Radical housing agency ‘will have real teeth’

Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.

The Government is set to approve controversial wide-ranging powers to its new housing regeneration development agency to allow it purchase public and private land to build social houses.

Under the plans, the newly created National Regeneration and Development Agency (NRDA) will have the powers to buy lands, deemed essential to a scheme to rejuvenate an area.

Cabinet ministers are to be briefed on the proposal at their meeting in Derrynane, Co Kerry, tomorrow ahead of a formal decision.

The new agency will lead the redevelopments of neglected sites in cities and towns across the country. Its wide ranging powers will ensure it can move quickly and overcome current planning obstacles and delays.

However, the Government is conscious that a body with such far-reaching powers could be controversial and face stiff opposition, hence a delay in its announcement.

There are also fears among local authorities that this new agency will usurp many of their property- related powers.

The new agency will identify an initial tranche of publicly owned or controlled lands, and strategic land in private ownership in key locations with potential for master-planning and re-purposing for strategic development purposes aligned to the national planning framework,” ministers will be told.

The proposal is being developed by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy in conjunction with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and his top officials, as well as Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe.

“This is very bold. This new agency will have real teeth and powers,” a senior Government source told the Irish Examiner. “If a site, even privately owned, is blocking a redevelopment from happening, this new body will have the powers to deal with that.”

The radical proposal has been the subject of significant focus by Attorney General Seamus Woulfe and his officials to overcome complications that arise from the constitutional rights relating to property ownership.

It has also reportedly has the strong backing on Martin Fraser, secretary general to the Government, who insists it must have as much power as possible for it to be successful.

The agency will essentially become a one-stop-shop for major social housing projects and will see it buying up land near sites that would be suitable for large-scale developments.

“There is an urgent need for a more agile and strategic approach to be adopted in managing and developing publicly owned lands so that development requirements can be met within a smaller physical footprint and provide an economic alternative to long-distance commuting,” state Government documents.

It is proposed this agency be established to ensure more effective co-ordination and management of the development of lands, in particular publicly-owned lands within and throughout urban centres across a range of scales, delivering more compact and sustainable growth.

The job of the new agency is to “release strategically located land banks suitable for redevelopment and designation for future public and private housing provision that will be affordable for housing providers to develop, and for people to buy or rent”.

Under the Government’s Project 2040 plan, the State plans to double current housing output over the next 10 years to deal with a big spike in population that’s expected to come.

To make this happen, Mr Murphy is planning to take over vacant spaces in towns and cities and invest billions in urban regeneration.

Over the next 10 years, housing construction will be ramped up to an average of 25,000–35,000 new homes annually in order to deal with the country’s booming population. Official forecasts show at least 500,000 homes will be needed long-term by 2040.

In the Constitution, the State guarantees in its laws to respect and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen. It says the “State shall, in particular, by its laws protect as best it may from unjust attack and, in the case of injustice done, vindicate the life, person, good name, and property rights of every citizen”.

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