Cork County Council bid to free up "off the books" land to tackle housing crisis

Cork County Council bid to free up "off the books" land to tackle housing crisis
County Hall .Pic Denis Scannell

CORK County Council is preparing plans for an "off the books" company in order to help tackle the housing crisis.

The "arms-length" company, the first of its kind in Ireland, would be able to borrow money in order to build the infrastructure to unlock sites and incentivise housing by reducing the burden on developers.

It comes as plans have been revealed nationally that would see local authorities and other public bodies across the country offer sites to the private market as part of a drive to deliver 50,000 homes.

Cork County Council's Planning Department have told councillors that they aim to set up a seperate company, jointly owned with the National Treasury Management Agency, under the guidance of the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government.

The company would be able to access credit easier than the Council and would keep any loans off the state books.

It would be treated as a pilot project which could be rolled out across other local authorities if it is successful.

However, Sinn Féin councillor Des O'Grady, who has called for this approach to be taken in the past, said that Cork County Council should be the ones building the houses, instead of using millions in public money to create opportunities for private developers.

"This is an initiative we give a broad welcome to as a step in the right direction even though we believe it still does not go far enough. We support the idea that the Council would jointly set up an ‘off the books’ arms-length company to purchase land and provide infrastructure for housing but we would urge the council to add another branch to this company involving the construction of housing. "Having made several proposals along these lines in recent years we are now once again calling on the Council not to simply purchase land and provide infrastructure for private developers to make large profits," he said.

Mr O'Grady said that the Council had not received enough money from the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) and needed to finance infrastructure some way, but that the public would be better served if the Council was the one to build the housing afterwards.

"Recently, the Council were allowed a miserly €20m by the government through the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund to provide infrastructure on 4 sites in the county that could produce 1740 houses by 2021. The shortfall for infrastructure on these sites alone is still €48m and the Council does not have funding for this amount.

"The LIHAF fund has been used by Minister Coveney to heighten his profile recently but there is a huge gap between rhetoric and actual delivery. There is also no guarantee that the homes that may be provided under LIHAF will be affordable. This means that developers will be provided with public money with no guarantee of any return for hard-pressed families seeking a home. We are therefore again calling on the Council to use this opportunity to engage in large-scale construction of much-needed housing," he said.

Cork County Councillor Des O'Grady, who has previously called for the establishment of an off-the-books company to tackle the housing crisis, has insisted that the local authority should be building the houses itself, instead of using millions in public money to create opportunities for private developers.

He said: "This is an initiative we give a broad welcome to as a step in the right direction even though we believe it still does not go far enough. We support the idea that the Council would jointly set up an ‘off the books’ arms-length company to purchase land and provide infrastructure for housing but we would urge the council to add another branch to this company involving the construction of housing.

"Having made several proposals along these lines in recent years we are now once again calling on the Council not to simply purchase land and provide infrastructure for private developers to make large profits," he said.

Mr O'Grady said that the Council had not received enough money from the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) and needed to finance infrastructure some way, but that the public would be better served if the Council was the one to build the housing afterwards.

"Recently, the Council were allowed a miserly €20m by the government through the Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund to provide infrastructure on 4 sites in the county that could produce 1740 houses by 2021. The shortfall for infrastructure on these sites alone is still €48m and the Council does not have funding for this amount.

"The LIHAF fund has been used by Minister Coveney to heighten his profile recently but there is a huge gap between rhetoric and actual delivery. There is also no guarantee that the homes that may be provided under LIHAF will be affordable. 

"This means that developers will be provided with public money with no guarantee of any return for hard-pressed families seeking a home. We are therefore again calling on the Council to use this opportunity to engage in large-scale construction of much-needed housing," he said.


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