Right to property adding to housing crisis, says council chief

Article 43 of Constitution ‘key impediment’ to local authorities easing housing crisis

The chief executive of Waterford City and County Council (WCCC) has claimed the constitutional right to property is the key impediment to local authorities easing the housing crisis.

Article 43 of the Constitution gives greater power to property owners in cases where the State attempts to acquire it.

Michael Walsh, who is also a senior official from the County and City Management Association, said this provision can add expense to compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) and lead to contests against local authorities.

“The issue here is the right to property,” he said.


He said the priority for local authorities should be to target vacant units and use that existing housing stock “to the greatest extent possible”.

He has previously said the right to property is the “elephant in the room” in discussions on councils and their recent record on housing.

An Bord Pleanála has ruled against WCCC recently on the development of a number of units that Mr Walsh said have been "vacant for a really considerable period of time".

Last week, WCCC announced 16 CPOs that target 44 individual properties. The properties are described as vacant, in private ownership and located across the city and county.

Complex CPOs

The Waterford authority has previous experience in carrying out complex CPOs, for its 46km greenway cycle route and also for a major redevelopment of the city’s north quays.

After lengthy negotiations with property owners, the latter became the first special development zone to receive approval without needing a full An Bord Pleanála oral hearing.

However, Mr Walsh said a similarly ambitious CPO of vacant housing would struggle to succeed.

“The reality is that legally and otherwise it’s even more complex than the north quays, which is a big, wide-ranging sort of CPO, but there’s a very clear and stated objective in the context of that.”

He said the Constitution was still a barrier to taking possession of vacant properties.

“I’d love to say it was easy. If it were very easy we’d be doing a hell of a lot more of it. But the processes are complex and the majority of them do in fact revolve around the right to property in the Constitution.”

Where property owners do not have the money to put their units back into proper repair, WCCC is offering a lease and repair scheme, under which ownership can be retained but the property will be leased to the council for up to five years to be repaired and then used as social housing.

“What we’re concentrating on is ones that have been sitting idle for a considerable period of time with no obvious good reason for that being the case.

“We’re gradually spreading out [the CPOs] with the majority having been in the city, but in all the towns and villages in the county over the next year, the advice we’re giving people who have vacant properties is that we are going to be pursuing them,” said Mr Walsh.