The discussion of housing has been very topical over the summer in advance and following the publication of the Government’s ‘Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness’ on the 19th July. The IPI was involved in consultation workshops for the strategy which were held in Cork and Dublin on 4th and 7th of July. Separately, we conducted a short survey of planners on the topic of housing and housing delivery. Members were asked to identify what they see as the barriers to housing delivery and recommend solutions to the problems identified. The issues raised included:
Finance: A number of planners asserted that finance was a major barrier to housing completion. It was also noted that funding was an issue that effects participants in the development process at all levels from developer, in terms of project funding and associated taxes and VAT, to potential buyers, in terms of house prices and the current level of mortgage approval. One response also noted that planning permission has already been granted for over 27,000 houses in the Dublin area which not been built which highlights the role finance plays in the delivery of housing.
Availability of Land: The availability and cost of land was also highlighted as a barrier to the delivery of housing. A number of responses suggested that greater CPO powers are introduced in order to unlock land which can then be licensed to those willing to build. Another reply stated that land acquisition powers should be given to the Housing Agency who would CPO residential land which can then be tendered to developers. The implementation of a vacant site levy was also recommended by many planners as a solution to ‘land hoarding’ and also encourage those with existing permission to implement it.
Infrastructure: The provision of adequate funding for associated infrastructure requirements of development was frequently repeated throughout the survey as a barrier to the delivery of housing. The lack of basic infrastructure (water/drainage) was also noted to increase the cost associated with development. One response recommended a dedicated Minister for Infrastructure be introduced for a specific timeframe as a possible solution.
Pre-Planning: Pre application consultation was seen by many planners as hindering the delivery of housing. This was in relation to delays in obtaining meetings due to issues in the public sector such as understaffing. Fast-track planning (for certain cases) was asserted as a possible solution to this barrier.
Other Responses: Other barriers were also identified by planners throughout this survey including poorly designed proposals, and the lack of social housing providers and housing associations.
Ultimately, members acknowledged that the barriers to housing delivery are multi-faceted and require a more flexible, less bureaucratic, proactive problem solving approach in the future. The results informed our approach prior to the publication of the Action Plan and our response to the Action Plan. I had drafted an opinion piece prior to publication of the Plan, highlighting the significant changes made to the planning system to date to encourage housing development and that other issues required addressing including finance and resourcing. Unfortunately we didn’t have success in placing it but a press release with similar content was picked up by the Irish Times.
The Government strategy itself contains some positive references to planning, urban development and renewal and a recognition of the need to build communities rather than just houses. However, it is disappointing that the planning system appears to be seen as an impediment to development as indicated by the proposal to direct housing applications for schemes of 100 units or more to An Bord Pleanála and that decision making on a critical area for local government is being moved away from local planning authorities. The timelines for Strategic Infrastructure Development aren’t significantly quicker than that of a standard planning application and the extent of judicial review associated with SID has been previously raised by members as a concern. The practicalities of carrying out pre planning with one authority while another authority assesses the application aren’t clear at this stage. Perhaps a focus on resourcing and equipping planning authorities and the Board to enable fast tracking of pre-planning and application/appeal processing for housing schemes would result in decisions issuing just as quickly with greater certainty around timeframes. We highlighted this and other issues in the press release issued by IPI which was covered (here and here) in the Irish Times. I also appeared on the Newstalk breakfast show on Wednesday 20th July where this was raised.
We intend to submit a response to the Action Plan to the Department. Feedback from members on the Action Plan can be sent to email@example.com by 19th August.