Bill to stop developers ‘buying their way out’ of social-housing obligations

Oireachtas passes urban regeneration legislation to stop practice of land-hoarding

The Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill allows local authorities to impose a vacant sites levy on lands suitable for housing that are left idle by their owners. File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

The Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill allows local authorities to impose a vacant sites levy on lands suitable for housing that are left idle by their owners. File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

 

New legislation to end land-hoarding and to stop developers “buying their way out” of social-housing obligations has been passed by the Oireachtas.

The Urban Regeneration and Housing Bill allows local authorities to impose a vacant sites levy on lands suitable for housing that are left idle by their owners.

The Bill also prohibits local authorities accepting cash from developers in lieu of social housing in any new development.

Previously, under Part V of the Planning Act, developers had to set aside 20 per cent of a residential scheme for social or affordable housing, which local authorities could buy at a discount. The councils could accept a payment if they didn’t want the units. The Bill removes this cash option, though developers only have to provide 10 per cent of housing to the local authorities.

However, it emerged last week the Bill allows developers to retain ownership of the housing and fulfil their obligations through “long-term leasing” instead of through the sale of units to councils.

A spokesman for Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly said he intended to issue a ministerial policy directive to local authorities instructing that, where capital funding is available, they should enter Part V agreements for the acquisition of social housing units, rather than enter into leasing arrangements.

Minister of State for housing Paudie Coffey said it was now up to local authorities to examine their development and identify sites that could be subject to the vacant sites levy “and where there are critical housing shortages, to prepare vacant sites registers and contact owners”.

‘Mothballing’

Dublin City Council sought the introduction of the vacant site levy to stop landowners from “mothballing” sites, a practice which the council said was holding back the development of the city.

More than 61 hectares of vacant or derelict land, spread over 282 sites in central Dublin, could be developed for homes or commercial buildings, according to the council.

The levies will only be imposed where landowners fail to bring forward proposals for the use of the land in line with the city or county development plan and cannot provide good reasons for refusing to bring the land into productive use.