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Saturday 22 July 2017

No 'quiet deals' on use of State lands for housing, says Coveney

Housing Minister Simon Coveney Picture: Mark Condren
Housing Minister Simon Coveney Picture: Mark Condren
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Agreements between local authorities and developers to use publicly owned land for housing will be "fully transparent" and designed to get maximum use from the State's extensive land bank.

Housing Minister Simon Coveney said there would be no "quiet deals" struck between council chief executives and builders, adding that councillors in cities had to look at facilitating high-rise developments where appropriate.

He was speaking at the launch of the Housing Land Map which sets out the location of more than 800 sites owned by public bodies across the State, which will be offered to the private market to help boost housing supply.

More than 2,000 hectares of land controlled by city and county councils and other bodies including CIÉ, the IDA and HSE are to be offered to private developers and housing associations in an effort to resolve the housing crisis and provide at least 50,000 new homes.

More than 700 of the sites are controlled by the local authorities, and any proposed schemes will benefit from a fast-track planning process where the public will have eight weeks to make submissions. Councillors will ultimately decide if the projects are approved, and the minister said and deals struck with developers would be "fully transparent".

Read More: Housing map reveals all the sites available

"The vast majority of these agreements and deals will have to be agreed by councils," Mr Coveney said. "It will not be a quiet deal between chief executives and developers. We have to know the State is getting value for this land bank. This can materialise in a number of ways, including a certain type of housing the local authority wants to deliver. It needs to be very transparent in terms of policy and finance. There will be an insistence on a lot of transparency, and how developers are chosen."

Mapping data produced by the department shows even if low-density housing is provided at 25 units per hectare, there is enough land for at least 8,700 homes in Dublin city alone, another 3,000 in Cork city and 1,400 in Galway city, all considered high-demand areas where prices are rising and rents increasing. There is sufficient land for 4,500 in Limerick city and county and 1,150 in Waterford city and county.

Mr Coveney said he would like Dublin councillors to maximise use of 137 sites identified, which total almost 350 hectares, to provide affordable and social units, and properties for the private market.

"I am a big believer in high rise in the right places," he said. "We are not going to go back to poor quality apartment blocks. We can build very high-quality urban communities. I would encourage the representatives in Dublin City Council to look with an open mind on any restrictions in place.

"We don't want to build skyscrapers in Georgian Dublin, but some of these sites will be very attractive for high-density, and others will be traditional housing estates."

But some politicians have raised concerns about the possible sell-off of lands, with People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett saying it was the "latest in a series of disastrous plans" to privatise social housing, adding it was "utter madness at every level".

But the Irish Council for Social Housing said the map set out an "active pipeline" of building land for social housing, and would help deliver social homes in the right places.

Developers will be invited to build homes under a licensing arrangement where land could be sold, provided for free or subject to a long-term lease. Councils may also establish commercial development companies to manage and deliver schemes.

Irish Independent

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