The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has published the Land Development Agency Bill 2021 (Bill).

The Bill gives a statutory remit to the Land Development Agency (LDA), which was first established by statutory instrument in 2018. Here, Fidelma McManus, partner and head of housing in Beauchamps, outlines some of the key provisions of the Bill.

Functions of the LDA

Section 13 of the Bill sets out the functions of the LDA, which are very wide-ranging. The functions include:

  • the management and development of public land as well as land contiguous to public land to facilitate the provision of housing
  • to develop, manage and acquire housing for rent or purchase
  • provide services to local authorities in order to assist them in the performance of their functions relating to development of sites for housing
  • to acquire, hold and dispose of land
  • to promote sustainable development

Structure

The LDA will be established as a Designated Activity Company under the Companies Act 2014 to develop and regenerate relevant public land for the delivery of housing. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform shall be shareholders, with an initial share capital of €1,000,000,000.

Funding

The LDA will be able to borrow money for the purposes of undertaking its functions and the National Treasury Management Agency (Amendment) Act 2014 will be amended to allow investment in the LDA from the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. The LDA will also be eligible for Government grants.

Register of Public Land, acquisition of land

The LDA will be obliged to establish a Register of Relevant Public Land to identify land in urban population centres over 10,000 that can be made available for housing. The LDA will be required to report to the Government in relation to public land in the Register, which could be suitable for housing or urban development and the Government may decide that certain land be transferred to the Agency for such purposes.

Local Authorities wishing to dispose of land must give the LDA first refusal to acquire the land at market value. Under current rules, a disposal of land by a local authority must be approved by the relevant council. In a provision that is generating some discussion, the Bill provides that a disposal of land by a local authority to the LDA will not require a council vote and commentators already are raising concerns about the effect this will have on local democracy and the ability of local councillors to represent their constituents. The LDA will also be empowered to acquire land by compulsory purchase.

Affordable housing

The Bill also provides that 50% of any housing provided on relevant public land be made available for cost rental or affordable housing by the LDA or any other party which acquires such land. The Minister for Housing will specify the price, or the method for calculating the price for such housing, which will be below the prevailing market price or rent. Such price or method may be varied on different sites in different areas depending on local housing needs.

Comment

The LDA will focus initially on public lands in towns of over 10,000 people. It is hoped that the Bill will pass through the Oireachtas quickly and be enacted by the Summer. The Bill significantly expands and strengthens the role and remit of the LDA and together with the recent Affordable Housing Bill 2020 is expected to accelerate housing delivery throughout the country. As is the case with most businesses, the construction industry is currently severely impacted by restrictions due to the pandemic. The enhanced powers of the LDA could have a significant impact on the housing market and enhanced delivery after lock down which may well provide an additional shot in the arm for the construction industry.