Unused land in State ownership could provide housing for around 114,000 families, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has told the Dáil.
Speaking at the conclusion of the second stage debate on the Land Development Agency Bill, he said the legislation and agency “will endure for a number of years and we’re all in agreement that we need to manage State lands better”.
The legislation aims to put the agency, which is already in operation, on a statutory footing as it attempts to fast-track the development of social and affordable homes. The agency is currently working with local authorities on 11 sites to provide more than 3,000 homes, the Dáil heard.
Mr O’Brien said “we have to get it right” to “house our people” and “too much State-owned and agency land is not being put to productive use”.
Government and Opposition TDs have repeatedly raised concerns that the Bill will undermine local democracy because of a number of clauses which would divest councillors of their veto on land transfers involving the agency.
The Government says the measures contained in the Bill aim to prevent local authority members from delaying housing developments.
However, the Minister insisted this was “not an attack on the local government sector” and he said councils would continue to be the main provider of social and affordable housing.
Change of view
Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster highlighted Mr O’Brien’s rejection of the Bill when in opposition. She described the legislation as “failed Fine Gael policy dressed up in Fianna Fáil clothes”.
Ms Munster said the Minister opposed the legislation when it came before the housing committee in the last Dáil “and now you’re all for it”.
Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen backed the Minister’s approach and said “despite record amounts of funding being available to many local authorities, not enough houses are being delivered by them.
“Social housing associations have an increased role in the provision of housing solutions,” he said, but they do not give people who rent the homes an opportunity to buy them, “an opportunity that I believe must be available”.
He added that while there is much unused land in public ownership they are not necessarily lands owned by the local authorities, but by the State.
Independent TD Catherine Connolly said the mantra was being repeated that “we cannot go back to the way things were but that is what the Minister is doing with this Bill”.
She said lessons are not being learned that whether people rent or buy homes the price has to be “affordable and related to income, not the market”.
TDs will vote on Thursday on allowing the Bill to proceed to the next stage.