Seanad debates

Wednesday, 30 March 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Housing Provision

10:30 am

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting what I think is a really important Commencement matter, which relates to the Land Development Agency, LDA, its commitments, and the Government's commitments to it. I am conscious that city and county councillors were very concerned about the power to transfer land outside of the section 183 process. It is something I raised many times in this House. The issue surfaced again when discussing matters with members at the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, conference in Buncrana and that prompted me to raise this issue again.

I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. The issue relates to his Department. I know he personally has a significant commitment to developing housing, as has the Government, as I and others have. I do not really mind where housing comes from or who builds it. I have no ideological position on whether it is the private sector, the public sector or whoever else. I have a lot of time for synergies by the approved housing bodies, AHBs, and the local authorities. We have all put our shoulder to the wheel to deliver homes. This is about building homes for people that they can manage and which are reasonable in terms of rent, purchase or whatever else.

The issue I raise today is the commitment to the transfer of these lands that will see the Land Development Agency take ownership of significant pieces of land. We are talking about Inchicore in Dublin. These lands were formerly in the ownership of CIÉ, the ESB and the OPW. We are talking about substantial lands at the Cork docklands, formerly connected to the ESB and Bord na Móna, which owned or in some way had leverage on the site. We are also talking about Limerick's Colbert Station, where CIÉ again has a connection, as does the HSE on neighbouring lands. I would like to hear about progress on the sites and to acknowledge the excitement they potentially have in terms of realising new homes for us. It is important that we also understand the timelines for the transfer of these sites. I am familiar with Limerick and I went to see the site recently. I see great plans on the LDA website regarding a consultation on the housing there.

I understand what the LDA wants to do. It wants to improve the way the housing market functions. That is welcome and it is positive. I acknowledge that the LDA wants to work with State bodies and local authorities and their elected members to make more effective use of State lands and to provide a sustainable supply of new homes and new houses. What is most important is that the LDA now accepts that it wants to acquire and develop lands in a selective and targeted way that boosts housing supply. This is not to be in competition with anybody else.

One of the points that we discussed at the meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage with the approved housing bodies and the County and City Management Association, CCMA, was that we do not want State agencies, be it the Land Development Agency, the health authorities, other State agencies, harbour companies and transport agencies all competing for the same piece of land. The only people who will gain from that are the private property owners. We need a much more co-ordinated management structure for State lands. We must set out our target to get them and we must not compete with each other within the public sector and hike up the prices because ultimately that impacts on the property prices.

I acknowledge the amazing work of the LDA. I put my hand up and say I was somewhat sceptical about it, but what it has done with the State land bank database is phenomenal. At last, we are now seeing a database with a master mapping system of State lands, be it owned by An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces, the HSE and transport and marine agencies. That is important in order that we will get good land use. I know the Minister of State is fiercely committed to that. It would be most helpful if he could share some details on those three promised land transfers and projects.

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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I followed quite a bit of that session yesterday at the joint committee. It was really interesting, including Senator Boyhan's contribution. As he stated, there is something very strategic and big happening right across the housing sphere and we see that with the increase in the number of commencements. In my own county, the social housing provision is up by more than 60%, which will reduce the social housing waiting list. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and officials have been incredibly proactive across the Department to try and address the housing crisis through as many measures as possible.

The enactment of the Land Development Agency Act 2021, providing for the establishment of the LDA as a commercial State agency, marked an historic move to use all lands available to the State to provide for housing supply and affordability needs. The Act provided for the establishment of a new LDA designated activity company, DAC, and the initial capitalisation of the LDA DAC by the National Treasury Management Agency, NTMA, from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF. The LDA DAC was incorporated by the Companies Registration Office on 20 December 2021 and, following a direction issued by the Minister for Finance and the establishment of a bank account by the LDA DAC, the initial €100 million of the LDA's €1.25 billion ISIF capital allocation to the LDA DAC has now been transferred from ISIF by the NTMA.

The LDA will work with local authorities, State agencies and the private sector to deliver housing and to identify public and private lands for development purposes. Prior to Housing for All, the LDA already had access to an initial tranche of eight sites and it is currently developing those sites, which include Castlelands in Balbriggan and the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. It is also working collaboratively with a number of local authorities to bring forward other State lands, such as the developments at St. Teresa's Gardens and at Shanganagh. Under Housing for All, the State committed to transferring a further tranche of 20 sites to the LDA, with the potential to deliver up to 15,000 homes, including lands at the Digital Hub in Dublin and Colbert Station in Limerick, which Senator Boyhan referred to.

A list of those additional State lands is available in Housing for All and the LDA is actively progressing the transfer of those sites with the relevant State owners. It should be noted that these site transfers are at an early stage and more work is needed to enable transfer of the sites. Officials at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage are working with the LDA to progress site transfers and any issues are being actively considered by a State lands subgroup of the overall Housing for All delivery group, on which the LDA is represented. The LDA is already working on baseline assessments and feasibility assessments for many of these sites. Senator Boyhan will be glad to know there will be no delay in their development.

The LDA is currently developing a register of all relevant public lands owned by local authorities and other bodies listed under Schedules 1 and 2 to the LDA Act. The focus of the register is on sites in urban population areas greater than 10,000. An initial prototype mapping tool has already been completed by the LDA and is available on its website. On commencement of section 50 of the LDA Act, this register will be put on a statutory footing.

I note the points raised by Senator Boyhan about the number of competing interests for these land banks. The criteria for the delivery of housing must include the sustainability of transport corridors and public transport in urban centres. There is a very strong, cohesive approach from a housing perspective to achieve critical mass in terms of housing delivery in the coming years.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State for the very detailed response. As the LDA is settling down, there is not as much suspicion among the local authorities about it any more. The key is its focus on acquiring and developing lands in a selective and targeted way to boost housing supply. That is great. I have just one question on foot of the Minister of State's response, which says it all. I acknowledge the enormous work in terms of the tool for the mapping and the database of State lands. That is really important work that will stand us in good stead going forward. The Minister of State outlined that on commencement of section 50 of the LDA Act, the register will be put on a statutory basis. I do not want a response now, but perhaps he could take my question away with him and have a chat with his officials. Is it possible to have some sort of timeline? I accept there is a lot more work to do, but it is important that as soon as we can we get the Minister to sign off on section 50 of the LDA Act, which concerns the register, because it was clearly identified as an issue. Perhaps the Minister of State would bring the point back to his officials in the Department. I thank him. This is a really good news story and it is good housekeeping in terms of our land bank management and land-use policy.

Photo of Malcolm NoonanMalcolm Noonan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Green Party)
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Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh na páistí, na daltaí anseo, go dtí an Seanad. They are very welcome to the Seanad.

I fully agree with Senator Boyhan. I appreciate the comments he makes about the LDA and the general thrust of Government policy on the critical importance of the delivery of housing through Housing for All.Senator Boyhan mentioned a number of other sites, including those at Cork docklands and Inchicore in Dublin, but I am not sure if they are on that particular list.

It is important that we try to pursue all avenues. The LDA is but one mechanism for the delivery of housing under Housing for All. Month on month, the targets are reaching and exceeding our expectations, but we are also seeing increasing challenges around homelessness. The challenges remain. The intake of refugees and families from Ukraine will add to the additional requirements, but I assure Senator Boyhan that the Government and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, are deeply committed to trying to address all of these issues.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I thank the Minister of State.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
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I also thank the Minister of State.

I wish to welcome students from Loretto College, St. Stephen's Green, our near neighbours. They are very welcome, as is Ms Carroll, who is accompanying them. It is lovely to see them. They are the first school group I have seen in the Seanad Chamber since we opened up after Covid-19. They are very welcome. I hope they have a very enjoyable day and they learn a lot about the decisions that are made and the different types of debate that happen in Seanad and Dáil Éireann. Those decisions and debates make a difference to their lives and to the lives of people in their community. I thank them for joining us.

The final commencement matter this morning is from Senator Marie Sherlock.