Ministers have been told to redouble their efforts to find State lands for housing after an initial trawl failed to identify a “significant number” of projects.
A confidential briefing given to Ministers on Thursday outlined how government departments were asked to review their holdings and place land or property on the market if it was suitable for residential development – but the exercise “has not identified a significant number of buildings/properties for this purpose”.
Officials are now set to engage with departments with large property portfolios to identify any further underutilised properties or land for residential development.
The departments of Health, Education and Justice have been identified as holding such portfolios, or managing them on behalf of the Office of Public Works. Public properties that are put on the market are offered to the Land Development Agency (LDA) on a first-refusal basis.
Land to build up to 15,000 homes was identified across 20 sites when the Government’s flagship Housing for All strategy was being drawn up last year after departments and State agencies were told to find under-used tracts to hand over to the LDA.
The pressure is increasing, however, to find more sites that can come on-stream more quickly. The LDA is working on an initial tranche of sites, but some of the 20 projects are facing multiple issues and will not enter the planning process until the second half of the decade.
These include plans to build almost 900 homes on lands at Dublin Port, where specific sites are still to be agreed. That is not expected to enter planning until 2025.
Cabinet was told there was no certainty on a timeline for planning permission at Broadstone Garage in Dublin, which is still under operational use – some 1,500 homes are envisaged for the site but it may not enter planning until the end of 2026.
Government on Thursday approved a pilot fast-track process for the repurposing of State lands and property for residential use. Under this pilot particular towns with significant land shortages will be identified and land holdings analysed. The programme will first be focused on Galway city and Kildare, with data from the LDA and OPW used to assess the potential for different State lands and buildings that could be used for future residential development. The aim is that it will in time be used more broadly.
The OPW has also been told to consider whether the move to blended working might have freed up further properties in its portfolio, while the Department of Public Expenditure is to consider whether in some instances agencies selling property to the LDA could be given “flexibility” on sales proceeds. Other issues flagged as needing resolution include the development of criteria for selecting properties, and incentivising the body using it to find an alternative.
A memo was jointly brought to Cabinet on Thursday on progress of the transfer of State lands to the LDA by Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and Taoiseach Micheál Martin, reflecting the renewed political emphasis on the housing crisis as the pandemic remains under control.
The department is also to examine whether a unit set up to identify vacant houses and buildings for Ukrainian refugees could be set up on a more permanent basis. Cabinet also agreed that all departments and agencies will “engage fully” with the LDA on the timely transfer of sites.