Friday 27 April 2018

Home truths: Time councils stopped 'acting the cod' on housing

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Sparsely-populated counties which are seeing their towns and villages die on their feet are also actively striving to keep non locals out
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

Seven Irish city councils are considering the implementation of a new, cities-wide 'locals only' planning initiative which will block rural-born people and foreign-born citizens from building or buying new homes within city boundaries.

The new City-dwellers Only Directive (COD) is being considered by Fingal Council, Dublin City Council, South Dublin Council, Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council as well as Limerick, Cork and Galway City Councils.

Under this plan, from January 2018 only those born in the four main cities will be permitted to build new homes or purchase units in new schemes located within their boundaries. However, non-city born people will continue to be permitted both to purchase second-hand homes and to rent existing properties in suburban locations. The restrictions would apply to newly built homes only. The initiative by Ireland's city councils is being pushed into effect to mirror similar 'locals only' clauses long operated by a slew of rural councils around the country since the early 2000s.

It is envisaged that COD will result in significantly reduced competition for new homes in cities and thus ultimately make them more affordable for young city-born people who have hitherto been priced out - to some degree due to an influx of competing purchasers from towns and rural locations in Ireland and from foreign workers who have flooded into cities to take up jobs with firms like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook.

Independent councillor Derek McFogarty of Dublin City Council says: "In Dublin, we have already have had continuous influxes of rural people, in particular around the D6, D7 and D9 postcode areas and in locations close to hospitals, colleges, schools and garda stations. We don't mind them coming up on match occasions, staying in hotels or travelling for Christmas shopping. But the time has come to draw a line under them buying up our new housing, in the process pushing our young, city-born people out of the market." Among the finer points being teased out by city councils is the possibility of an exemption for medical professionals such as doctors and nurses and perhaps members of the gardai.

Okay so how many of you got this far without smelling a rat? Yes, the City-dwellers Only Directive is a total COD. Such action would, of course, be thoroughly unconstitutional and fly in the face of basic human rights - of citizenship, of rights of movement, of capital transfer and of property ownership. And rightly there would be ructions and outrage - because this sort of exclusion by origin is akin to something you'd find in the southern states of Jim Crow or the regimes of apartheid era South Africa.

But recently the EU has yet again had a go at Ireland for the continued operation of just such clauses by more than a dozen rural councils. Their operation has meant that thousands of young, priced-out city dwellers forced to move out of their cities and counties in the past few years have run slap bang into regimes which have prevented them building a new home. Some councils have even embarked on rigorous tests of 'localness' to gauge whether planning applicants are 'local enough' for their tastes.

While we're at it, consider that those priced-out city dwellers now attempting to move to cheaper counties for those affordable homes might have been able to source them in their own back yard in the first place had a restrictive scheme like COD been in operation for the last two decades; just as it has been in counties Kerry, Clare, Galway and Sligo.

Not only would city-born couples have been able to stay put, but they'd also have less traffic congestion, less competition for jobs and less argy bargy for school places.

All of the latter is, of course, the reasoning behind 'locals only' policies in the first place and all based on the sort of discriminatory logic which Europe has been cracking down on for decades.

Which is exactly why a shocked European Commission is once again taking issue with Ireland even as our central government (most TDs were born in rural constituencies) keeps its head in the sand and fails to simply make it illegal to discriminate against fellow citizens on the basis of their origin. In the past when the EU poked into this, councillors from Kerry and Galway were among those to tell the Europeans to "mind their own business".

But as far back as 2002, Jim Connolly of Rural Resettlement Ireland railed against Clare County Council's actions to keep Dublin families out when he said: "They, as a planning authority, are presiding over the demise of the countryside. They cannot wash their hands of this."He was right. Not only are locals-only planning clauses straight from the cherry-pickers citizens' charter, but their exertion is also seriously misguided at a time when many rural towns are dying on their knees. City families resettling in rural locations bring enterprise, new incomes to spend locally in local businesses and children to help save sparsely attended schools.

The locals-only mindset is the "mé féin" outlook that seeks drink driving laws for city dwellers only, that demands that they pay almost all rates (property tax), that only elects politicians who go to the city only to bring back booty, that seeks city-only enforcement of pub closing times and traffic offences. Obviously we can't have it every way. Either we are in it all together as Irish citizens, city and rural dwellers alike or we are not. And if we want to keep up selective regional protectionism on housing then perhaps it's time cities starting acting the COD too.

Indo Property

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