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Land agency planning to build 5,000 affordable homes within four years, says new chairperson

These 5,000 homes will be delivered through ‘Project Tosaigh’ and will be on private land that is yet to be developed.

Cormac O'Rourke, the chairperson designate of the LDA
Cormac O'Rourke, the chairperson designate of the LDA
Image: Oireachtas TV

THE NEW CHAIRPERSON designate for the Land Development Agency (LDA) has told an Oireachtas committee that they aim to deliver 5,000 affordable homes over the next four years.

Cormac O’Rourke, the chairperson designate of the LDA, told the Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage that the immediate focus for the body is on delivery of affordable and cost rental housing.

O’Rourke was joined by LDA Chief Executive, John Coleman, at the committee meeting.

In his opening statement, O’Rourke said that the LDA plans to deliver 5,000 new affordable houses through ‘Project Tosaigh’ – a plan to activate land that has planning permission but that construction is not currently taking place – within the next four years.

“The main focus for the LDA in the coming year will be on delivery,” said O’Rourke.

“Overall, our ambition is to deliver 5,000 affordable homes through Project Tosaigh over the next four years.”

According to O’Rourke, the LDA has medium-term plans to develop 10 State-owned sites, which would deliver approximately 5,200 homes. 

Two of these 10 sites, Shanganagh in Dublin and St. Kevin’s in Cork, are set to begin construction this year.

When questioned by Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin on the timeline to deliver these two sites, he said that he expected it to take at least 24 months, if not longer.

“I have never seen a site of this scale developed in less than 24 months,” said O’Rourke.

On the 10 sites, seven of which are located in Dublin with the remaining three in Cork, Kildare and Galway, there will be an 80/20 mix of apartments and housing.

An additional 10 public sites have also been identified which may follow the development of the first 10 sites.

O’Rourke said that in the longer term, the LDA will act as an “active land manager” and assemble large-scale strategic areas that can be delivered over a longer period of time.

He said that a similar practice had been successfully adopted in countries like Denmark and Sweden.

“The LDA approach to this activity is to get the agreement of landowners – be they state bodies or private sector – to create masterplans for public housing and community services in these areas,” said O’Rourke.

During his statement, O’Rourke said that current construction costs account for half of the total cost of a house, and this is split in half again between labour and materials.

He referenced that there was poor productivity within the construction of housing, and that this was due to a traditional site-based approach to construction.

“The issue of poor productivity arises in the construction of housing from the fact that builders continue to execute a traditional site-based approach,” said O’Rourke.

In the medium term, the LDA will look to encourage standardisation and modular construction – to speed up construction, improve quality, provide better working conditions for workers, and generate houses that are more sustainable at lower cost.

O’Rourke also welcomed the Government review of planning permission legislation, saying that he was aware of delays that public infrastructure can face within the planning system.

“Delays to the granting of planning whether due to system delays or on foot of judicial review are not without cost. For example, these delays can deny housing to those who sorely need it.”

Turnkey houses

Sinn Féin’s Housing spokesperson, Eoin Ó Broin questioned O’Rourke on whether or not the LDA need to compete with Approved Housing Bodies (AHB) and other organisations to buy pre-built houses, or turnkey houses, to reach their housing targets.

O’Rourke said that if the LDA ended up in bidding wars with either AHB’s or local authorities they would have “failed on our mandates”.

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He stated that it is not the intention of the LDA to compete on turnkey houses.

In a further response to Ó Broin, O’Rourke said that the LDA needed to avoid getting into situations where the state is bidding against itself, whether that is with local authorities or with state-funded AHB’s.

Sustainable development

Green Party TD, Francis Noel Duffy questioned O’Rourke on sustainable practices, and whether or not the state body would be using sustainable development in their plans, including around the 15-minute city.

O’Rourke said that he was in favour of sustainable design, and in particular, increasing the amount of expertise that the LDA has on sustainability.

He added that he was in favour of the 15-mintue city, and said that it was important that it was accessible via walking or cycling to help “break the cycle of the car”.

Coleman added that sustainability was important and said that the LDA would be taking it very seriously.

Independent TD, Richard O’Donoghue said that he had concerns around the areas that the LDA was developing, saying that it was primarily focused on urban areas and that rural areas, like Limerick, were not being included.

O’Donoghue called for further investment into the infrastructure of rural counties, with O’Rourke replying that the LDA was primarily focused on large-scale projects on state land, and that this land was mostly available within urban areas.

There were also questions from Duffy and Social Democrat TD Cian O’Callaghan on yearly targets by the LDA, with O’Rourke saying that the LDA expected to build 2,000 houses per year, but this target would not be met for several years.

About the author:

Tadgh McNally

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