Last night I went in search of party political manifestos.  Given that we have long known an election was coming, I thought that every party would have had their manifesto prepared for their campaign launch and it would be relatively straightforward to download them from their websites.  Some hope.  After much hunting, I didn’t find a single one!  If a party can’t even have a manifesto ready for an election campaign that they have long known was coming, what hope have we of them running the country properly?

But I digress.  What I wanted to look up was each party’s housing and planning policies.

Fine Gael’s website has a ‘five point plan to recovery’ covers jobs, budget, health, public sector and politics.  In its policy document section it has a piece on management companies and another on repossession of the family home.  That’s it.

The Labour Party have three sections on policy – policy for jobs, policy for reform, policy for fairness.  None of them contain policy documents focusing centrally on housing or planning.  There is no manifesto to download as yet.

Fianna Fail state: ‘We will be launching our plan in the coming days. Please check back later to find out more.’  Cunningly it has no links to any policy document or to a manifesto!

The Green Party states: ‘Over the next four weeks, the Green Party will be outlining its plans to renew Ireland.   All of our policy documents and manifesto will be published here.’   On their main site they detail policies in a number areas, including housing in outline form.

Sinn Fein have a ten point plan for jobs and outlines of policy initiatives across a number of areas.  In outline form they list a number of housing policy ideas.

So beyond the fact none of them have published manifestos as yet, and in terms of what they are presnetly focusing on, why isn’t housing and planning seen as a prime election issue – or at least a second-tier issue after jobs, the economy and political reform, that is worthy of some mention?

Many people are homeless, there are more than 120,000 households on the social housing waiting list, and a large of stock of social housing needs renewal due to its poor state. Over 90,000 households are in mortgage arrears, 36,000 of which are over 90 days in arrears. There are over 78,000 households (over 200,000 people) living in the 2,846 unfinished housing estates in the country, suffering issues of health and safety, anti-social behaviour, unfinished utilities, defunct management companies, and negative equity.  Given some overlap in the households facing these issues, there are upwards of 250,000 households – 700,000 people – facing serious housing problems that need redress.  That’s a large constituency of voters.

And yet, no political party has set out a full and comprehensive set of policies on housing issues, beyond some basic outline statements.  For anyone with a pressing housing issue, whether it’s the threat of repossession, homelessness, poor quality or inappropriate housing, or living with unfinished developments, they want to know in specific terms how any new government is going to address the various housing issues they face on a daily basis.

The catastrophic failure of the planning system helped get us into the mess we’re in.  And all through the bust local authorities continued to zone unneeded and inappropriate land and award planning permissions.  A good, robust planning system will help us get out the crisis by having sensible and coordinated development in the future that is mindful of the economic, social and environmental costs of laissez faire and poorly regulated planning.  Bad planning affects everyone.  It is vital that reform of the planning system is undertaken to provide a system fit for purpose in the 21st century.

No political party has set out a full and comprehensive set of policies on planning.  To me this extremely worrying.  It’s as if planning is disconnected from development, recovery and growth – that things don’t need to be planned.  It certainly was disconnected during the boom, hence the bust.  And it has continued to be through the bust so far.

What is extremely troubling is that all parties are heading into this election without comprehensive policies set out in relation to critical aspects economic recovery and everyday life – planning and housing.  And I do mean comprehensive policies – concrete actions and programmes that will address specific issues – not soundbites.  Perhaps in the coming days the parties might set these out, but I’m not holding my breath.  My sense is they’re not going to be able to get beyond soundbites, if they manage those.

Rob Kitchin