Yesterday the Independent published an OpEd that discussed ways to try and start creating housing supply in areas that needed it – principally some urban centres, particularly Dublin. It gave ideas grouped around land and sites, planning, costs, regulations, finance, and alternative solutions. The piece was written by Karl Deeter, Ronan Lyons, Frank Quinn, Lorcan Sirr, Peter Stafford and myself, six regular media commentators on Irish housing. The idea was try and see if six people who hold different views on housing and planning could reach a consensus position that provided practical solutions to creating supply. The ‘rules’ were all the instruments suggested could be introduced quickly and with minimal or no legislative changes and it all had to be said in 900 words or less.
Inevitably, the list of solutions produced was a compromise and writing such a piece is an exercise in politics and principles. No signatory on the piece is fully subscribed to each potential solution and all had to concede ground. From my perspective, I have problems with removal or reform of Part V, I’m cautious about bringing aspects of Dublin planning regs in line with the rest of the country and the reduction of development contributions. But I’m happy to see the use of the term housing sector not market, the advocacy of social housing and associated HFA financing and a reversal of the cuts to capital spending, and the ‘use it or lose it provisions’ on planning and land zoning. I’m a little cheesed off that the Indo editors altered a couple of bits of the submitted piece, especially removing the phrase the “inventions should be time delimited”.
Some of the critique of the proposals on twitter and email has been that they overly favour market and developer interests. There is, however, I think some degree of balance. Ideas such as derelict/vacant site tax and a more aggressive use of the Derelict Sites Act are not in land owner/developer interests. Moreover a range of interventions favoured by such interests were kept off the table: tax incentives, reduction of construction labour wages, radical laissez faire change to the planning system, alterations to build quality, radical changes to density targets, and state provision of housing.
What the piece hopefully does is move the discussion on from diagnosing the problem to practical solutions and towards action. It provides a selection of options that can be debated and I would welcome counter-pieces. If the piece does that, then it has done useful work. At the same time, we also need to move towards action. We have a real problem that has real consequences and is quickly getting worse, yet very little is being done to address the issue. We therefore need that action soon, not in two or three years time. If that requires compromise solutions, then I’m prepared to consider them. And as this exercise proves, other interests are too. What we can’t afford to do is nothing.