Minister defends imposition of property charge in unfinished estates

Pat Rabbitte says it would be unfair to exempt citizens who should pay

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte:   “They have gone through the criteria and decided that 421 developments do not comply with the standards”

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte: “They have gone through the criteria and decided that 421 developments do not comply with the standards”

Fri, Mar 22, 2013, 06:00

The property tax is being imposed on some houses in unfinished estates on the basis of certain criteria, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte has said.

He said this included the installation and commissioning of public lighting, provision of water supply and wastepaper collection, treatment and disposal systems, access to roads to at least base-coarse level, including where required provision of parking, access by constructed footpath and the provision of an open space.

Mr Rabbitte said the Department of the Environment and local authorities had focused on estates one by one. “They have gone through the criteria and decided that 421 developments do not comply with the standards,’’ he added.

Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said it had emerged that seven out of the eight people living in unfinished housing estates, who were exempt from last year’s household charge, would be required to pay the tax. The number of people in unfinished estates being exempted had dropped spectacularly from 43,000 to 5,000, simply because Minister for the Environment Phil Hogan had instructed local authorities to visit every unfinished development and identify which houses should pay.

Mr McGrath said that what people wanted above all else was fairness and consistency.

“A family that lives in an unfinished estate and is lucky enough to have a footpath outside the door and a working public light must pay the property tax, yet another family around the corner in the same estate will be exempted because its house looks out on to a heap of rubble that should have been a green area,’’ he added. “This is a ridiculous scenario.’’

Mr McGrath said the Minister for the Environment was using the National Housing Development Survey 2012 report to justify the dramatic drop in the number of people who would be allowed avail of an exemption. According to it, there were approximately 1,100 unfinished developments in “a seriously problematic condition’’.

Mr Rabbitte said the report referred to by Mr McGrath was out of date, having been completed last summer. There were unfinished estates because of the chronic mismanagement that went on under the Fianna Fáil-led government.

The purpose of the tax was to broaden the base so that the Government could avoid putting additional taxes on income and people at work. In terms of fairness and consistency, it would not be fair to require some citizens to pay while exempting others, he added.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the Minister was asking the House to accept that the number of unfinished estates had more than halved in less than a year. “He also asks us to accept that even within those estates still incomplete, some households enjoy proper services and facilities while others do not.’’

Ms McDonald added that the Minister should address himself to the thousands of people and families who lived in those estates and experienced the stress and inconvenience of living in what, in many cases, amounted to little more than a building site.

Mr Rabbitte said that when the household charge was introduced, it was a holding arrangement and was announced as such at the time, with a broad-brush approach taken on the exclusion of unfinished estates.