Monday 23 September 2019

State hoarding enough land to build thousands of homes

(Stock picture)
(Stock picture)
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

The State is hoarding land which could be used to provide tens of thousands of family homes in the midst of the worst housing crisis in our history.

In Dublin alone, local authorities and Nama control half the zoned housing land in the city, enough to deliver 70,000 houses and apartments.

Nationally, there is enough land for 114,000 units across more than 3,000 hectares.

The massive landbank excludes holdings from CIE, Coillte, the HSE, Office of Public Works and other State bodies.

An affordable housing conference organised by the Ó Cualann Cohousing Alliance, which has built homes for less than €200,000, heard there was no shortage of land zoned and available for housing, but that sites in public ownership were largely unused.

Dublin City Council has some 16,700 households on its social housing waiting list and rents are among the highest in the State.

In the area controlled by this council, some 72.4pc of zoned land is in State control, capable of delivering almost 35,000 homes.

In Dún Laoghaire Rathdown, more than 57.1pc is controlled by the State, falling to 51.5pc in Fingal and 21.3pc in South Dublin, architect and housing expert Mel Reynolds said.

Nationally, local authorities control 1,317 hectares of land which could deliver 48,724 units.

In Dublin, it has 419 hectares which could provide almost 29,400 homes.

But instead of building homes on public lands, the State was renting them from the private sector, the conference heard.

Official Department of Housing figures show in the first half of this year, local authorities and approved housing bodies built or bought 1,051 homes. Fewer than 500 were built directly.

In the same period, the State has leased or rented 9,740 units.

"We have a huge amount of zoned land available," Mr Reynolds said. "It would appear there is very little appetite to build on State lands. From talking to local authorities, they have a capacity and a desire to build. A really big barrier is the Department of Housing itself. It takes years to get funding approval.

"I'm not that interested in the blame game. We have a model like Ó Cualann which is to build affordable homes in Dublin. They have capacity for about 900 to 1,000 units a year. The critical component they need is cheap land, and the State has an abundance of this. Not only do they have zoned land, but they have massive landbanks capable of being rezoned."

The Government's record was defended by junior Housing Minister Damien English, who said the State did not own Nama landbanks and could not demand they were utilised for housing.

Some 10,000 social houses would be delivered in 2019, he said, and an affordable housing scheme had been approved which would provide 10,000 homes.

He said 15 proposals had been received from nine local authorities, which were being assessed.

The recently formed Land Development Agency would make best use of publicly owned sites, and provide a sustainable pipeline of land for homes.

"This will be a commercial State-sponsored body, acting within a clear government policy framework, including that all public land disposals must deliver at least 40pc of any housing potential on such lands in the form of 10pc social and 30pc affordable housing," he said.

"Fixing housing remains a top national priority. The State's role is to address market failures to deliver social and affordable housing. The State has land and access to funding and finance to help deliver these badly needed homes."

The figures come as high rents and house prices lock thousands out of home ownership. Among the solutions proposed for reducing building costs are buying thousands of windows, bathrooms and doors in bulk, which would help lower prices.

Irish Independent

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