Irish News

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Thomas Molloy: At last, some good ideas on housing market

Thomas Molloy

Published 24/02/2014|02:30

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The Government is to publish its construction plan next month

THE Government's draft plan to speed up the building of family homes is a good start. It has belatedly realised that Dublin is in the grip of a pernicious property bubble, triggered by the cheapest credit in centuries, combined with disastrous planning policies and a shortage of property thanks to dysfunctional bankruptcy laws.

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Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan can do nothing about interest rates. They know it is political suicide to tackle the emotive issue of personal bankruptcy, so they must tackle planning instead.

Among the draft plan's best features are suggestions that builders be allowed to build more family homes and large apartments, rather than the shoebox flats favoured by planners.

Until now, it has been almost impossible for large families to find well-built apartments with four or five bedrooms, forcing many into the outer suburbs.

The insistence on high-density housing is also welcome. It is no coincidence that many of the best-loved parts of the capital, such as Drumcondra and Rathmines, have densities that are not allowed by modern planning laws.

Lower development levies for builders are also long overdue. By forcing everybody to contribute, rather than those buying a house, we are finally getting to a point where young homeowners are not forced to pay for everybody else's services.

Much the same applies to the misguided social and affordable-housing scheme, which was a lazy way of getting those buying houses to subsidise the poor without any contribution from the rest of society.

The vacant site tax for developers sitting on land banks is long overdue and could remove many of the eyesores blighting our city centres. However, the failure of many councils to use existing laws to clamp down on condemned buildings, suggests the new laws will also be rarely used.

Not everything is good. The Government's focus on jobs is worrying. The construction sector exists to build houses and offices and should not be treated as some sort of make-work scheme. Attempts to introduce a more formalised system of planning to look at the housing, demographic and immigration trends sounds like pie in the sky.

A Government that struggles to predict economic growth in the year ahead should not waste too much time predicting population growth. The lack of focus on building regulations is a concern; we need to tighten regulation here while encouraging construction.

The focus on public-private partnership projects is also worrying. These schemes, which are shrouded in secrecy but allow the Government to keep spending off the books, have a very mixed record and should be banned until we know whether existing schemes do any good. Evidence from many suggest they are expensive failures.

While the wide-ranging proposals come with some health warnings, the big picture is that the Government deserves credit for facing up to problems that have bedevilled the housing and construction sector. Sweeping away dozens of stupid rules will allow more people to live how and where they want.

Irish Independent

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