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27 May

New Law will make Builders Provide Social Housing

Planning laws to be drawn up later this year are set to oblige builders to set aside up to 10 per cent of any new developments for social housing.

Under existing laws, builders can exchange money or land instead of setting aside up to 20 per cent of new developments for social or affordable use. As a result, just under 4 per cent of homes built in the boom were set aside for social use.

But Minister of State for Housing Jan O’Sullivan wants to remove these opt-outs from the new planning Bill, which will come before the Oireachtas later this year. “Despite the good intentions of the law, it never really delivered,” she said. “I want to ensure we get real units, rather than notional ones.”

Housing has emerged as a major political issue as a shortage of homes has contributed to rising rents and house prices, and homelessness.

End speculation The new Bill will include other measures aimed at reducing land speculation and increasing housing supply in areas where it is needed most. These include: n A “use it or lose it” clause regarding land zoned for development, to reduce speculation or land hoarding. n Vacant sites taxes to allow local authorities to incentivise the use and development of land in areas of high demand. n The establishment of a planning regulator – as recommended in the Mahon tribunal – with powers to investigate systemic problems in the planning system, including the risk of corruption.

Planned measures relating to social housing are likely to have the most impact, say housing experts.

Ms O’Sullivan said the move would help increase the supply of social housing at a time when rising rents are making it increasingly difficult for low-income families to keep a roof over their heads. But the proposal – under discussion among Coalition partners – is likely to meet with fierce criticism from Opposition politicians and housing rights campaigners. They argue that any dilution of the law which provides for up to 20 per cent social or affordable housing, amounts to a retreat from a cornerstone of housing policy.

Much of the construction industry, by contrast, is pressing for the provision to be dropped entirely on the basis that it is an added burden to developers struggling to raise finance.

Ms O’Sullivan maintains that her revised plans will deliver more homes and developers will benefit from reduced levies in many circumstances. Waiting lists “I want to protect the 10 per cent figure for social housing. It shouldn’t go – because we have serious social housing difficulties in terms of waiting lists. I intend to maintain a social housing dividend,” she said.

The affordable housing element of this law was stood down three years ago on the basis that it was a symptom of rather than a solution to housing market failure. The Minister of State also played down fears that rapidly rising property prices in the capital might be the beginning of another bubble.

She said there was plenty of land for development and new measures would cut red tape and speed up delivery of homes. “We have zoned land in greater Dublin to accommodate about 30,000 housing units,” she said. “We have to unlock those.”

Ms O’Sullivan said building must be led by planning not developers, to ensure only housing that was needed was built.



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