Sharp Dáil exchanges during debate on land agency Bill

More bankers on 12-member board than women, says Green Party’s Neasa Hourigan

The Land Development Agency will undertake strategic land assembly. File photograph: Getty

The Land Development Agency will undertake strategic land assembly. File photograph: Getty

 

There are more bankers on the board of the Land Development Agency (LDA) than there are women, the Dáil has been told.

Green Party finance spokeswoman Neasa Hourigan said the 12 people on the agency’s interim board include five from the banking sector, four from Government departments or local authorities and one academic in social policy.

Three members are women but Ms Hourigan, an architect, said there are no specialists in community or environmental design. Neither are there experts on sustainable development of housing or communities.

She was speaking during the ongoing debate on legislation to put the agency, already in operation, on a statutory basis.

The State-sponsored entity will undertake strategic land assembly. It is targeted at building affordable homes, sustainable communities and is already working with local authorities on 11 sites to provide more than 3,000 homes.

Ms Hourigan said the agency already had far-reaching and considerable powers. But there is “very little oversight as to its proceedings, hiring policies or how it is operating right now”. It can already “enter into contracts, acquire lands and negotiate land transfer with departments, agencies and local authorities. The legislation we are now considering seems to allow the agency to form subsidiaries, acquire public land on the basis of first refusal and enable it to implement compulsory purchase orders.”

She told the Dáil: “I do not look forward to the inevitable appearance of the LDA in front of the Committee of Public Accounts.”

Ms Hourigan said the legislation should be used to “reverse the bonfire” of poor building regulations and design standards.

Bypassing councillors

She was one of many TDs who criticised the provision where councillors will not be able to block the sale of local authority land to the Government agency.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle said the Bill “will make the LDA the Trojan Horse that the Government wants to siphon off any remaining public land”.

Fine Gael Minister of State Josepha Madigan said she found it “incredible that the word “community” is used only once in a Bill that aims to enable the sustainable development of new and regenerated communities”. Ms Madigan said the State “cannot be a champion of community if it does not engage with existing communities” as she highlighted the agency’s “lack of meaningful engagement” with local residents’ associations about the site of the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum which is set to be a housing development of up to 1,300 units once the hospital relocates to Portrane.

Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh said the main problem with the agency is that the Government “seems to think that the best route to deliver public housing is to bypass those institutions that are best at delivering it”. He said local authorities had been starved of funding for too long to build social housing or to get it built “but they have also been constricted in the development of a proper affordable rental scheme or affordable purchase scheme”.

The Dublin South-Central TD cited the “debacle” of St Michael’s estate, which he said was rightly levelled. But it was “supposed to have been rebuilt and regenerated. We are still waiting” and it is the same with numerous other tracts of land.

He asked: “Why are we talking about setting up an agency with 50 or 60 staff rather than using existing staff in the local authorities and building up once again the capacity of local authorities to get developers on site and building as quickly as possible?”

Fine Gael TD Richard Bruton said rezoning is particularly needed within the M50 in Dublin and “within developed areas where some lands have been assigned to uses that are no longer fit for purpose”. But he warned that they had to prevent the traditional rezoning of land that was allowed “to be like a windfall lottery where people come up winning and get an outcome they pocket”.

Debate on the Bill continues.