Vested housing interests must be tackled
BY ROBBIE MacGABHANN
There was a victory of sorts in the Supreme Court this week with the decision that the Dublin Government's planning bill proposals to make developers devote 20% of their land to social and affordable low cost housing is constitutional.
26-County president Mary MacAleese had referred parts of the 1999 Planning and Development Bill to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality. The court found it was clear that the purpose of the bill was to facilitate the purchase of houses by people who would not otherwise be in a position to buy them. The aim of the bill was also, according to the court, to ensure that social and affordable housing developments were not isolated from the community.
The submissions by the Attorney General to the court make interesting reading. The Dublin Government argued that the purpose of the legislation was to ensure that the least well-off members of society were not required by economic necessity to live in segregated areas. The Attorney General, Michael McDowell, had argued that this was the policy of successive governments.
It makes you wonder then, which government it was that built the huge suburbs of Dublin, Cork and Limerick that became ghettos of deprivation and poverty.
The reaction to the court judgement from the building industry has been very telling. The Irish Home Builders Association (IHBA) have claimed that house prices may rise by 24% as a consequence of the Planning Bill.
This is an interesting threat from the IHBA. It comes in the same week that the Bank of International Settlements (BIS), an international forum for central banks, found that Irish house price inflation was the highest in the world. The BIS estimate that adjusted for inflation, 26-County house prices grew by 76% between 1995 and 1999. The IHBA threat to increase house prices really means it will be business as usual for builders and developers, who have been consistently hiking up prices over the last ten years.
Though the Supreme Court judgment has clearly enraged the vested interests in the property development and construction industries, does it mean that much will change in how housing estates are built? How many more affordable homes will be built in the coming years?
It is highly likely that developers and builders will ring fence the social and affordable housing schemes and not properly integrate them into private estates. There is little to comfort communities that the current government has learned from the planning disasters of the past or that they will actually take on the profiteers in the building industry.
The IHBA have claimed that they have been ``doing their bit'' when it comes to increasing the output of new dwellings. Does doing your bit also mean making huge profits at the same time?
The crucial flaw in the 1999 Planning Bill is that it did not even begin to deal with these issues. At the very least, Noel Dempsey must act to ensure that builders do not use the Supreme Court ruling as a means to hike up house prices.
Dempsey has already recognised that house prices bear no relation to the costs of building a house and he said ``there is no evidence that the price of houses is any way being kept at a reasonable price by the members of the IHBA''.
This we all knew. The question is, now that Noel Dempsey has admitted what the problem is, what is he going to do about it?