State’s new housing agency should not be shielded from transparency laws, Oireachtas Committee told

Posted 18 October, 2019

The State’s new €1.25 billion Land Development Agency (LDA) should not be exempt from Freedom of Information legislation, Oireachtas Committee hears. 

The Government plans to shield aspects of the agency, which will oversee the building of 150,000 homes over the next 20 years using State land, from current transparency laws.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government heard that the LDA should be open to FOI requests because of “the risk of corruption”.

University College Dublin academic Orla Hegarty told the committee that it was important the agency be open to such legislation, and that contact with its officials be included on the lobbying register, “given that lobbying legislation has specific provisions for planning because of the risks of corruption and the significant sums in land transactions and development contracts”.

“[FOIs are] essential for ensuring the public confidence, transparency and accountability… it is critical to have high levels of specific expertise, robust governance, transparency, external oversight and means of intervention,” she said.

“There are already adequate legislative exemptions in place for commercially sensitive information, without a blanket exemption”.

Currently the LDA is not subject to FOI requests, parliamentary questions or the Lobbying Act.

Assistant Professor Hegarty, from the UCD School of Architecture, Planning & Environmental Policy, outlined how the planned powers of the LDA were “very wide ranging and removed from direct government controls. The scope and limitations [of which] are unclear.”

She argued that the potential Achilles’ heel of the LDA was its objective of ensuing the “optimal use on a commercial basis for individual sites is the business of traditional speculative development.”

“It seeks to extract the maximum value from land through high market prices and minimal standards and is very vulnerable to market fluctuations. This is unlikely to lever reform or bring stability in output and price.”

She added: “An approach that outsources control of price, delivery speed, housing mix, quality and profit margin is high risk and it comes at a premium, as has been seen in other capital projects.

“What is important is the long-term viability of cities, not the short-term opportunity of sites.

“Every euro of value extracted from public lands is not free; it is debt for future households.

“Every plot given away is a lost opportunity to provide for permanent affordability."

By: David Kearns, Digital Journalist / Media Officer, UCD University Relations