The State's Land Development Agency (LDA) should have stronger powers to acquire privately-owned sites for housing, according to a report from the independent Think-Tank for Action on Social Change (Tasc)
Housing, property and land policy “represents one of the major failures in Irish policymaking”, says the report on land and housing.
“The implications of these failures are far-reaching. In the recent past the collapse of the housing bubble devastated the economy. It led to mass unemployment in construction and elsewhere, an erosion of living standards, an increase in poverty and mass emigration.”
In the period following the economic crash the failure to address the problems in the system had “created an affordability crisis in urban areas leading to, among other things, a rise in homelessness”.
“It is also bad for the economy as upward pressure on the cost of renting and buying puts a drag on the country’s competitiveness,” the report said.
This was the major economic and political challenge facing the State, it said.
“For almost a decade now property prices have been rising, and look set to continue to rise in the near future at least. It appears that Ireland’s housing system, at least in its current form, is incapable of meeting the needs of its population.
“The onset of Covid-19 and the global inflation that has emerged in its wake has set back the slowly recovering housing market.”
To counteract this the State should be involved in “active management” of land by acquiring private sites and either developing them or selling them back to the private sector.
“This should be implemented primarily by a national organisation such as the LDA, which has the scale and capacity to undertake the risk associated with land acquisition. The State should also expand its land management tools, especially its ability to compulsorily acquire land.”
The remit of the LDA, was “too narrow”, with too great a focus on the development of public lands. While the agency did have powers to acquire private sites which were “contiguous to relevant public land” it was “unclear” to what extent it would be enabled to secure strategic private sites which did not abut public lands.
“For the LDA to be a true land-management agency its ability to acquire private land should be on an equal or comparable footing to its ability to acquire public land.”
Similarly, it said, the LDA should have the capacity to pursue compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) for land in the private market, “especially given the reluctance or incapacity of local authorities to do so”.
However, the report acknowledged this may entail changing the status of the agency from a commercial agency to a non-commercial public agency to abide by EU state aid rules.
The report also recommends increasing planning levies; a greater use of master plans for large sites; limiting CPO prices to 25 per cent above the existing value of the land; and replacing both the vacant site levy and local property tax with site value tax of 5 per cent. This last measure would ensure all zoned land was taxed, whether or not it was developed for housing, the report said.