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Cianan Brennan Exposes Land Development Agency’s Powerlessness!

State Report Highlights Lengthy Timeline, Limited Options for Public Land Development to Provide Housing

The first feeling that one experiences, having read the newly published Land Development Agency report on public lands which could be used to provide housing, is one of acute disappointment at what can actually be done and how long it will take to achieve even that.
The second is the impression that the State may have got us into this housing mess, but the chances of the State being able to get us back out of it are slim at best.
The Report on Relevant Public Land just published suggests that 67,000 houses maximum could possibly be built on public land in Ireland’s 10 largest conurbations: Dublin; Cork; Limerick; Galway; Waterford; Letterkenny, Co Donegal; Sligo; Athlone, Co Westmeath; and Dundalk and Drogheda, Co Louth.
The devil is in the detail, however — fewer than 10,000 of them could be achieved within the next five years. Worse, just under 40,000 of the houses discussed are earmarked for land which is significantly constrained. Nothing can be achieved on those landbanks any time within the next 10 years, and realistically not for some time thereafter. Nevertheless, the report is interesting for a number of reasons, and given it has now been published in full, it is worth a look.

For starters, as a bible of urban land which could be turned into meaningful living spaces, much of its contents are eye-opening, and will mean more to those living close to the plots of land which are mentioned. The 25 ‘class 1’ site locations, which very likely will become housing sometime in the next six years, are diverting, as is the €3bn price tag the agency has placed on their development. More notable still are some of the longer-shot sites, which may well amount to wishful thinking on the part of the agency.
One is Broadstone Bus Depot on Dublin’s northside. Having lived close to the property (and the fabulous 19th century structure comprising the old rail station on its campus) for many years, the idea that it could be turned into public housing in 15 years, at an estimated cost of €516m, is both attractive and highly implausible.
Further north, 47 hectares of land at St Margaret’s Rd in Ballymun is suggested as potentially yielding 3,640 houses for €1.2bn. That is nothing compared with the roughly €2bn the agency has suggested would need to be spent turning the Tivoli Industrial Estate in Cork into 6,500 houses over the next two decades.
Less remote would seem to be the possibility of turning a section of land adjacent to the Lee, next to Cork’s Kent Station, into 520 houses for €153m. Land owned by transport authorities such as CIE forms the basis for many of the eye-catching proposals in the report.

As a former Drogheda, Co Louth, schoolboy, meanwhile, the prospect of turning the HSE’s overflow carpark at the Lourdes Hospital in the town into houses for 300 people made me sit up and take notice. More intriguing is the meeting of politics and reality that the report represents.
The Report on Relevant Public Land is the first such report from the agency, and it is statutorily mandated. It has to be produced every two years from now for the foreseeable per the legislation underpinning the agency itself.
It represents a warts-and-all approach, and its 67,000 houses as a maximum achievable target is one that has been arrived at after eliminating all lands which are so “monumentally constrained”, to quote agency chief executive John Coleman, that their inclusion would be pointless. A Gas Networks Ireland property on Dock Rd, Limerick, is among the sites mooted as possibilities for housing. Picture: Brendan Gleeson

Two years ago, debating the 2021 Land Development Agency Bill in the Dáil, Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien suggested that public land could be used to free up living space for 114,000 families. The agency’s new factual report suggests that figure was fanciful at best and delusional at worst.
Murmurs from within Government in recent days have suggested the public service was less than enthused at the notion of publishing the report in its entirety, given it would amount to over-promising as so much of the land discussed will not be available for an age. It is to the agency’s credit that it has been published in full.

However, does it make sense to discuss land which cannot be used for a generation at a time of a crippling housing crisis? “If we ignored Broadstone for 10 years because it’s too difficult, well then there won’t be housing on it for 20 or 30 years, whereas if we start the conversation now and start planning for it, start looking at the options at the location, then well we might have housing on it,” the agency’s planning manager, Alan Kelly, told a media briefing discussing the report yesterday.
“If we say we’re not going to focus on something because it’s too hard or takes too long, it will never move up,” Coleman said. That is a laudable sentiment. However, then we come back to the political reality of resources.

The agency does not have the money it needs to achieve the deals it is talking about. Its primary capital budget is €1.25bn, with the potential to double that should it become necessary. The near-term costs total for just the 10,

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