New multi-billion agency aims to build 20,000 homes

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith and Eoin English

A new multi-billion Government agency set to be launched today will be given sweeping compulsory purchase order powers and the green light to buy State land from departments in a bid to address Ireland’s housing crisis.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will make the claim at the launch of the national land development agency this morning alongside a raft of other officials including Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy and Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty.

Under plans agreed by Cabinet yesterday, the new agency — which will have a €1.25bn war-chest — will be tasked with building more than 20,000 homes in key areas in Dublin and the rest of the country due to the ongoing housing crisis.

And in order to ensure space and funding is available, it will also be given sweeping compulsory purchase order powers and the right to use and sell on State-owned land in a bid to fast-track a solution to the escalating scandal.

It is understood the new agency’s main focus will be on buying existing land owned by state organisations and departments and selling it on to developers to ensure new homes are built quickly.

In addition, it will ensure any developments come with the caveat that road and rail transport, sports clubs, shops and other amenities are available to guarantee a living community is available for anyone who moves into the new homes.

It is claimed the new agency could build up to 20,000 houses in Dublin, its commuter belt and other parts of the country in the coming years, in part by using existing bus depots, train stations and other areas for construction.

Among the sites understood to be targeted by the new agency is the HSE-owned former St Kevin’s hospital site in Cork City.

The landmark former asylum building, next to the former Our Lady’s Mental Hospital on the Lee Road, was gutted in a suspected arson attack in July 2017.

The badly damaged building has been boarded up since that date, and was placed on the market earlier this year.

However, while there have been several calls for the site to be developed for housing, it is accepted that it would require significant investment in access roads and associated infrastructure to facilitate development.

The long-drawn up plan is being launched just 24 hours after Fianna Fáil housing spokesperson Darragh O’Brien announced his own plans for a €200m affordable housing agency to be set up as part of this year’s budget negotiations.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner during his party’s annual pre-Dáil think-in at the Grand Hotel in Malahide, Mr O’Brien said this agency could potentially build 4,000 homes in the next 12 months.

According to Mr O’Brien, if large sections of currently empty State-owned land are re-zoned for house builds, it would negate much of the costs of buying a home as there would be no need to add on land expenses.

This, he said, would mean affordable house prices could be reduced by as much as €50,000 if the initiative is agreed and introduced in next month’s budget.

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