Land Development Agency warned not to repeat Irish Water mistakes

Oireachtas committee asks agency to be ‘open and accountable’

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd (FG) said the capital was in danger of becoming a place ’where only the extremely wealthy live’. File photograph: Eric Luke

Deputy Fergus O’Dowd (FG) said the capital was in danger of becoming a place ’where only the extremely wealthy live’. File photograph: Eric Luke

 

The Government’s new €1.25 billion Land Development Agency has been warned not to repeat mistakes made by Irish Water when it became swamped in controversy over its use of consultants and a perceived absence of transparency.

At an Oireachtas committee hearing at which the new agency and local authorities in Cork and Dublin outlined plans to develop land for housing, questions were also raised about how land banks could be best used to tackle a housing and homelessness crisis which was described as “the biggest scandal facing our society” by Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd.

Mr O’Dowd welcomed the setting up of the agency and expressed hope it would go some way to dealing with a situation in which “young people are being driven from [DUBLIN] because they can’t afford the rents”. He warned that the capital was in danger of becoming a place “where only the extremely wealthy live”.

He said it was critical the agency did not “fall into the same trap as Irish Water” and asked for assurances that the new agency would be open and accountable.

Its interim chief executive John Coleman said both accountability and transparency were “a critical part of the agency’s set up”.

He told the Oireachtas Committee on Housing the agency had only employed three fulltime staff to date but hoped to have up to 25 people working for it within 12 months.

The agency, announced by the Government in September, has yet to be formally established. Once it is, it will have compulsory purchase powers and can identify and release land banks for the construction of 150,000 homes over 20 years.

Initial portfolio

Mr Coleman told the committee that about 3,000 homes would be delivered on an initial portfolio of eight publicly-owned sites.

He outlined plans to develop publicly and privately-owned landbanks to accommodate housing units, to be made up of 10 per cent social housing, 30 per cent affordable homes and 60 per cent to be sold on the wider market.

He stressed that more than 40 per cent of housing built on land could be social and affordable if the demand warranted it.

Mr Coleman said while the agency’s main aim is to facilitate the building of homes on public land-banks, “it is important to state we are not limiting our focus to where the State has land.

“We are also examining the potential to unlock delivery on wholly privately-held areas which could be developed or redeveloped but where nothing is happening currently.”

Solidarity TD Mick Barry said publicly-owned land was being effectively handed to private developers.

He said there was a large sector of society that is “effectively being locked out” of the housing market and he criticised plans which would “lock up public land for only one sector of society, people who have big money and people who are affluent.”

The committee also heard from four of the biggest local authorities and a senior planning official at the Department of Housing, on how best to develop public land.