Plans to bypass councillors in local authority land sales ‘outrageous’

Minister for Housing on Friday published Bill aiming to empower Land Development Agency

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien on Friday published the Land Development Ageny Bill 2021, which he says will empower the agency to provide homes for affordable purchase, cost rental and social housing. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times.

Oppostion politicians have criticised Government plans to bypass councillors in the sale of local authority sites to the Land Development Agency (LDA), claiming the proposals are “outrageous” and “completely unacceptable”.

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien on Friday published the LDA Bill 2021, which he says will empower the agency to provide homes for affordable purchase, cost rental and social housing.

He said local authorities would be able to transfer lands to the LDA without requiring council votes, which he said would have the effect of “accelerating the process, clearing blockages and driving on development”.

Councillors currently have the power to block the sale of land with perhaps the most high-profile instance of this happening last year in relation to a site at Oscar Traynor Road in north Dublin.


Labour’s local government spokeswoman Senator Rebecca Moynihan claimed the proposal was “outrageous” and was “stripping power” from councillors “without any evidence that local government are the people that are holding up the delivery of land”. She said “a much more progressive thing” would be for local authorities to be able to build homes themselves.

‘Democratic checkpoint’

“Councillors are a central democratic checkpoint for the selling of lands. So I think it’s a really dangerous precedent,” she said, adding that she would be “very surprised” if the Green Party’s TDs accepted such a proposal.

Sinn Féin’s housing spokesman Eoin Ó Broin said the Minister’s proposals were “completely unacceptable”.

He said the move was not only “undermining democracy” but also forcing local authorities to dispose of land to the LDA to deliver what he claimed would be “unaffordable, open market price private homes on public land”.

He said local authorities need to be directly funded to build large volumes of “good quality social and affordable homes” on such land rather than facilitating private developers making large profits.

Under the Bill, the sale of lands by a local authority to the LDA does not require the pre-consent of councillors under Section 183 of the Local Government Act 2001.

A spokeswoman for Mr O’Brien said that the primary role of local authorities in the delivery of housing “will be in no way impacted by this new legislation”.

She said the Bill “specifically provides for the LDA to deliver services” at the request of local authorities, including to deliver social and affordable housing on their lands.

“It is envisaged that the majority of such lands will remain in local authority ownership post development in this case,” she added.

She said the LDA will have “first refusal” to buy land being sold by councils but this would only arise where the local authority has decided not to develop the lands for their own functions.

New plan

The Irish Times reported on Friday that a cross-party group of Dublin City Council members have produced a new plan for the Oscar Traynor Road site, which would consist of all social and affordable homes.

The plan, if it were to proceed, would see 40 per cent of the properties bought by the council, 40 per cent made available for a cost/affordable rental scheme, and the remaining 20 per cent sold to low and middle income workers.

A previous plan to build 853 homes on the site collapsed last November after councillors refused to approve a deal with Glenveigh Homes which would have seen 428 of the homes sold privately, 253 bought by the council for social housing and 172 sold to workers who qualify for an affordable purchase scheme.

The LDA welcomed the publication of the legislation, which it said would provide a permanent basis for its activities.

“The Bill squarely focuses the LDA on improving housing affordability, which is consistent with our approach to date,” LDA chief executive John Coleman said.

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn is a Political Correspondent at The Irish Times