Irish Times view on delayed publication of ‘Housing for All’ plan

Frantic political period in the autumn will see the release of the housing strategy, the revised National Development Plan and the budget

The capacity of the construction industry to ramp up building volumes is a vital issue. There is no point in throwing out promises on how many thousand extra houses will be built if a clear plan for delivery is not worked out. Photograph: Getty Images

The capacity of the construction industry to ramp up building volumes is a vital issue. There is no point in throwing out promises on how many thousand extra houses will be built if a clear plan for delivery is not worked out. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The Government’s decision to delay the publication of its major new strategy document on housing came as a surprise, given clear indications that it would be published by the end of this month. The move reflects the complexity of the issue and, it appears, an attempt to develop some parts of the document relating to delivery. It is all very well allocating billions of additional euro to address the problem, but if areas like planning, costs and associated infrastructure are not also dealt with, the outcome will remain unsatisfactory.

The delay also reflects just how vital this document is for the coalition’s future and a realisation by the three parties that they will only get one shot at this. The “Housing for All” document is now due for publication in late August or early September. To succeed, politically, it will need to persuade voters that the Government can make serious progress, albeit that by its nature this is a long-term problem with no quick-fix.

Inevitably, the delayed publication of the document has drawn some political flak on the Government, particularly as the difficult decisions on funding appear to have been made. If a few more weeks are needed to think through some of the policies, then the delay may be quickly forgotten – a longer delay, however, would raise serious questions.

What is essential is that the document is honest, in terms of the timescale of delivery, and tackles the key issues in areas like planning which are vital to any credible plan. The capacity of the construction industry to ramp up building volumes is another vital issue. There is no point in throwing out promises on how many thousand extra houses will be built if a clear plan for delivery is not worked out.

The plan must, of course, be rooted in the reality that addressing the housing crisis is all about increasing supply. Indeed there is a clear risk that given supply takes time to bring on stream, the planned measures to boost demand – including the new shared-equity scheme – will only serve to push up prices further in the interim. The terms of that scheme have been amended, but at a time when supply is so tight it is still a questionable route to take.

However good the housing document is, it will not have all the answers. A Housing Commission, being established in September, needs to have a role in scoping out some of the key issues and feeding into policy as it evolves. The Government will realise that, as well as its handling of Covid-19, housing will be one of the key factors which defines its term in office. The Opposition, meanwhile, will realise the coalition’s exposure on this issue. With the housing document, the revised National Development Plan and the budget all coming within a few weeks in the autumn, a frantic period for politics lies ahead.

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