Fruits of labour a long way off as Government seek answer to housing crisis

Significant interventions in housing or the property market can often prompt mixed views, writes Juno McEnroe

The new Land Development Agency (LDA) is ambitious but will reap no immediate results or benefits.

Nonetheless, if followed through with, the unprecedented use of empty State ready-to-build sites and acres of land could make urban living more sustainable and more affordable.

The LDA’s facilitation of private developments must be overseen properly. Vast landbanks and sites could now be unlocked and finally built on.

And we should not underestimate how much State land is there to help ease the housing crisis. Housing expert Mel Reynolds recently noted that between local authorities and Nama, three quarters of land primed for development in Dublin is in the ownership of the State.

That is shocking when you think there are 10,000 homeless people, surging purchase and rental costs, and complaints that it is all down to supply.

This radical plan to use State-owned sites, such as old hospital lands, transport depots or barracks, for property development will have developers rubbing their hands with glee. The construction industry called the LDA a “game-changer”.

But we must be careful. There can’t be a situation where house or land prices surge even more if these land banks are put up for sale or developed. 

Furthermore, there must be cast-iron guarantees that the promised 40% affordable and social housing builds are delivered, especially where prime sites such as south Dublin’s Dundrum are developed.

Many opposition TDs will also want to know why the State or local authorities are not developing the sites, instead of “lining the pockets of developers” as was alleged yesterday.

One thing is for sure. The fruits of this initiative will be a long way off. It will be years before any of these low-cost homes open their doors. The first won’t be sold until at least 2020, LDA chief John Coleman admitted.

The promise is that the agency could deliver as many as 150,000 homes over the next 20 years. As it is, the Government says some 30,000 homes are needed annually and the LDA, with €1.25bn, will build — on its own or with developers — many thousands of those.

There is much debate still to come around this agency. Furthermore, the plan still also needs to get through the Dáil, under the Fine Gael-led minority government.

One of the first tests for the agency will be how the 35-acre site in Dundrum, the old central mental hospital, is developed. 

First steps for this will be taken by 2020 and will either prove the LDA is working or is just another quango which has failed to deliver low-cost homes for communities.

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