Friday 24 May 2019

Land agency a step in right direction but it's no cure for the current crisis

Editorial Comment

The new Land Development Agency (LDA) that has been created by the Government would appear to be a step in the right direction but the announcement of the LDA's formation has left more questions than answers.

For months - if not years - the Fine Gael led government and the State's agencies have been accused of failing to address the root issue that lies at the heart of the housing crisis, namely the lack of new houses.

The LDA has been set up to tackle the housing supply shortage but, by the Government's own admission, it will do little in the short term and, if successful, will meet only a fraction of the real need.

Over the next 20 years the Government says that the new agency - with a €1.25 billion war chest - will deliver some 150,000 houses and dwellings around the country.

That's all well and good but, as is so often the case in these situations, the devil is in the details.

Current Government estimates clearly state that roughly 30,000 new homes a year are needed in Ireland to meet existing demand.

If demand were merely to remain at current levels, which is highly unlikely given population growth projections, then 700,000 new homes will be needed over the course of the LDA's 20 year programme.

Based on the same Government estimates, around 75,000 additional new homes will be needed in Ireland by the end of 2020.

In announcing the LDA last week, the Government said that the first houses developed in conjunction with the agency will not be available until 2020 at the earliest. Even then only around 10,000 dwellings are actually expected to be built as a result of the agency's efforts.

This will still leave a massive shortfall and - while the construction sector is recovering - at the moment there is little indication that the private sector will be able to rise to meet it.

In the longer term, provided it is run properly, the LDA should prove useful but in terms of resolving the immediate crisis - and housing the scores of homeless families around the country - it will be of little or no benefit.

There are also questions about the LDA's remit and how that will be managed and overseen.

Lands developed via the LDA - either by the State alone or in joint ventures with private developers - must contain at least 10 per cent social housing and 30 per cent affordable housing.

The issue here is that it remains unclear precisely what 'affordable housing' means in this context with various hypothetical figures ranging from €200,000 to €320,000 being mooted.

Some critics - mainly on the left - have also pointed out that the LDA plan amounts to the privatisation of valuable public lands in an arrangement that will suit developers more than anyone.

Oversight and transparency will be vital and the deals struck with developers will need to be scrutinised. Whether that will happen remains to be seen. Unfortunately past experience, such as with agencies like NAMA, doesn't inspire much confidence in that regard.

Enniscorthy Guardian