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Social Housing and Planning Doctrine  
 
 
In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutional status of the Planning and Development Bill 1999. The Court found that the Affordable  Housing measures the Bill proposed were of sufficient importance to allow the constitutional right of developers (to maximise profits from land they proposed to build on) to be overridden or curtailed to some extent. This decision meant, in  effect, that, under Articles 40 and 43 of the Constitution, all Irish citizens have a right to be housed, irrespective of their ability to afford it.    
 
The Bill as enacted in 2000 required developers to set aside 20 percent of land or housing units for affordable housing. But, in a move which illustrates  the close links between the development sector and political interests, the 2002 Amendment to the Act allowed developers to provide payments or alternative sites in lieu of this obligation. The success of this measure is demonstrated by the  fact that today, the State only provides 8 percent of all new homes. Just 374 social and affordable units were built by 2004, half of them in the Fingal County Council area. But large residential developments built by private firms are still  being advocated, in many cases by individuals directly involved in the planning process, on the promise of affordable housing: the huge apartment schemes in  the Dublin Docklands, and 1600 proposed units at St. Edmundsbury, Lucan, are just two recent examples.     
 
The affordable housing clause is used, on the one hand, as a bargaining chip, to convince town planners to approve developments that subvert every notion of sensible and sustainable planning, while being enormously lucrative for their backers, while there is neither the intention, nor any necessity, to provide the promised  affordable housing. On the other, it is a public relations device, to sustain the illusion that such construction projects are somehow  necessary or defensible.      Due to generous tax incentive schemes, developers are guaranteed tax write offs for up to ten years against any other properties they hold, regardless of location, if they undertake new developments falling under these schemes. So  taxpayers have no choice but to provide vast subsidies to the construction industry. This politically powerful sector has been given every facility to construct huge and wasteful low-density schemes, usually poorly serviced,  designed without any sensitivity for the surrounding environment, and constructed to minimal standards. The State fully cooperates with forced development, targeting zones where large amounts of cheap agricultural land  has been acquired by well-connected developers, and then proposing road projects which will enable these lands to be rezoned for commercial  development, and hence to multiply in value.    
 
The State has perfected a system whereby citizens are held to ransom by a  dilemma: either to accept roads schemes which are not only disproportionate but are enormously wasteful in terms of money and materials, or put up with no transport whatever. Such road schemes then make the rezoning of adjacent  land inevitable; indeed, rezoning seems to be the primary consideration for the near-exclusive emphasis on motorway construction in State transportation policy.     
 
It would be a relatively simple matter to restore the numerous existing railway stations and lines which have been allowed to fall into disuse, as the  basis for a comprehensive rail-based solution to the transport issue, and to facilitate cautious and regulated development throughout the country. The reason that this has not happened is not to be sought in mere lack of will, or  vision, or time. It is a deliberate and clear-sighted choice by State officials. If their commitment were to the public good, the policy would be to end the drain of public revenue into private concerns, and force these concerns to provide  compensation for the lavish benefits they receive from the public. Yet, to date, the State has consistently set its face against the basic constitutional rights of its  citizens, in favour of using the country as a bank to fund multinational companies.  
 
 
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