12, line 2, after “may,” to insert “following consultation with the relevant Oireachtas Committee and”.
We all represent the State and we have heard a lot of reference to State land. The concern is not any one place or area but that land going to the Land Development Agency is no longer State land. We will come to that later. There is a specific provision that says it will not be and that concern comes later. Amendment No. 22 provides an appropriate consultation point in the relevant Oireachtas committee, which can bring together different perspectives from different parts of the country and provide insights.
Senator Boyhan wants to speak on amendments Nos. 23 and 24. They relate to a key concern of the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, that the content of any direction under this section be published in Iris Oifigiúil, a national newspaper and the websites of the Minister and the Land Development Agency.
Amendment No. 23 is another of the amendments the AILG brought to the joint Oireachtas committee and subsequently wrote to the members asking for their support. It states:
In page 12, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following: “(5) The Minister, in giving a direction under subsection (1), shall publish the contents of such a direction in, Iris Oifigiúil, being the official Irish State gazette, at least one national newspaper and the Agency shall publish on its website the same contents, where a copy of the direction may be seen at all reasonable times.”.
The amendment provides for the publication of any direction given to the agency by the Minister for housing who "may ... give a direction in writing to the Agency or a subsidiary DAC, in relation to the performance of its functions under this Act, requiring it to comply with such policies of the Government as are specified in the [definition]."
In the interests of transparency, it is essential that such direction-ordering is not done behind closed doors and that, to the greatest extent possible, the functioning of the agency happens in the open and that many people whose lives are to be affected by the agency and its work are kept abreast of any developments or changes in how the agency considers its business. I hope the Minister will consider the rationale and accept the amendment. However, it appears he might not be accepting any amendments.
I have huge understanding of where the Senator is coming from on this. It is critical we give local authorities and their members, irrespective of our constituencies or none, a key role in this. A point we should also dwell upon concerns the creation of the offices of the Land Development Agency in Cork, Dublin and Limerick, including how they are populated and their role and remit, in keeping with what Senator Boyhan has said. The Senator could have included in his amendment the whole thing around the office of the Land Development Agency. It brings into question the role of the strategic policy committees of our local authorities, which have specialised members in association with the elected members.
A mapping exercise was carried out by the Land Development Agency on public lands. In the context of this section and its performance under the Act, surely a synergy must be developed with the local authority committee of housing or the local authority, whether Cork City Council or Kerry County Council, to ensure there is transparency rather than a veil of secrecy, as Senator Boyhan has called for and I agree with him. It is critical that there is confidence in the Land Development Agency and how it delivers.
Senators Boyhan and Higgins referenced Iris Oifigiúiland the national newspaper. I ask Senator Boyhan if we have to put the planning notice in a national newspaper and on the website. The types of newspapers available are changing. Meanwhile, many people are looking to varying sites for information and the website is not sufficient. We need to embrace other possibilities in that regard.
We have seen the mapping exercise carried out. We need to see action on that. I would like to see a greater role for the strategic policy committees of councils in the overarching direction and delivery of policy and in working on the futuristic vision of a city or county. In Cork, we have had the Cork land use and transportation study, LUTS, in the 1960s and 1970s, the Cork area strategic plan and now metropolitan Cork. We saw developments last week with BusConnects, which is not relevant to this but is part of the overarching policy. In the context of the Land Development Agency, I am afraid we have seen Government give an inordinate amount of money to the development of the Cork docklands and that will be lost in the delivery.
I accept and appreciate that. I accept I strayed. There is merit in what Senator Boyhan is trying to achieve.We want transparency but we should examine the role of the strategic policy committees, SPCs, on our councils and how they can be better populated to deliver better outcomes for councils.
I wish to add to what Senator Boyhan said about transparency. Publication in Iris Oifigiúil is one element of this but how the members of the board of the agency are appointed, what interests they must declare, the manner of their appointment, the constitutional balance of the board and how often the board must report to the Minister are all elements of transparency. We heard about the importance of policy and the input of local authorities but it is important to remember that an authority's powers under section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001 are still limited in this legislation. That is the most important area of policy in respect of the disposal of land and it needs to be addressed. We also talk about local development plans. Many such plans are still in development. Is it the old plan or the new plan that gets an input? When talking about transparency and engagement with local authorities, many constructive proposals have been made that would strengthen these areas of the Bill. This amendment regarding Iris Oifigiúil is one of them.
I concur with Senators Boyhan and Higgins on the need for the highest standards of accountability and transparency in any State agency or organisation. However, the provisions made in respect of the LDA mean that it will be accountable not only to the Minister and the Government, but to the Oireachtas. It will be accountable to all Oireachtas joint committees, the Committee of Public Accounts and the Comptroller and Auditor General. It will be subject to freedom of information legislation and will rely on the planning authorities for planning permission for any developments it seeks to undertake, which it will do in partnership with our local authorities. They are ably represented by our local authority members, who defend and champion their community's interests at every opportunity. I have observed the agency with regard to communications on its website and it has made the database publicly available. That is the valuable information and it can be argued that it is, initially, the most valuable contribution the agency can make to helping us all to address the housing crisis. It is compiling and assembling a publicly available database, which will be open to public scrutiny. There could not be more transparency. The minutes of board meetings are posted on the website and are freely available to the public. As I have said, the organisation is accountable not only to the Government, but to the Oireachtas and to all of its organs, and is also subject to freedom of information legislation. These are very valuable mechanisms to ensure there is full accountability and transparency. With regard to stipulating that a direction must be published in a national newspaper, while I am a reader of newspapers myself, who among us knows whether there will be national newspapers, international newspapers or newspapers at all in 50 or 100 years? I am sure the Minister will confirm this but I believe the highest standards of governance, accountability and transparency have to be met by the LDA. I know the rest of my party agrees with that and I believe the Minister is legislating to ensure it.
I agree with colleagues and with what Senator Fitzpatrick said. It is important that there be accountability and transparency but there is also a need for education among the wider public so that people can understand what the agency is doing, its purposes and its objectives. The mapping will be interesting. As citizens, we should be able to access maps and know what purposes are assigned to land. It is all very well to publish this information on as many sites and in as many newspapers as possible and to publish it inIris Oifigiúil, but the reality is that Iris Oifigiúil is only read by civil servants, academics, cranks and nerds. There is a certain degree of overlap between some of those groups. The crucial issue is ensuring that there is a broader understanding of what the LDA is trying to do and of how to use land effectively. Our councillors and citizens more generally should have a means by which to have input or to ask questions. The design of the website will be important. Many people cannot decipher planning notices, for instance. We need things to be in plain English so that they are accessible and can be used.
I also agree with Senator Buttimer about the greater use of SPCs, which is related to this. Information on these committees at local authority level should be provided. Some are very innovative. I appreciate that the Cathaoirleach thinks I am straying-----
I thank the Senators for their contributions. Many different points were raised, all of which are valid. With regard to plans for local authorities and what their SPCs do, I have always been at pains to say that I firmly believe in rebalancing the power between local elected members and the executive in local authorities. We need to empower our councillors and we are certainly trying to do so.
With regard to the amendments of Senators Boyhan and Higgins, I will finish as I started and say that I will not be accepting them, although I understand why the Senators have tabled them. I will briefly explain why I am not accepting them. I oppose them as it is a standard provision that a Minister may make regulations or issue ministerial directions as and when required without prior consultation with an Oireachtas committee. If we were to accept the amendments, we would be doing something completely different. We would be tying the hands of any future Minister, not just mine. Regulations and ministerial directions will be made in accordance with the Bill, which will be enacted following the approval of the Oireachtas. It is normal, as part of the governance of State agencies, that Ministers can issue directions to State agencies. Most of these directions are policy directions and generally relate to the implementation of Government policy. The LDA will be required to comply with any direction issued to it.
Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 seek to insert a new subsection on specific publication arrangements for ministerial directions. I cannot accept these amendments as it is not standard procedure for ministerial directions to be published in such a way. Under section 9, the Minister may give a ministerial direction following review of a report compiled by the LDA and such directions shall be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas and will be freely available for examination.
Senator Fitzpatrick put it well when she mentioned the other checks and balances we are putting in place that were not part of the original general scheme, which has evolved right the way through. I am referring to the general scheme of a Bill in the previous Oireachtas. These measures include the application of legislation on freedom of information and lobbying and reports to the Oireachtas joint committee. All of these appropriate measures now apply to the LDA. However, we do not want to strangle an agency before it gets going. The vast majority of us agree that we need an agency that will deliver homes for our people on underutilised State-owned lands. Senator Buttimer has given us good examples, including examples of where the agency can be transformative in Cork. In many instances, the agency will work in partnership with local authorities to bring their expertise to the development of bigger sites. We need to show delivery and that is why it is important that the agency breaks grounds on its first site this year before speeding up from there so that people can see what it does. As Senator Byrne correctly said, there is work to do in informing people of what the reality of this agency is. We spent a fair bit of time this evening talking about what the agency will never do.It is the responsibility of all legislators to make sure the issues they raise are genuine and that we do not act in a way that leads to any misinformation, misinterpretation or manipulation of the reality of this matter. There is nothing to be feared from this agency. It represents what we should doing, that is, putting our lands to use for the good of our people, particularly in a housing crisis. We are determined and we are making progress. We will see that progress through. I thank the Senators for tabling the amendments. I appreciate their tabling them but I will not be accepting them.
The Minister did not mention the development of the offices. He might revert to me on that.
The Land Development Agency website needs to be more up to date. The Minister might also revert to me on mapping exercise I spoke about. We have seen on the website the number of projects to be delivered. To go back to Senator Boyhan's remarks, many of the sites were the sites of old barracks. That reinforces the view, which I share, that they need to be developed. We need to be imaginative in our approach. The Minister might revert to me regarding the offices in Cork, the website and the mapping exercise.
We are to finish now but, before doing so, I want to make the point that we should not be sitting this late. I am a member of the Ceann Comhairle's forum on a family-friendly and inclusive Parliament. We can expect some strong recommendations on late sittings. They are not conducive to good policy.
I move amendment No. 23:
In page 12, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following: "(5) The Minister, in giving a direction under subsection (1), shall publish the contents of such a direction in, Iris Oifigiúil, being the official Irish State gazette, at least one national newspaper and the Agency shall publish on its website the same contents, where a copy of the direction may be seen at all reasonable times.".
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 12, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following: "(5) The content of any direction under this section shall be published in Iris Oifiguil; in at least one national newspaper; and on the websites of the Minister and of the Land Development Agency.".
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 12, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following: "(5) Any direction under this section shall have regard to any City or County Development Plan, Local Area Plan, or any other statutory plan made by a local authority.".
Amendments Nos. 25 and-----
Amendment No. 25 relates to the development plans. My key concern is that many development plans have been delayed, as the Minister will be aware. Where a new development plan is being produced, it and the new vision of the relevant local authority should be central to the considerations in the engagement with the Land Development Agency. That would be appropriate. It would allow-----
The question is to be put at the conclusion of the debate, which was not to exceed 135 minutes. We started at 7.48 p.m. so the end time is designated as 10.03 p.m. The time permitted for the debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with the order of the Seanad of this day: "That amendment No. 25 is hereby negatived in Committee, in respect of each of the sections undisposed of, the section is hereby agreed to in Committee, Schedules 1 to 3, inclusive, are hereby agreed to in Committee, and the Title is hereby agreed to in Committee."
Catherine Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, , Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Martin Conway, Ollie Crowe, John Cummins, Emer Currie, Aidan Davitt, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Mary Fitzpatrick, Robbie Gallagher, Róisín Garvey, , Seán Kyne, Tim Lombard, John McGahon, Eugene Murphy, Fiona O'Loughlin, Pauline O'Reilly, Ned O'Sullivan, Mary Seery Kearney, Barry Ward, Diarmuid Wilson.