Thursday 20 October 2016

Best house sites in vultures' grip

Published 03/04/2016 | 02:30

FORUM: Nama head of public affairs Martin Whelan
FORUM: Nama head of public affairs Martin Whelan

Nama has sold land with the potential to deliver 20,500 new homes - in Dublin and other areas where the housing shortage is most acute - to private investors since 2014.

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News of the agency's decision to offload lands - in the most sought-after areas of the capital, the commuter counties of Wicklow, Kildare, Meath and Louth and the cities of Cork, Limerick and Galway, as the worst housing crisis in the history of the State was taking hold - emerged during the housing forum convened on Thursday by acting environment minister Alan Kelly.

Addressing delegates drawn from a range of local authorities, housing bodies and homeless charities, Martin Whelan, Nama's head of public affairs, revealed how the State's so-called 'bad bank' had sold vast swathes of prime development land to investors at a time when demand for housing was surging.

Mr Whelan was seeking to defend Nama against accusations that it had been hoarding sites where much-needed new homes could already have been delivered. His comments will not be welcomed by those who now find themselves effectively locked out of the housing market due to the chronic shortage of supply.

He said: "Nama hasn't been hoarding development sites. Since 2014, we've sold sites with the potential to deliver up to 20,000 new residential units."

Of the 20,000 sites sold by Nama in the past two years, he noted that just 1,000 homes had been delivered to date by the investors who acquired them.

Having highlighted the apparent failure of the sites' private sector owners to deliver new homes, Mr Whelan reiterated Nama's ambition to fund the delivery of up to 20,000 new residential units over the next five years on lands owned by its remaining debtors.

He stressed that even if this target was attained, Nama would only be able to meet 20pc of the country's projected housing demand over the next five years.

On this, he said: "That reflects the land that is in the Nama portfolio. That reflects the sites that are ready to go, that don't have planning issues.

"So the reality is, going full steam ahead, delivering 4,000 residential units per annum, that Nama will account for one fifth [of demand]. So the solution has to be wider than that."

Nama's decision to dispose of lands with the capacity for 20,500 new homes since 2014 is alarming when one examines where those lands are situated.

Asked for a detailed breakdown of the sites' location, a spokesman for Nama said: "Approximately 9,000 of the potential new residential units are in Dublin, 7,000 are in the neighbouring counties of Wicklow, Kildare, Meath and Louth, 3,000 are in Cork, and the remainder are in the other major urban centres, including Waterford, Limerick and Galway."

The spokesman added that of the 20,500 sites sold, 1,100 were either built or under construction by their new owners.

Nine hundred of the 1,100 units are located in Dublin while the remaining 200 are in Kildare.

He added that there is a range of reasons why many of the sites sold had not yet been developed.

"These reasons include infrastructure constraints - for example, a potential 3,000 units at a major site in south Dublin are dependent on significant infrastructure investment, totalling tens of millions of euros, to upgrade existing roads, sewerage and water facilities and to build new infrastructure," the spokesman said.

In a number of other instances, the delay in developing homes on the lands arose following the decision by the new owners to submit revised planning applications to reflect the demand for particular house and apartment types in certain locations.

While Nama will invariably come in for criticism for selling lands in areas where the greatest housing demand exists, there is no guarantee that it will be in a position to fund the delivery of the 20,000 homes on the sites still under the control of its remaining debtors.

That plan is now the subject of a complaint to the European Commission by five of the country's biggest developers led by Michael O'Flynn and Paddy McKillen on the grounds that it may breach EU rules on State aid.

They claim Nama-funded developers enjoy an unfair advantage over non-Nama developers owing to the State agency's lower cost of financing.

Sunday Independent

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