Tuesday 28 January 2020

Builders should have to 'use it or lose it'

'The failure to build is now fuelling prices. Given the scale of need, sitting on sites can no longer be an option.' Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire
'The failure to build is now fuelling prices. Given the scale of need, sitting on sites can no longer be an option.' Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire


It is strange that in probably the first century that we were not in dispute with one interloper or another over control of our land, we don't quite know what to do with it. Having spent billions saving banks, another form of bank - the "land bank" - has emerged as a critical issue in meeting our housing needs.

The Government is desperately trying to solve the housing crisis; but getting developers to crank up the diggers and get building again has proven problematic.

A new means of forcing their hands, whereby builders must either get cracking or see other nearby sites being given planning permission, and thus watch their investment being wiped out, is now being considered.

To be fair, the Government has tried to offer inducements but the hoarders in some strategic areas have stubbornly held out, resisting all blandishments to build more homes.

But, of course, there are two sides to the story. Some builders paid too much and their hands are tied. Until the market improves, they can not repay their loans at current prices. But others could move on sites and are simply holding out for a killing. Meanwhile, children are being reared in hotels, and a whole generation is being locked out of the market, so obviously something has to give.

For too long, developers argued that the financial maths of building high-density blocks in central Dublin do not add up. With development levies and socially affordable housing taxes, the per-unit cost is prohibitive. But the Housing Agency analysis shows that units are needed in almost every county, so 'use it or lose it' it will have to be.

According to the American ecologist Aldo Leopold: "Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land." In Ireland, we have had nothing but disharmony, and this is not sustainable.

The failure to build is now fuelling prices. Given the scale of need, sitting on sites can no longer be an option.

O'Donovans' quick wit can't hide their true grit

Few people get to be world champions by sitting down on the job, but Paul O'Donovan does sitting down better than most, especially when he is in a boat - and he has a gold medal to prove it.

Within a week of taking silver at the Olympics along with brother Gary, Paul was first to cross the finish line at the world championships in Rotterdam. The achievements of the remarkable O'Donovan brothers, and that of Annalise Murphy, have been the silver lining for all the clouds that descended over Rio as far as Irish hopes were concerned.

The brothers have made light of their achievements, shrugging the plaudits away, putting it all down to steak and spuds and their grandmother's brown bread.

But behind the easy smiles and ready banter is a story of grit and guts. The fact that the Skibbereen brothers make so little of the sacrifices and the demands that brought them to the top is one of the reasons they have won the hearts of the nation.

As was reported at the time, the scale of their achievement should be seen against a backdrop where just €300,000 went to Rowing Ireland, where €31m was pumped into the British rowing challenge.

Any wonder there was a Mardi Gras in Skibbereen last night. Its population of 2,000 now counts two silver medallists among it.

In elite sport, they say you should: "Compete like you're in first place and train like you're in second." On the other hand, you could just: "Close your eyes and pull like a dog..."

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Don't Miss