State land may be utilised in bid to tackle housing crisis

Housing draft plan to propose €200m for councils to clear debt on suitable locations

The Government’s housing draft plan notes that some 700 sites have been identified by local authorities.  Photograph: PA

The Government’s housing draft plan notes that some 700 sites have been identified by local authorities. Photograph: PA


All State-owned lands, such as bus depots and Irish Rail properties, are to be assessed for potential as sites for house building.

The Government’s much-anticipated housing action plan, to be published today, will also propose that €200 million remaining from the sale of Bord Gáis should be made available to local authorities to pay off debts on land intended for social housing.

The plan will say all available State lands, on which imminent important infrastructural developments are not yet planned, should be advanced for housing where appropriate.

“A ‘State Land Residential Assessment Group’ is being established so that non-local authority State sites will be assessed using the same criteria used to assess local authority-owned lands for residential use,” notes a draft of the plan.

It sets out plans for mixed-tenure estates on local authority lands, where private developers would be invited to work with the local authorities to provide social, affordable and private housing and cites Dublin City Council as having already taken this initiative.

“There is potential for the wider use of this approach,” states the draft plan, dated the end of last month.

It says some 700 sites have been identified by local authorities, some owned outright and other lands on which they have debts having been purchased for housing that was never built. These lands were in the Land Aggregation Scheme, a €600 million initiative established in 2010 to pay off debts on these lands. This was discontinued in 2013, however, leaving local authorities to finance these debts from their own resources.

‘Clear objectives’

“For each site in the Land Aggregation Scheme a strategic management plan will be required to signal clear objectives that in essence will relate to moving the asset to the development stage at the earliest opportunity,” the draft plan says.

“Consideration will also be given to the utilisation of this land to promote partnerships, explore synergies with other public bodies, investigate land swaps to negotiate the delivery of community gain through the private sector.”

The Housing Agency is developing a “detailed GIS map” it says, of all local authority-owned lands as well as lands on which they have debts, detailing their “location, size, boundaries and other information”.

In an aide memoire, appended to the draft, a Department of Housing plan to use the “€200 million remaining Bord Gáis monies” to “wind down land debt” on local authorities lands is set out.

This would allow “for the use of that land by local authorities (or approved housing bodies) to deliver social and potentially affordable rental, housing that local authority land debt”.

The use of this fund would be “very objective and strategic” and only used for sites that could be developed quickly.

“There is a finite amount of Bord Gáis funding which will have to be deployed judiciously using robust criteria that will withstand executive and political challenge. Not withstanding this, what is proposed has the potential to have a substantial impact on the ongoing indebtedness issue of local authorities with the State being able to progress its own land banks as a further stimulus measure.”

Focus Ireland said the plan must be “ambitious, urgent and credible”, with measures to support families in emergency accommodation as well as specifics on how the anticipated 45,000 to 50,000 new social houses will be delivered and paid for.

The Irish Property Owners Association wants to see measures to support landlords, including allowing them write of legitimate costs against tax, while the Construction Industry Federation wants “financial measures in the upcoming budget” to make the industry more “sustainable”, housing “affordable, as well as a reviews of Central Bank mortgage rules.