New agency will assemble large banks of State land for housing

Move is expected to form part of Government’s 10-year capital development plan

The Government has said the aim of both the planning framework and the capital plan will be to build regional cities and larger towns as growth hubs while preventing urban sprawl

The Government has said the aim of both the planning framework and the capital plan will be to build regional cities and larger towns as growth hubs while preventing urban sprawl

 

A new agency will be given the power to assemble large land banks from existing State property for the construction of homes under plans being developed by the Government.

The State agency would be granted greater use of compulsory purchase orders to ensure that existing sites in urban areas, close to existing infrastructure like rail and bus links, are used for homes.

In addition, it would also be able to relocate existing buildings or facilities from urban locations more suitable for the construction of homes to “greenfield” areas outside cities.

It is understood the land banks could then be sold to private developers to construct private, social and affordable homes, as well as for commercial use. However, there may be strict conditions on any potential sales.

The move is expected to form a part of the Government’s 10-year capital development plan and its accompanying national planning framework, which will be discussed by the Fine Gael parliamentary party on Wednesday evening.

While county and city councils have the power to zone and designate lands for specific uses, it is argued that more aggressive interventions are needed.

Expertise

An earlier draft of the planning framework – which is being updated and amended in advance of its final publication – said legislation would be needed to ensure the agency was effective nationally. The draft said such an approach would also “establish a core pool of expertise to drive development in conjunction with local authorities and other stakeholders”.

Of particular concern to the new agency would be brownfield sites that have been used for commercial or industrial use, as well as available space within residential areas.

The agency may also be given the capacity to co-ordinate other infrastructural projects – such as road-building – and shared amenities, such as green spaces and playgrounds, that would open up sites for development and increase their attractiveness.

The Government has said the aim of both the planning framework and the capital plan will be to build regional cities and larger towns as growth hubs while preventing urban sprawl.

Difficulties

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dáil on Tuesday that there may be difficulties in turning Nama into a housing agency, as had been proposed by some parties.

Fianna Fáil is currently drafting a new housing policy based on a housing agency that will drive the construction of 90,000 homes over three years. Labour has also proposed a new housing agency, and housing spokeswoman Jan O’Sullivan said Nama could provide its backbone.

Last September Mr Varadkar also said the Government was looking at the “possibility of re-purposing Nama to develop lands on behalf of the State to step in where the private sector has failed”. However, it opted to establish the new Home Building Finance Ireland, which will draw on Nama’s expertise and provide finance to developers.

“Changing the remit of Nama may force the agency to go on-balance-sheet or we could run into issues around State aid,” Mr Varadkar said. “If Nama was competing with the private construction sector in the private rental market and the private housing construction market that could constitute State aid.”