Thursday, 15 July 2021
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Report and Final Stages
I welcome the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, to the House.
Before we commence, I remind the House that a Senator may only speak once on Report Stage except that the proposer of an amendment may reply to the discussion on the amendment. Also, on Report Stage, each amendment must be seconded.
Amendment No. 1 has been ruled out of order.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 9, to delete lines 18 to 21 and substitute the following: “order to achieve the purposes specified in this section,(s) to achieve the best possible social and economic return, consistent with the purposes of this Act, from the use of relevant public land under and in accordance with this Act, and
(t) to continue the essential involvement of members of local authorities in the disposal of relevant public land as outlined in section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001, notwithstanding section 58.”.
I again welcome the Minister to the House. While I did not think it would happen this way, I am particularly pleased that these two amendments are being taken right at the beginning of the debate. For many years I was a councillor on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. I know the Minister used to be a councillor, as have many Members of this House. I took a lot of trouble to look at the record of the House and I am very happy to share all this with the Minister. I want to be positive, as he is.
At the outset, I say that I genuinely support the bulk of the Bill. I have a strong record in supporting it. I have always said I do not have any hang-up about the public sector working with the private sector. Senator Cummins has emphasised that in his contributions. I am a former Progressive Democrat counsellor who advocated for the private sector and I have never apologised for that. I believe it is using all our resources and all our tools to get houses built. This is one very important aspect of it.
I think many things are coming right for the Minister. I am sure he is looking forward to his summer holidays, as we are, because he is clearly getting a considerable amount of legislation tidied up and hopefully finished. I genuinely wish the Minister the best of luck with his housing for all policy next week. As a member of the committee, I will continue to actively engage with the Minister on its objectives and aspirations.
The Minister might note that I did not pursue any of the other amendments because I wanted to keep the focus on this one. If there was ever one single issue of importance, it is this issue. I said previously that the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, drafted these amendments. I share that body's concerns on these issues and it shared these documents. Members of the AILG along with the Local Authority Members Association appeared before the committee. They strongly voiced their concern over the disposal.
We know what a section 183 disposal is. For those who are not in the Chamber and would not be familiar with it, I will take two or three minutes of my time to explain. There are reserved functions and there are executive functions in local government. The executive functions are clearly for the executive and the reserve functions are for the elected members. Section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001, as amended, provides for a disposal notice. It empowers the local authority members to have a veto, for want of a better word, over the disposal of leases that are over 12 months or freehold or disposal of properties. They could be sites, derelict lands or properties. It covers a range of issues. The system has served the country and local authorities well.
The manager, now the chief executive, is required to present a report to the elected members. In that he is required to provide a map. He is required to give a history of the thing. He is required to set out if there are any encumbrances or difficulties relating to the disposal or any conditions prior to that. To the best of his knowledge he must set out the history of how the property came into the hands of the local authority and the reason for now proposing its disposal. Those reports are sent to the elected members. They consider them and take their own soundings. Invariably councillors have considerable knowledge because they are on the ground and live in these communities.
One of the great things about section 183 is conditionality. Next week Sligo County Council will consider a section 183 proposal. Quite a few of them are being considered by other local authorities. I took on the task of looking at the ones this year and last year. I took a particular interest in Fingal County Council and Dublin generally because these are big places where the bigger issues are. I also looked at Limerick and Dún Laoghaire. It is interesting to see the trend in the political people and parties involved who rightly opposed them. That is their prerogative and is provided for in the legislation. Invariably they do not oppose them but try to apply conditions.
One of the provisions relating to a section 183 disposal, as the Minister knows, is that elected members may apply conditions to the sale.Without going into the matter, the Oscar Traynor site exercised the Minister and many other people. Today, however, I looked at a debate in March in Dublin City Hall and noted the correspondence and the engagement surrounding the debate. I printed it all off. Fine Gael had a very strong, concise view, and most of that was channelled and discussed through James Geoghegan, who is one of the party's councillors there. Fine Gael was very clear and there was no ambiguity as to where it stood on this. Fianna Fáil discussed the proposed land development agency, LDA, and expressed serious concerns about it per se, and that is absolutely right. RTÉ covered this. Cieran Perry, an excellent Independent councillor on Dublin City Council, said in Dublin City Hall that the Government may regard councillors as an inconvenience but that they are the democratically elected representatives of our communities. Further, the Labour Party councillor of long experience, Dermot Lacey, said the LDA Bill amounted to a land grab and a power grab that repeated a 20-year pattern of weakening of local government. Those are just some of the things that were said.
Fianna Fáil expressed serious concerns about the Bill. There were eight different motions that night. They were debated at the meeting, with Sinn Féin and People Before Profit opposing the Bill in its entirety while the Green Party, the Labour Party, the Social Democrats and the Independents criticised the loss of councillors' control over the disposal of local authority lands. Fianna Fáil expressed concern about councillors' loss of power. That is what was said at Dublin City Council. I say this just to give the Minister a flavour of the debate and the concerns and because the AILG and the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA, are made up of members of his party, Fianna Fáil. They are committed and have expressed a view, and those are their representative bodies. The Minister is entitled to his view; I respect that absolutely. This is not personal but political. These organisations' memberships are made up of Fine Gael and all other parties, Independents, non-party councillors - everybody - and I wish to put on the record my enormous thanks to the president of the AILG, Mary Hoade, a member of Fianna Fáil, who has done a lot of work on this, and Anne Colgan, who prepared these papers for the members.
Where does that leave us? I take this opportunity to thank also our committee, the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, for its work and engagement with these representative bodies. We heard loud and clear what the elected members wanted and what these associations wanted. I tabled 12 amendments, all in the name of the AILG, because it had done the work on them and presented them to me. We moved four of them the other night. The Minister came in and said he would not take any amendments, as is his right. That is grand. We can only put our best foot forward. This is democracy and we are a bicameral Parliament. It should be remembered that we are here not just to agree. As the Tánaiste, Deputy Varadkar, said when he addressed the House a year or two ago, we would expect in a bicameral Parliament that the Seanad would polish up and perhaps make amendments to legislation. Indeed, the Dáil took on board a number of Seanad amendments to the climate action Bill late last night. That was important and represents a good and healthy relationship between the two Chambers, which are distinctly separate yet inter-reliant in many ways. I also thank the Library and Research Service because it did a very extensive Bill digest on the legislation.
Where am I going with this? It is right we should empower councillors. I do not doubt the Minister's commitment in that regard. I spoke to a number of Fine Gael people who asked me to take a look at the original Bill, which I did, and in the Bill there was no question of section 183 being watered down at all. The Minister clearly took on board some issues and added the piece, which I acknowledge, whereby only zoned land would be deemed suitable. I would go so far as to say the LDA in the future should have a bigger remit beyond residential. It could be tied in with its relationship with Enterprise Ireland in this area, but that is another day's work. I think there is future scope, but that is for another day.
We have heard a lot of talk about empowering and supporting local government, about mayors and about the plebiscite that took in place in Limerick in which they decided they would have a mayor. Now it would appear even the mayor would have no veto. The Minister has a good track record in how he has worked in local government but he has clearly had his battles in Fingal, and rightly so. He represented the people out there. Why are we going to empower unelected chief executives with this function? Why are we taking this function away from the elected members? I have had my own advice on this that tells me it is proposed the Government will take away this reserved function from the elected members in certain circumstances. I do not know why. What happened between the Minister, the change in government and the new Government with the earlier Bill, which contained no mention of taking away section 183? Suddenly I am told the County and City Management Association, CCMA, thought it was a great idea. Of course they think it is a great idea, but they are not elected. Fianna Fáil's councillors in the city and the county are elected and we are all equal here. We all have a mandate to represent people. I simply will not apologise. I work hard, as everyone else in this Chamber does. I engage with city and county councillors because I like to do so. It is my full-time job, and I will always defend the rights of our democratically elected city and county councillors. I am not in the business of eroding any of their powers. I want to see them have more powers. I want to see us devolve more powers. I want to stop seeing these great announcements every day of the week in which the Government says it will throw money at this and throw money at that and about how it is funding projects around the country. Let the local authorities make those announcements and those decisions.
The Minister will be aware of section 28A.1 of the Irish Constitution, which states:
The State recognises the role of local government in providing a forum for the democratic representation of local communities, in exercising and performing at local level powers and functions conferred by law and in promoting by its initiatives the interests of such communities.
It is important we support these people. They represent us. We talk about better local government. We need to revisit that and support measures for better local government. We talk about more powers for councillors, yet this initiative will take them away, despite what the Minister might say. We talk about having mayors directly elected by the people and the communities, yet mayors will not be able to engage on this. We talk in this legislation, which I want to stay focused on, about how we are taking away those functions from the elected members. It is just not right or proper. I would be failing in my duty and, more importantly, in my commitment to the people who elected me to this House, the city and county councillors and Deputies and Senators in this House, if I did not say this. I have enjoyed cross-party support. I have always tried to work with people because that is important.
I am not convinced the Minister has done the right thing here. I understand the timelines and understand that the Dáil is going into recess, but I had flagged this and many other people had flagged concerns about this legislation for a long time. The Minister's party members, some of whom did not get elected to the Dáil and some of whom came from councils, went door to door to speak to our city and county councillors, as did I. They made commitments. They know the commitments they made. I am not necessarily aware of them but I know what commitments I made. I committed that I would fight for the rights of local government and fight for city and county councillors because I thought it was important. I sought to be a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government during the term of the previous Seanad and was happy to be put on it through these Houses and through the processes of the Houses. I sought for the second time to be on the committee because I wanted to be on it and because I believe in local government, I believe in local democracy, I believe in our city and county councillors, I believe they need to be supported and I believe in better actions, subsidiarity and making decisions for our people on our homes, our communities, security, enterprise and all the issues that feed into what community is.
I make this case to the Minister today because I have taken the fight to the front line. I have done my best; I can do no more.It rests with the Members of this House. Will they stand shoulder to shoulder with city and county councillors and leave them exclusively with the reserve function and power they have today? That is all I ask for.
This issue is close to my heart as a former local authority member. I am proud to have been elected and re-elected to the largest local authority in the country, Dublin City Council. I also speak on behalf of the Fianna Fáil Seanad group. All Fianna Fáil Senators are close to the local authority members and many of them had the honour of being elected to their local authority and representing their local communities. They understand in detail and value enormously the role of local authority members. I thank on their behalf Mary Hoade, Anne Colgan and the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, for their submissions with regard to the Land Development Agency and their inputs to the other legislation we have been progressing, namely, the Affordable Housing Bill and the Planning and Development Bills.
The Fianna Fáil Seanad group has had many discussions with the Minister and our parliamentary party subcommittee on housing, which I chair, has addressed this issue. We do not address the issue of local authority members' reserved functions in isolation. We look at it in the round. We are committed to local government and believe in strengthening it. Most important, we believe in strengthening the powers of local authority members. That is why the Minister made good on the promise that had been made for so long to councillors to address their terms and conditions and I commend him on that. He has delivered on the Moorhead report, which was long overdue. AILG and other councillors campaigned on it and the Minister delivered that.
On top of that, the Minister acted when it came to the development plans. The most important reserved functions that local authority members have, arguably, are the ability to make strategic policy and to own the plan for their local authority area, be it a city or county plan. They undertake the work with pride. It takes a lot of their time and energy to engage with the executive function and with the other stakeholders, including, most importantly, the communities they represent. When it comes to county and city development plans, the Ministers has given the local authority members, rather than the executive, the power to extend those plans and to delay the making of new plans. The Minister understands and we understand the pressures all local authority members have been under. They have been in the front line during Covid and have tried to bridge the gap between the executive and the local communities.
I commend the Minister for the further powers he has given to local authority members. He has given them in the Affordable Housing Bill the power to build affordable homes to purchase and rent. He has proposed and passed the biggest housing budget, which gives money and funds directly to the local authorities. He has empowered them to continue to support businesses in their communities with the waiving of commercial rates. When it comes to housing, he has given democratic powers back to the local level in terms of reserving 50% of any new housing developments for social and affordable housing. He has doubled the 20% social and affordable on any private development, giving powers to local authorities.
The strategic housing development, SHD, process completely failed our local authority members in representing their communities. The Minister is bringing that to an end and replacing it with a planning process that will give decision-making back to local authorities.
It is fair for Senator Boyhan to ask what has changed. A number of things have changed in the Land Development Agency and all for the better. The one change in the real world is this: the housing crisis has got significantly worse and, in a small minority of important local authorities, certain councillors have sought to exploit the housing crisis for their political benefit. They have voted against housing in Tallaght, Clondalkin and Malahide. That is not acceptable in a housing crisis. I accept and will defend the reserved functions of local authority members to my death but I cannot stand over the abuse of those powers. Those powers are being used to delay solutions of our housing crisis and the provision of social and affordable housing.
This is an incredibly important issue. I look forward to the Minister's response. I believe he values our local authority members and is doing all he can to give them more powers. It is an incremental process. This is being limited to lands being zoned for housing between not being developed. It will not apply to any other lands. I see that as an improvement. The Fianna Fáil Senators are determined to increase local authority member powers but, in this instance, we must make the priority the provision of housing and we cannot stand by while some local authority members vote against and block the provision of housing by the State. These are social and affordable homes that are desperately needed by our people.
The Bill, when enacted, will not just be part of the jigsaw, but a monumental part and a step in the right direction to tackle possibly the greatest challenge facing our country right now. Notwithstanding that and notwithstanding that I am Senator from a Government party, there is a tradition in this House, when we have constructive criticism to make of a legislative provision, to ventilate that and share it with our fellow legislators. Otherwise, the House would be bland. It would be impossible to lump in all Senators from Government parties 100% on every issue. I am proudly a member of a party that is in government and I believe in the work of this Government but that does not mean I do not have my own view on different issues.
While my view is different to that of the Minister and Senator Fitzpatrick, I do not question their dedication or the value they place on the work of local government. In this instance, I ask Government Senators to discount the maxim "Attack is the best form of defence". I thank the Government for making moves to restore terms and conditions for councillors but the amendment proposed in the names of Senators Boyhan and Craughwell goes to the heart of an issue of local government, namely, the section 183 reserved power. It is one of the last vestiges of power for county councillors. Urban district councillors were abolished. It and the power of rezoning are the two biggest powers left to country councillors. As Senator Boyhan said, the report is drawn up by the CEO to advise councillors in the operation of their reserved function.Regrettably, as I have said in the House before, it does not automatically include a written independent expert valuation to assist councillors in the most momentous of tasks. They are not selling their own land. It is a much higher threshold since they are selling the people's land. I have written to dozens of local authorities and they were at sixes and sevens. My written inquiries date back some years. There was no uniform approach to that.
I am trying to look at this positively. I see a few small but important balancing checks. They are small crumbs that I spotted in the legislation. Despite taking the power of section 183 from the councillors in certain circumstances, which I disagree with, I understand that at least the Minister must be in the signing off position. The Minister of the day, in the absence of taking that power away, plays an important role in that he or she must ultimately sign off and approve it. Another safeguard has arrived in recent weeks which protects local public lands in Cork and Dublin where this Government has delivered 100% public housing on public lands. I am a passionate believer in decision-making at the lowest effective level. No one knows better than local councillors, who have valued experience. Notwithstanding that, there is a safeguard for whatever is done in Cork and Dublin. It was the manifestation of a long-held view of the Green Party. It will hopefully be in the form of a cost-rental housing model. That is the second safeguard. It is open to councillors to rezone that land before it is wrestled away from their decision-making powers. I am not advising that as a knee-jerk reaction but it is possible, if they fear that the land is going to be taken from them and they need more consideration and time, that they could put the land beyond the remit of this if it has a zoning designation other than residential.
At the end of the day, what has happened here? I know the legislative intent behind this. I know it is noble and that we are in a crisis. This is an extreme reaction to a local authority, duly elected to represent the people, with which I cannot agree. Perhaps Senator Fitzpatrick is right that some people are exploiting the issue but I do not believe that it should just be removed from the councils. It is like a child in a playground not liking the way the match is going, so he runs away and goes home with the ball. I am not sure if this is a proportionate response to unseemly disagreement in our local authorities. People are possibly playing party politics with the fundamental right for people to put a roof over their head.
Even at this late stage, much thought and consideration has clearly gone into the wording of this amendment. It has been tabled in the utmost good faith. I have heard today that it has been tabled after much consultation with people in local authorities. The people in local authorities are the heroes of the hour. They are underpaid and overworked. They are the heartbeat of local democracy and where it all begins. Many of those people will feel put out, that we do not trust them and that if CEOs do not like how it is going, they can just dispose of the land on their own. Section 183 was sacrosanct when I was an elected member of local government. It would be unheard of for the CEO to ever say that he or she did not like it and to act on it alone. It is the people's land and might have been in the parish for dozens of years, but it would be unheard of for the CEO to guillotine the debate and hand the land over to what is, in this instance, a well-intended agency, which I have significant hope, faith and confidence in.
The biggest role that I see for this Land Development Agency is probably with public lands which are in the ownership of the HSE, Defence Forces or different State agencies. I know that every house is invaluable but the number of instances where this would cause a Minister concern that it is not moving fast enough fades into less significance and it is not worth watering down the power of a county councillor. At face value, this is a diminution of the power of a county councillor. County councillors do not have too many powers and they will take offence at this. It is not on their own behalf since this is not an ego hit, but that they feel that their local communities, which they serve to the best of their abilities with their unique knowledge, have been bypassed because people do not like outcomes, results, debates and arguments.
I am happy to vote for this in its entirety and I urge everyone to do so. I know people have strong feelings on section 183. There is so much good in this. I will proudly support it. The Government has to get its business done. Government Senators have a large majority in this Chamber. As we approach the end of our first year, we should take on board more of the Opposition's constructive amendments and, in the good spirit of this Chamber, allow Government Senators to table amendments. We are not going absent without leave or off-script. When I address legislation, it would be bland if I agreed with everything. I hope that in the next year, we will see more of this constructive debate. How I vote is a different matter but the least that I owe the people and this Seanad as a legislator is to remain objective and to offer what I see as constructive criticism. It is not a matter of kicking things around for the sake of it. This is an example of where the diminution and dilution of section 183, although I except that it is in certain circumstances only, is unnecessary and a bridge too far.
I indicate my strong support for Senator Boyhan's amendment. It is a good reminder and comes at a crucial point. It would anchor the purposes of the Bill and recognise the essential involvement and contribution of members of local authorities. It is an appropriate place for this strong amendment. The Minister will be aware that I tabled amendments on Committee Stage which I have not reintroduced because they have been pressed. I would like a section of the Bill to be stronger and clearer about public, social and affordable housing being central rather than a subsection of housing, which is the language used throughout. I knew we had limited time so I have not introduced more amendments to that section. I will fully support Senator Boyhan's amendment and know that Senators Black, Flynn and Ruane are also supportive of it.
We have a number of amendments of our own in the same grouping. They all relate to section 183. Amendment No. 23 effectively seeks to undo the impact of section 58 of the Bill. It would mean that sections 183 and 211(2) of the Act of 2000 would still apply. We have removed the word "not" and state that it shall apply, not that it shall not apply. We insist that this is important. It is perhaps more important in this area when we are looking at potentially large volumes of disposals of land over a short period.Amendment No. 24, which I tabled, is a compromise amendment that, in my reasonableness, I had to produce. It proposes that if that power is to be removed in any one instance, it should only be removed if a majority of the councillors in the area agree for section 183 not to apply. They should have to agree to that in respect of any given land. That is an extremely reasonable amendment. I will be clear that my preference is to leave section 183 as it stands.
Reference was made to the reserved function. It is a reserved function and what the Bill is doing is removing that function in particular circumstances which are, I am afraid to say, still very wide. Unfortunately, they are not, as Senator Fitzpatrick stated, confined to circumstances in which the land is zoned residential and not being developed. That is not what the Bill provides. It refers to land that is zoned for solely residential use or a mix of residential and other uses in the development plan. It does not state that it is land that nobody has agreed to develop. There may well be plans, proposals or ideas coming forward through a local development or local area plan. It is not just residential, but a mix of residential and other uses. That is the land in the context of which section 183 is being waived. Section 183 is incredibly important. This is not to say that the vendor will not dispose of the land, it is that when the land is disposed of, it comes with covenants, conditions and agreements which reflect the understanding, wisdom, knowledge and local information of local councillors. For example, where the land is a mixture of residential and other uses, there may well be conditions in respect of public amenities, such as whether there will be a playground, levels of accessibility, the connectivity of the site and how it is planned. I still regard the reservation for social and affordable, to which we will come at a later stage, to be overly restrictive. It may be the case that local authority members and councillors may have specific suggestions on how that breakdown between social and affordable or cost rental might most appropriately be reflected in their area.
When I encourage people to get involved in politics, I tell them not to be cynical, that they can do things and that politics matters. I tell them that policy is ultimately just the decisions we make about how we want to live together. Councillors and those who put themselves forward for the gruelling task of local election are not doing it for all the long meetings or the often-noted poor pay. They are certainly not doing it for the pay, although it is good that the pay has improved. They are doing it because they have something to bring to the decisions on how we want to live together. They have something they wish to say because they care about their local place. This is one of the key ways and reserved functions for local councillors to input their ideas and wisdom, to highlight something that is important and to remember a cohort that might otherwise be forgotten in terms of how we live together. They may agree to dispose of the land but only with conditions, ideas and insights attached. I do not believe the Government, the Minister, the Land Development Agency or anyone else should be afraid of having conditions attached to the disposal of land from local councillors because those conditions will be useful and more likely to lead to projects that are successful.
In the context of the strategic housing development project initiative not having succeeded, I and others warned of that possibility at the time but were told it was needed because there was a requirement to bypass local councils as they were the problem, which was why there was a need to skip the councils and go straight to An Bord Pleanála. That has not worked out very well, first because a majority of those that have received strategic housing development planning permission have not built. That is not just as a result of Covid. I was in the Seanad when the Bill relating to strategic housing development and fast-track planning was passed in 2016. Such development has not started. In the cases where An Bord Pleanála has granted planning permission, it did so without local knowledge and constantly came up against information it did not have because, to be generous, it is a national body and did not realise the kinds of conditions and factors that local authorities and local authority members can bring. That is the kind of knowledge that makes projects work.
I urge the Minister to accept amendment No. 2, tabled by Senator Boyhan, and to listen to local authority members around the country because they are rooted in their communities. The Minister should not cut himself off from the roots. I also ask him to accept my amendment No. 23 which would reverse the impact of section 58 and ensure that section 183 and those covenants, conditions and agreements and the right to have an input, give ideas and suggestions and attach them to disposal would continue. If the Minister cannot do that, amendment No. 24 adds a third condition. It provides that the conditions may not apply if the land is in a local authority area and is zoned for residential or a mix of residential and other uses and where a majority of local authority members agree to the suspension of section 183. That is a reasonable caveat and condition to be attached. That is the compromise amendment and I hope that if the Minister does not accept amendment No. 2 tabled by Senator Boyhan or my amendment No. 23, he will accept amendment No. 24 tabled by me, Senator Black and Senator Flynn.
I will try not to take too long because I know many Senators wish to contribute on this really important and significant Bill. Looking at the purpose of the Bill, we have to realise what we are about here. For example, one of the stated purposes of the Bill is "to enable urgent measures to be taken to increase the supply of housing in the State and in particular affordable and social housing". I hear every Senator remarking on that need almost every day. The Bill aims "to ensure that public land which is not being utilised or is under-utilised is made available for housing in the State". I could go on and on. Housing is the biggest crisis in the State at the moment, along with Covid.
I respect the right of every Member to give his or her opinion. That is very important. However, while I take on board the comments regarding section 183, of all the Ministers with whom the House has dealt through the years, the one thing the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, does not wish to do is to in any way dilute the role of local authority members. I know from our action through the councils that we have weekly and fortnightly engagements. In future, local authority members will have a greater role because of the recognition by the Minister of the important role they play. Reference has been made to "in certain circumstances". I know that concerns some councillors and I respect that. I am sure the Minister is good at listening and will be able to answer for himself. He is very keen to acknowledge the role of local authority members. He is very strong in that regard.
I refer to the Ballinasloe area of County Galway. Senator Dolan will support me in this regard and will probably speak on it. Ballinasloe is the second largest town in County Galway. In 2016, its population was approximately 6,500 or 7,000. The target growth in the new county development plan from 2022 onwards is for an extra 2,000 people, bringing the population to 8,500, which will still be fewer than 10,000. Ballinasloe has a history of very environmentally damaging developments.I spoke to Councillor Evelyn Parsons about the issue. She is a native of Ballinasloe and represents the people there. The councillors wish to highlight the history of Ballinasloe in relation to the dump and the High Court ruling on the issue. The High Court ruled in 1999 that the dump had to be closed. I think it was closed in 2005. There were compensation issues. It was a huge issue. It did a lot of damage to the Ballinasloe area. In recent times, and Senator Dolan will probably want to say more about it, there have been two attempts to put a transfer station there on a 70-acre site. It is a vast area. I can see why councillors there would like to retain their right to have some say in that situation.
All I ask today is that the Minister takes that on board. I know he has already consulted with me on the issue and there will be further consultation. However, it is a specific case. It is that type of case that we need to be careful of. Certainly, in respect of Ballinasloe, it is a critical issue. Despite the fact that the court judgment said that there was to be no type of transfer station there, two applications have been made to Galway County Council to put a transfer site right in that area, one of which was turned down. That is not acceptable. I ask the Minister to take that on board. I would appreciate it.
I welcome the Minister to the House. He was worn a path here. I welcome also the LDA. It is a big improvement on what we had before. We can always talk about what we have done in the past, but it is good to stay in the present. We need to move forward. There is not one Member in the House, of all political parties and none, who does not want to solve the housing crisis. I do not think anybody is motivated in any other way but to try to solve the issue. It is something we are all unified on.
The LDA will provide services, as directed by local authorities, in order to assist them in the performance of their functions relating to the development of sites for housing in urban development in population centres of more than 30,0000. That will not impact the primary role of local authorities as housing authorities. We should have a debate based on the facts. The LDA will establish a register of relevant public lands. To me, that is massive. Finally, we will know all the land in every county that is owned by the State. That has not been done properly in Ireland to date. It is really important. If we do not know where the land is, we cannot even start to begin to solve the housing crisis.
On the Green Party's win on this, it is important that all parties in government agreed with the proposal that went to Cabinet that 100% of housing built by the LDA on public land will be social and affordable. That is huge. It is a great success. In other local authorities, it will be at least 70%. Today is a good day. It is a positive step forward in dealing with the housing crisis. It is only the beginning of sorting it. We have so much to do now in getting people to come to terms with the fact that there is a shortage of the tradesmen who we will need to build these houses. There is a huge body of work to do to promote the work of tradesmen and to encourage young people to move into the trades so that we can get these houses built. There are also 220,000 empty houses in the State that we need to look at getting back into use so that we can increase people's opportunities to have homes again. The serviced sites that were promised in the town centre first policy, that we all agreed in the programme for Government, need to be delivered.
I welcome the Bill. I look forward to progressing it, rolling up my sleeves and getting the houses built that we need.
I welcome the Minister to the House. I was listening to the debate in my office. It is the first time I have spoken on this legislation. I know the Minister has come to the House a few times. It is the first time I have spoken when the Minister has been in the House. I wanted to come to the Chamber to say that I strongly support Senator Boyhan's amendment. I am very concerned. It is most important that we restore the power to local authorities. They have a strong role in relation to section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001. They have a huge say in relation to the disposal of land. To address the housing crisis, we need strong local authorities that are best able to serve their local communities. I have travelled the length and breadth of this country meeting with councillors. As Senator Martin said, they are the heroes of their communities. I have no doubt the Minister knows that himself.
I have travelled with councillors who work until all hours in the night, going around houses, making sure people, including the elderly and lone parents are okay. I met one councillor at Christmas time when it was really cold. A young single mother with a child was going to be evicted due to having no finances. The councillor I met blew me away. She made sure that the mother got the money she needed. She did a big fundraiser and made sure that the family had a good Christmas. As the Minister knows well, it is a thankless job being a councillor. To take the power away from councillors is wrong. There should be no dilution of section 183.
I ask the Minister and all Members here today to support this amendment. It is a vital and important amendment. If they are not going to support Senator Boyhan's amendment, I ask them to support our amendments. That is all I ask. This amendment is most important. It is not something that I say lightly. That is all I have to say.
Senator Martin probably made the best contribution today, so far, apart from my colleague, Senator Boyhan. I do not know what it is about the current state of Government that it seems almost paralysed by the legislation it brings before this House. I am not speaking about the Minister personally, but the Government has rammed through legislation using the guillotine procedure. It has a massive majority in this House and the Lower House. It takes no cognisance whatsoever of anything any Member of the Opposition has to say at any time. As Senator Martin said a few minutes ago, there is nothing wrong with listening to the Opposition. There is nothing wrong with taking on board some decent amendments.
This amendment seeks to protect the people at the bottom of the political spectrum, the county councillors who will be out on the hustings for Government party Members in two or three years' time, canvassing for them. They are the people who will work hard for the Minister's party. He is stripping them of power and he is doing it for cynical reasons. I have known the Minister since I came into this House. I have always held him personally in the highest of esteem. I have always regarded him as a really good politician, but this is not good.
Senator Martin is slightly wrong insofar as he said that he has to vote for the legislation because he is part of Government. He does not. He can vote for and support this amendment. The only result will be that the Bill will be delayed for a short while when it goes back to the Dáil. That is all that will happen, at the end of the day. It is just wrong, in every way, to be stripping away powers from local government. I have seen it happen in every organisation, not just local government. We have seen it happen with education and training boards over the years.
I am so frustrated that what will happen here today. Those who genuinely believe that this is a good amendment will vote it down because they are subject to a party whip. It belies the value of the Seanad and what we are here for. As Senator Boyhan said eloquently, we are here to polish up legislation and improve it. Why is the Minister so afraid to accept this amendment? It is a simple little amendment. It should be taken on board.
It is a false statement to say that the Minister has not listened to what the Members have said on this floor. He has listened, throughout the debate, to what the Members have said.It is wrong to say the Minister has not listened to members. That is factually incorrect. He has made significant changes from the time this was entered. Even since it was introduced during the previous Dáil, in committee where Senator Boyhan and I sat, this is completely different legislation from that which started out.
Providing housing for people is not being cynical; it is providing homes for people.
I served on a local authority for 12 years and I believe in local democracy. The Minister would not bring this legislation to the House if there was not good reason for it, and we must take that into account. There is nothing to prevent councillors providing and approving a housing scheme before the LDA even gets involved in it because the Minister has given members and administrations the tools to bring whatever housing proposals they have, and he will support them. Put the onus back on the local authorities. The Minister has given them the tools to build housing on the land, so let them get in ahead. The LDA will not be needed if the administration and councillors act in advance.
It is equally wrong to say the LDA will not understand the community need and the local need. It is my understanding that it will have to go through the planning process like anyone else. It will have to conform to local area plans and county development plans, with all the criteria in respect of schools, playgrounds and open spaces. They are all included in the plans and it is up to a planning authority to make that decision based on them. It is members who adopt local area plans and county development plans. The Minister has probably given more powers back to local authority members than anybody else has. Only recently, he gave power to local authority members to suspend the county development plan process in order that proper public consultation could take place.
This is not the Minister's preferred option - it is not my preferred option - but at the end of the day, there is a reason it is included in the Bill. We need to get housing built on key land.
I welcome the Minister. I refer to the submission received from the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, a representative group for councillors. There are some proposals in it that I would be happy about, and I think I have mentioned them to the Minister. Section 183 of the 2001 Act will remain. The Minister has acknowledged that for any areas not zoned for housing, that section will remain in place. Councillors will still have the right, under the county development plan, to outline areas for housing. Therefore, councillors themselves will still have the right to designate what areas are for housing and what areas are not. This is crucial. It means the Minister has taken into account the role and the reserve function of councillors in every municipal district and county council in the country.
As someone who was elected a first-time councillor in May 2019, and as a native born and bred and Ballinasloe, I intimately know the importance of zoning in the area. As someone whose family for generations has fought for Ballinasloe, whose father was on that 1999 High Court order, I know it intimately. As someone who was on the court order of 2019, I know how important it is to fight to ensure that areas are zoned appropriately for the community and that they protect the community they serve. This legislation, however, is about housing and the lack thereof. According to localauthorityfinances.com, a website run by the National University of Ireland Galway, NUIG ,Galway County Council is able to allocate only €80 per capita. There are 200,000 people in the second largest county, geographically speaking. The national average per capitais €400, while in Galway we have €80 per head, with 200,000 people. Many people have come to me, as someone who was elected councillor, regarding the lack of housing and the fact they cannot get anything to rent, and even I was somebody who was renting.
The Government is fighting for housing and using every tool in its armoury to ensure that housing is available for people who need it. There is no way we are going to step back or be part of a group that does not vote to get housing across the line as soon as possible. In every way, I will protect the rights of councillors and their reserve function. Section 183 of the 2001 Act still protects councillors' rights in that way.
I have spoken about this previously. Some elements of the AILG submission that I would like to mention again relate to supports to councils with urban centres of under 10,000 people. In County Galway, there are more than 200,000 people. What supports are going to be given for our urban centres, such as Tuam, with 8,000, or Ballinasloe, with 6,500? What housing project teams will be offered to those local authorities to support them to deliver what we want them to do in the next year or two under the Housing for All strategy? We need resources. The AILG is a fantastic representative body and the Minister might enlighten us as to what engagement he has had with it to date.
I thank the Minister for his contribution. We will speak again about zoning different areas, but the deadline for the county development plan for Galway County Council is 30 July. Anyone who has any interest in the zoning of Ballinasloe, or in any other area of east Galway or County Galway, has until 30 July to make a submission.
There is a difference between a person saying that he or she believes in more power for local councillors and extending that power to them, or even worse, taking it away. Sinn Féin has consistently highlighted that the Bill - both Fine Gael's original version and now Fianna Fáil's proposal with the support of Fine Gael - will remove power from local elected councillors in regard to land transfers, and that these flaws, among others, are why we cannot support it. It will curtail the democratic oversight of elected members in regard to the disposal of land.
We have one of the most centralised governments in Europe. Whether in the context of water or waste, power has consistently been taken away from local authorities, with our council buildings and county halls having been hollowed out continually over decades. The LDA will be unaccountable to local public representatives. It can deal with council officials without the oversight of public representatives. If we are republicans, which I suspect most Senators would say they are, we should stand for decisions that are made as closely as possible to people and communities. In Ireland, what is good for Donegal is decided in Dublin, and what is good for Belfast is decided in London. I am a republican because I believe in decisions being made as closely as possible to the people they will affect. As I said, we are one of the most centralised states in Europe. Central government spends the highest proportion of total government spending of almost all EU countries. I have just checked the figures and the most recent year I can find is unfortunately 2014. In that year, local government spending as a proportion of total government spending was 9%.
I hate to break it to Senator Fitzpatrick, but Sinn Féin is not to blame for the failure of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to address the housing crisis. Blaming the Opposition is a desperate attempt to deflect from the housing policy failures of this Government, and previous Governments, which have had ten years to deal with the housing crisis. People see the Government parties are trying to deflect and shift the debate from their failures and our alternatives to fight over a series of council votes. Local government is manager-centred. We all know it; most of us have been there and experienced it at first hand. Let us not insult people's intelligence by saying we believe in more power for local authorities but then pass a Bill to remove council powers in respect of land transfers.
I welcome the Minister the House. It is true that this measure was not in the original Bill. I sat on Waterford City and County Council for 11 years and always took that role exceptionally seriously, as does every councillor in the country. It is also true that I have reservations about this section 183 change. However, it is also true, as Senator Fitzpatrick referenced, that much has changed since the original Bill was passed, not least the housing crisis getting worse but also the fact, though Senator Warfield may want to wish it away, that his own party has objected to 6,000 houses in Dublin. As recently as a couple of weeks ago, it opposed 18 public houses on public land in County Wicklow, something we hear the Opposition calling for day in, day out in this House, on the airwaves and in the Dáil. Much has changed and I have, therefore, an appreciation of where the Minister is coming from with the changes that have been made to the original Bill.
A number of changes have been made in recent times to the original proposal, which would have seen the section 183 apply across the board to all lands rather than residential lands. That has come as a result of engagement on behalf of my Fine Gael Party colleagues, by Senator Fitzpatrick, on behalf of her Fianna Fáil Party colleagues, and by the Green Party, including at the Oireachtas housing committee. The impact of the changes will be that section 183 will only apply to residential land, that is, land which councillors have already decided is suitable for residential development and land the council has decided it will not develop. That should never happen in my view. Councils should not own land zoned as residential which they are not progressing. The Government is empowering and resourcing local authorities to build social and affordable houses on their own land. In recent months, the Affordable Housing Act 2021 underwent about 40 hours of pre-legislative scrutiny and Seanad and Dáil debate. The Act will allow local authorities to build social and affordable houses on public land. I would like the Minister's opinion on this but in my view this provision should not actually have to be used if councils take on the role of building housing on council lands they have already zoned.
I did not interrupt anyone on that side of the House so I would appreciate being allowed to speak without interruption.
I appreciate where the Minister is coming from with this measure. It is important we do not present it in a way that is a wholesale stripping of the powers of local councillors. The factual position is that in certain local authorities housing is not being built on lands zoned for housing as a result of decisions by certain councillors from a certain party. As a Government and as legislators, we must ensure that, in the midst of a housing crisis, we use all tools at our disposal. The Land Development Agency will have a role to play in that.
One of the main concerns that councillors, particularly in the Dublin area, raised with me was that lands zoned for recreational purposes or open spaces could in some way have been disposed of to the LDA by a chief executive going over councillors' heads. That cannot now happen. This measure only applies to residential land. That is a welcome move.
My local authority in County Waterford has significant land which is used as a public, municipal golf course, Williamstown golf course. The chief executive of Waterford City and County Council cannot decide in the morning to transfer that land to the LDA because the councillors have zoned the land for recreational rather than residential purposes. That land is not zoned for residential purposes. Councillors have full control of what land is zoned in the context of the development plan. It is probably appropriate and timely that those development plans are actually happening at this time. I therefore encourage any council and councillors to ensure the zoning is appropriate for the purposes they wish to see over the coming months, in the context of their development plan. The Minister has facilitated the extension of the development plan process if councillors wish to extend it. That was a welcome move which everyone in the House supported.
I thank the Minister for coming to the House again. I am happy to support the Bill but I am here to support Senator Boyhan's amendment. I am really taken aback by what Senator Cummins has just come out with there - that councillors are not capable of-----
-----and that is to disempower local councillors. Why do we have local government? It is vital to the functioning of this country. Why do we have people elect local councillors? Local councillors understand local wants and needs. Why should the people bother to elect councillors to their local government if the national Government then passes laws which undermine their councillors' place in our democracy?
A key reserve function of local councillors is outlined in section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001. Land owned by the local authority cannot be disposed of but with the consent of its elected council members, who are elected by the local people and taxpayers who own land. Now, under section 58 of the Land Development Agency Bill, the Government wants to waive section 183 of the 2001 Act and remove the key function of local councillors. It wants to disempower councillors and locals as to the determination of the land.
I stand with the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, which is just as abhorred by the idea of this as I am. Primacy of county and city councils' development must be protected. Local elected members are best placed to decide the future use and deployment of local land. They have the most knowledge of local circumstances and are democratically appointed. The Land Development Agency is none of these. Section 58 disempowers councillors and thus disempowers locals as to the determination of the lands. I strongly oppose this section.
I spoke this morning about grassroots politics and I cannot believe-----
Ar dtús, cuirim fáilte mhór roimh an Aire ar ais go dtí an Teach. The Minister is very welcome to the House on this very important legislation. At the outset, I compliment him on the vigour and determination in the way he has undertaken his role as Minister. I know there is a determination within him to deliver as many sets of keys to as many people as he possibly can during his term.
One thing we all or perhaps should have in common in this House is that we should do all in our power to deliver as many house to as many of our young people as quickly as possible. That should be all of our main goal, aspiration and ambition.
I acknowledge the changes the Minister has incorporated in this legislation. The Minister met with the AILG under the stewardship of its president, Councillor Mary Hoade and I know for a fact he listened to its concerns. Perhaps in his contribution later he will outline where he has included those concerns in this legislation.
I speak as a former member of a local authority. I proudly served on Monaghan County Council for a number of years. The Minister might correct me if I am wrong but as we speak today, and will speak tomorrow, my understanding is that there is nothing to stop any local authority in this State putting forward proposals regarding housing development. That is the first point we must make. Unfortunately, whether we like it or not, there are many agendas out there. There are many agendas in this House as there are in the Lower House. Occasionally, those agendas come to the fore. The key message we must hammer home is that this legislation refers only to residential lands. It is important that this message goes out to every local authority in the country. I know the motivation behind county councillors throughout the length and breadth of this country to deliver for the people in their localities. I would suggest that very few councils will need the Land Development Agency coming in and acting the heavy on a local authority. As we speak, the vast majority of those local authority members are looking at lands in public ownership and coming forward with plans to deliver much needed houses for the young people in their localities. We cannot lose that point.
It is important not to think that when we take a vote on this today, local authority members will have no say or control with regard to delivering houses for the young people of their localities. That is simply not the case. I am sure every local authority member would agree that if local authorities sit on their butts, which they do not, and do not deliver housing then that is not right either. I am glad to say that is not the case in the vast majority of local authorities throughout the length and breadth of this country. I know that will continue to be the case.
I am all for local authority members and I am all for - never mind the diminution of powers from local authorities - adding to the powers of local authority members. By this Bill and by different pieces of legislation introduced by this Minister, local authority members will have more power now than they ever had before with regard to delivering houses for their young people. Not alone will they have the opportunity to deliver social housing but for the first time in many years, they will have the opportunity to deliver affordable housing to that cohort of people who are outside the local authority housing financial guidelines that would enable them to get housing in the first place. Those people who are working hard five, six and seven days per week to provide for their families too will be looked after here. It is important that we look after everyone with regard to this issue.
I will not hold up the debate. I understand that a review mechanism is contained within this legislation, however. The Minister might outline what form that review takes and when will be the first opportunity to have a look at how this legislation is progressing.
As I stand here, if I thought for one minute that in six, 12 or 18 months or two years' time that local authorities were being trampled on, I, for one, would not be shy in coming forward to table amendments to correct that. I am sure many of my colleagues in this House would do likewise. For now, however, young people are sick and tired of politicians talking about housing. We have gotten to a point in this country where we must deliver housing. The gentleman in front of me this afternoon and everyone in this House will be judged on how many sets of keys we can deliver to people over the next number of years. That is only right. I wish the Minister every success in his goal and determination to do just that.
I thank Senator Gallagher. Needless to say, we do not want to thwart any discussion or anyone's right to speak to this critical legislation. Senators might exercise personal discretion to allow a lot of people in and allow us to get through all the amendments. I will, therefore, leave that to the good judgment of the speakers.
The next speaker on the list is Senator Sherlock.
I am speaking to amendment No. 22, which seeks to delete section 58 of the Bill. Time and again, as we have heard this afternoon in this Chamber, we hear about the importance of the role of local authorities with regard to city and county development plans and all the other great work they do. The reality for many of us who have sat on a local authority, however, is that very few powers are available to the councillors and elected members of local authorities. Section 183 is one of those powers.
Senator Gallagher made an important point when he said there is nothing to stop a local authority bringing forward a proposal with regard to housing. That is absolutely true. The key difference, however, is that they can be bringing forward all these proposals but may not have the power. There are two sets of power here. There is power in terms of accessing funding, which we know local authorities have great difficulty in doing in respect of housing, but there is also the issue of councillors on local authorities controlling their land.That is what this amendment is about and we support Senator Boyhan's amendment also.
Senator Martin made an important point. Public land is the people's land and has to be held to a higher standard. That is why it is so important that those in local authorities who are elected by the people retain that role in the disposal of land.
We have heard the debate and we know that the Government is not accepting the amendments but it is nonetheless important that we make this point today.
-----and of what he said. We are in the House where the vast majority of the people bar a few us have not been voted to be here by councillors so I get that there is a certain playing to the gallery going on. I understand that it looks good for social media clips that will be get emailed around that vilify certain Government Senators but it is really quite a despicable level of politics.
The very clear, well-researched-----
-----and well-argued position put forward by Senator Cummins follows the line that councillors have the right to vote for zoning and to bring in their development plan. Their ability to bring in the development plan has been extended to ensure that we have full public consultation in the context of Covid-19. All of that has been done.
This very narrow qualification of the normal rights of councillors arises where they do not have - or in the absence of where they have voted for zoning of residential land - have this in a development plan but are still not building or providing residences or much-needed homes. It is reasonable for section 183 to be suspended in situations and in the context where those very qualified criteria obtain. That is what Senator Cummins said and is what the record of this House will say and for anyone to misrepresent it is a gross abuse of their position this House. It is a despicable-----
----- way of doing politics.
Since 2018 Sinn Féin have voted against 6,000 potential homes which could have been built. That is a fact. They are local councillors who, despite the fact there is zoning and that there is a housing need, are denying real people the keys to their home on an ideological basis. Does the Senator want the actual breakdowns?
This is about the amendment. The fact of the matter is that nobody is curtailing the rights of councillors except where those councillors are putting their party before a roof over families’ heads. It is an appalling abuse and misrepresentation and I am disappointed in the Leas Cathaoirleach.
I speak in support of my colleague, Senator Cummins, and do not intend to use up any more time. In a very calm and respectful manner, I suggest Senator Keogan misinterpreted what Senator Cummins said. I want to offer her, through the Chair, the opportunity to retract and withdraw that comment now.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Leas-Chathaoirleach.
I thank all or most Senators for their contributions this afternoon. I thank Senator Boyhan for his amendment. It is well-researched and he has put forward an argument. He has gone through it and it is based on fact unlike a couple of the other contributions that supported his amendment. I know from the Senator and from the work he has done and continues to do in the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage that he feels very strongly about housing delivery and is supportive, in broad terms, of the Bill.
I will say one thing at the start before I address the specific issues, in that a comment has been made erroneously that I have not accepted amendments to Bills here. I have probably been in the Seanad more often in the past number of weeks than the Senator who made that charge. He may not realise that I have taken on board a number of amendments, both Opposition amendments and indeed changes and amendments from Government Senators. I have also done that in the Dáil. I do not want to be too precious about this but I want to set the record straight. There are multiple changes in this Bill itself which are reflected by the work of the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the Seanad and the Dáil.
The previous Bill, incidentally, in the last Oireachtas was only a general scheme, as has been said by Senator Casey. This is a revised version of what we are doing, agreed by Government and brought forward to the Oireachtas in the interests of using State land productively for the provision of homes for people. If people want to support that and if people believe that State lands which have been lying idle for years by State agencies - not council lands which I will address in a minute - should be used productively for the provision of affordable or social housing, they should vote for this Bill. If they do not vote for this Bill, they do not believe that.
In fairness, Sinn Féin’s Dáil spokesperson on housing made a point, and he is entitled to that view, which is that his party does not believe that a Land Development Agency of the State should be involved in residential building and should not build any homes. He went further than that where Sinn Féin also said that the Land Development Agency should not even plan for the building of homes. I accept what Senator Warfield has said he is not supporting the Bill, which is fine. The Land Development Agency then should not be involved in master planning or in any of that lending of its expertise to local authorities if the local authority requests it, as has happened in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown in Shanganagh where there is partnering on bigger sites. To be fair, that is a political position that a party or an individual is entitled to have. The fact then is that the main Opposition party only wants a Land Development Agency to just bring land together, have a look at it, put it on a register and farm it back out again. We need greater thinking and action than that to deliver the thousands of homes that we need.
Parking even the Covid-19 pandemic for the moment, we need on average of a minimum of 33,000 homes a year. This year we will probably deliver 20,000. Last year it was just 20,000 because of the Covid-19 disruption. Around half of those homes, to be fair to this Government and to the councillors across the country who supported housing schemes, were public and social homes. Other parties will have to stand over their record of what they have really done at council level in the provision of housing.
On some of the points that have been raised, we are putting councils back at the centre of delivering homes. I want them to be the main deliverer of not just social but, as Senators Casey, Cummins, Fitzpatrick, Dolan, Seery Kearney and all of my colleagues, together with Senators Gallagher, Murphy and McGahon in their contributions have stated, affordable and social homes. Councils will be delivering both and rightly so. We have given them the biggest budget in the history the State to empower them to deliver housing.
The Housing for All plan which the Government will bring forward in a matter of days will be a multi-annual plan for delivery. One will see the targets in that for social and affordable housing delivery and, for the first time ever, for cost-rental delivery.The Government, made up of three parties, has, within a year, delivered a new form of housing tenure that has been talked about for years. I am saying that because any measures we take are taken not just for the sake of it but to give us a basis to improve on delivery.
I respect the points and concerns some Senators may have in thinking there may be a diminution of powers. There absolutely will not. Section 183 is not affected. It stays. My colleagues have explained the situation. The section 183 exception would only apply in extremiswhere residentially zoned has not been developed. That will only apply for the Land Development Agency, LDA. Section 183 is not set aside for anything else. As a part of this legislation, by the way, any State agency or State body will have to offer land it is selling to the LDA first, and rightly so. Section 183 applies for all other non-residential lands. The local authority members will make the decision, absolutely and rightly. There may be an extreme situation, of which we have seen some rare examples, involving an obstructionist council. That would be a case in which the section 183 exception would be triggered. Let us be very clear on this. Section 183 will only cease to apply where land has been zoned for housing and has not been used for that purpose. In all other instances, it will apply. There is no desire, in any way, shape or form, to supplant local authorities in the work they have to do. I want the LDA to supplement local authorities in the delivery of homes. It is as simple as that.
Within a matter of months, the LDA will break ground for the first time in Shanganagh Castle to deliver hundreds of homes. That is being done in co-operation with the local authority to deliver, in particular, cost rental housing. More of that building is going to happen. I do not think we need to elevate things and imagine that a bogeyman will come in, rip asunder all the powers of local authorities and assume those powers. Everything I have done will ensure that is not the case and will not be the case.
Let us remember, as Senator Casey said earlier, that the LDA will have to comply with the zoning of the land. It will need to get planning permission on the land because it is not a planning authority. The planning authorities remain the same. If a portion of land in Fingal is sold to the LDA, it will have to go back to Fingal County Council for planning permission. I want local authorities to bring forward schemes and more of them will be doing that.
A couple of questions were asked about delivery, especially in Galway. The LDA will operate in population centres of 30,000 and above. Some Senators may have been trying, in one respect, to raise concerns with councillors throughout the country that the LDA will affect every town and village in the country. It will not. Its application is clearly set down in the legislation, for those who have looked at it. The Government has already decided to put housing delivery teams into each local authority. I have made that announcement and told the chief executives. We want to build up the resources within the local authorities. Under section 15 of the LDA Bill, a local authority can direct the LDA to provide services and master planning expertise on urban design and development for large-scale sites. That will only apply for centres in areas with a population of 30,000 or more. Sites will predominantly remain in local authority ownership after development and I would see that happening in the vast majority of cases.
It is envisaged the majority of the LDA's work on local authority lands, as I said, will be done by co-operation. I believe in local government and I always have. I was a councillor. We have exceptional councillors throughout the country who know their areas better than anyone. At the end of the day, we need to make sure we are delivering more homes above and beyond the levels the local authorities will achieve. The provisions of this Bill are proportionate. I have made changes since its publication, having listened to both Opposition and Government Senators, and my own colleagues, to make sure it is even more refined. The provision is proportionate. It will be effective for the fact of it being in that space.
I understand the views some Senators, including Senator Martin and our Green Party colleagues, hold about the matter. However, they want to see us deliver homes, including cost rental accommodation and affordable and social homes. We all know of State-owned lands in our own counties, towns or cities that have been unused for decades. That is not going to happen anymore. That is why we need an agency to develop those lands. We have tens of thousands of young and not-so-young people paying rents they cannot afford and trying to save for a home. We need to use these lands to increase supply.
This Bill and the Affordable Housing Bill will run in tandem. They are the two pillars to delivering affordable, social and cost rental homes at scale through our local authorities and the LDA. I do not doubt anyone's bona fides at all, but if my colleagues want to deliver homes at scale, we need an agency such as this one to do it. We need that agency to have teeth and powers. I cannot accept the amendments that have been tabled but I thank the Senators for tabling them. The debate has been useful. There is no threat to the reserved function of councillors in any way, shape or form. This is about housing delivery. To be fair, as Senator Fitzpatrick and others mentioned earlier, I and the Ministers of State, Deputies Burke and Noonan, have seen significant movement on the programme for Government commitments around the powers of councillors since we came into office. That is true not only of terms and conditions, which are important, and their remuneration, which we dealt with within a year, as we said we would, but also of provisions on planning. They have additional powers with regard to development plans.
I have accepted one amendment from this House. I am not sure if Senator Craughwell was present for the debate on the issue. The original planning Bill required that 75% of members would have to agree to an extension to the development plan. Senators asked me to look at that and reduce it to 50%, which I have done. I was happy to do that in the Dáil. That is one of a number of examples. I could give the Senator many more examples but I do not think there is any point. Let us get on with the business at hand. I thank Senator Boyhan and the co-sponsors of the amendment, Senators Hoey, Moynihan, Sherlock, Wall, Craughwell, Ruane, Black, Flynn and Higgins, for taking the time to table the amendments but I will not be accepting them. I hope I have explained my rationale.
There is a review built in under section 9. Any legislation is kept under review and I will do that in this case. The Minister may at any time require an agency to provide a review that can be debated. In the legislation, a review is tied in for 31 March 2024. A formal report from the agency will have to come forward for review by that date. At any stage that I feel, or any successor of mine feels, a progress report is required to be submitted to the Oireachtas, that can be done. The relevant committee can also request a report.
I will be brief. I thank the Minister for engaging with us. I also thank the Senators who have engaged in this debate. It has been a good debate. People are passionate about housing but they are also passionate about local government. As I said at the outset, the powers and functions of our elected councillors are important. I am not going to dwell much longer on the issue because I have made the point.
I acknowledge the work of Mr. John Coleman, chief executive of the LDA. He is an amazing man and a good guy. He has done a good job so far. He has engaged with our committee and that is important. I have always supported the LDA. I am particularly delighted it will come to Shanganagh Castle in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. You can look at the statistics, figures and costs relating to the council's acquisition of that site from the Department of Justice. Substantial money was involved, although that is another day's work. It is for somebody else to look at the value for money that was achieved, considering the price for which the site was acquired by the local authority and all of the fallout from that. That is not for today. Today is about the fact we are going to get more houses. Nobody in this House is against the building of houses in any shape, form or mix.
I will touch on Oscar Traynor Road project. I have engaged with some officials about that project. The councillors had a right to stop the development on that site. They secured a better deal that will include the provision of more homes.However, we will not go into all that now. That is for it the elected members of Dublin City Council who took those decisions legitimately. It is about better local government and empowering our councillors. It also envisages the powers directly elected mayors will have in all of this because they have nothing at the moment. We will have an opportunity to discuss that in subsequent legislation.
I thank the staff in the Library and Research Service. Based on its briefing, it is clear that the elected members will have some of the reserve functions removed. The Bills Digest, Land Development Agency Bill 2021, No. 11 of 2021, prepared by the Oireachtas Library and Research Service, is an excellent document and sets out independently all the issues. Before I leave this evening, I will send it to all the 990 councillors. It casts an independent light on the matter.
I thank the Minister for his engagement. I thank also the elected members for their engagement. I am happy to put the amendment to the House for a vote and put on record where we stand.
Catherine Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, , Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Martin Conway, Ollie Crowe, John Cummins, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Mary Fitzpatrick, Robbie Gallagher, Róisín Garvey, , Seán Kyne, Tim Lombard, John McGahon, Eugene Murphy, Fiona O'Loughlin, Pauline O'Reilly, Mary Seery Kearney, Barry Ward.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, back to the House. We are on amendment No. 3 in the names of Senators Higgins, Ruane, Black and Flynn which arises out of proceedings on Committee Stage. Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 are related. Amendment No. 4 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 3. Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 may be discussed together, by agreement. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 12, to delete lines 19 to 21 and substitute the following: “(2) Not later than 31 October 2022 and every year thereafter, the Agency shall furnish a report to the Minister, to be laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas, regarding progress made by the Agency and subsidiary DACs towards achieving the purposes of this Act, which shall include but not be limited to:(a) a breakdown of social dwellings delivered in each local authority area;
(b) a breakdown of cost rental dwellings delivered in each local authority area;
(c) a breakdown of affordable dwellings delivered in each local authority area; and
(d) the average cost of an affordable dwelling in each local authority area.”.
Questions came from members of the Government regarding the review. My amendments concern the review and are intended to try to strengthen it. This amendment asks that "Not later than 31 October 2022" a report be provided breaking down the numbers of social, cost rental and affordable houses in each local authority area. We hear social and affordable housing being bundled together constantly. There are, though, many different aspects contained within those categories. I refer to social housing, which is public housing that stays as public housing and that is rented to those on the social housing list. In addition, there is public cost rental. That model describes housing which is rented at a reasonable and affordable rate - we will leave aside for the moment the issue of how affordability is determined - and where that property remains part of the public housing stock in the long term. I refer to a situation where the cost to the State or a local authority of building that housing is recovered over a long time. One could argue that is what all social housing is anyway, in essence. It is a concept where rent is paid over a certain period of time according to what can be afforded. Many social housing estates across the country have been paid for over time.
Overall, then, categories of housing include social housing and public or approved housing body, AHB, cost-rental housing. The overall goal though is to provide housing. Another model then, is private cost rental for commercial equity returns. This Bill also provides for that concept. It is a different approach, because in that case we are dealing with a situation where profits are made each year through the equity return. In addition, an asset that was originally built on public land will go to the private investment firm in the end. We also have the category of affordable housing that is directly purchased by individuals and families. While I have some concerns in this regard, because we have seen problems arise when we lose public land, at least that housing is going to individual householders. Other Members have amendments seeking to secure and copperfasten that aspect.
Therefore, there are many differences across this area of housing delivery. My amendment would require that by October 2022 the agency would tell us exactly how many social and cost rental houses have been delivered. It would also provide a breakdown of what kinds of cost-rental housing have been delivered, as well as a breakdown of affordable housing. In addition, that report from the agency would detail where the costs are being incurred. It will be important to have that information before October 2022. I state that because, as I said before, we have a limited moment of opportunity now. We have a window during which the European Union's fiscal rules have been suspended and where the State can spend money and support local authorities in building housing. It was disingenuous for it to have been stated that this mechanism will only be used where local authorities will not build. Many local authorities have wanted to build houses, but they have been denied those opportunities. Instead, they have been told that they must lease houses. That is a fact.
This, then, is the window we have. Probably from about 2023 or 2024, we will see hawkish narratives coming from Fine Gael Ministers, and it is there already in a European perspective, about the necessity of austerity returning and then the window for State funding will close. The question then is what will we have achieved from this moment when we have zero interest zones and other incentives to act. When we look back, what will we have used this window of opportunity for? Will we have used it to build up housing stock for the State on public land? Will we instead have used this time to channel this opportunity through private investment firms with different goals that will get the long-term dividend in 25 years? This is the chance and the opportunity we have now.
Those of us urging that this fiscal opportunity be made use of are also saying that it should be used wisely for the public good. It should be used to ensure the long-term resilience of the State in the face of future shocks and market speculation, and that is what the recovery and resilience funding from the EU is intended for. Previous market speculation has caused great damage to security of tenure and housing provision in this country. It is for that reason that it matters how this window of opportunity is used right from the outset. That is why my amendment requests that a breakdown be provided on housing delivery from October 2022. I also suggest that general reporting in this regard should be provided within three years instead of five years. We have talked a great deal about how the Government has allowed local authorities to delay their local development plans. In doing so, that has also created a situation where some of those local authorities may well miss out on this window of fiscal opportunity when they do come to create their local development plans. It will then be the Land Development Agency which steps in, because the local authorities may not have the new development plans in place in time to allow them to seize the fiscal opportunity and be supported with funding from the State.That is for each local authority to consider, but they should consider very carefully whether to delay their plans and for how long. They should be at the table in accessing this fiscal space and in leading the ideas in regard to what comes forward. That is the concern about the timing. I have tabled other amendments, although I know we will not get to them, that sought to provide that it would be the latest development plan, that is, that which was published in the past three years or which has been delayed and is going to be published now. The amendments would have provided that the LDA would have to work and engage with the latest thinking, given that many local authority members are aware of very different issues and big changes that have arisen in the past five years, and that is important. Flood plains are an example. It would be better if new and current local development plans did not just lead to the delivery of housing under this legislation but also influenced how we use this fiscal moment for investment in housing.
I will probably have time only to press amendment No. 3 and the Minister of State may wish to respond. I regret that, yet again, the debate will be guillotined and we will not be able to speak to all the very good amendments tabled by me and others in respect of this area.
I fully take on board the points regarding the fiscal opportunity. This will be the largest investment in the history of the State in terms of capital spend on housing and it is a significant move by the Minister and the Department. I note the points about outgoing and new development plans and the fiscal opportunities. Those opportunities for local authorities will still exist through their annual capital programmes and departmental funding, and that is important.
The Senator raised significant points regarding the two amendments. I will not accept the amendments but I will outline my reasons with regard to each of them. Amendment No. 3 seeks to amend section 9 to provide that the LDA will also report on the delivery of housing by the LDA. I do not consider this provision necessary, given that there will be a report under this section on the LDA's progress in achieving the purposes of the Bill and it will include details on housing delivery.
Amendment No. 4 seeks to substitute the provision in section 9 such that the report the LDA will be required to submit to the Minister regarding the achievement of the purposes of the Act should be prepared every three years instead of every five, as currently provided for.
I will oppose the amendments because the acquisition and development of land can take time, as the Senator will appreciate. It is not appropriate for this report to be produced more frequently than every five years. Section 9(2) provides that an LDA report, produced not later than 31 March 2024 and every five years thereafter, will be laid before each House of the Oireachtas. In addition, under section 9, the Minister can require the LDA to report to him or her on the LDA's progress in achieving the purposes of the Bill. The LDA will be required to report to the Minister on its progress periodically, with the first report due in 2024.
Under section 48, the LDA is already required to furnish the Minister with an annual report by 30 June each year. This annual report will be drafted in line with the provisions of the code of practice for the governance of State bodies. As the provision of section 48 already requires the LDA to publish an annual report, the report furnished under section 9 is appropriately requested every five years.
I am responding to the debate. I pushed for this urgency of reflection because although we will be using State land, once the land enters the LDA's stock it will no longer be State land. Section 59 states that it will no longer be State land but land owned by the LDA, a commercial entity in which two Ministers are shareholders and they may dispose of those shares. That is the concern. By having a three-year plan, we will see what has happened up to that point. Of course not everything will have been transferred but some land will have been. It will inform local authorities and make it easier for them to engage constructively in the next phase-----
I apologise but I have to stop the Senator there. 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. 3 is hereby negatived; that Fourth Stage is hereby completed; that the Bill is hereby received for final consideration; and that the Bill is hereby passed."
Catherine Ardagh, Niall Blaney, Paddy Burke, Jerry Buttimer, Malcolm Byrne, Micheál Carrigy, Pat Casey, Shane Cassells, Lorraine Clifford-Lee, Martin Conway, Ollie Crowe, John Cummins, Regina Doherty, Aisling Dolan, Timmy Dooley, Mary Fitzpatrick, Robbie Gallagher, Róisín Garvey, , Tim Lombard, John McGahon, Eugene Murphy, Fiona O'Loughlin, Pauline O'Reilly, Mary Seery Kearney, Barry Ward.