Tuesday 4 March 2008

Green U-turn on social housing law

GREEN leader John Gormley has performed another U-turn on a key party policy.

The Environment Minister's department has insisted a controversial clause in the planning law which the Greens had promised to amend, will remain unchanged.

The clause allows developers buy their way out of obligations to build social and affordable housing.

Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 required developers to ensure 20% of all new estates contained social and affordable housing.

But in 2002, the Government amended the act, allowing developers to give money or land to local authorities in lieu of housing. Developers can also provide houses built elsewhere to meet their obligations.

Critics argue the opt-out clause is damaging on several fronts. One criticism is that it encourages segregation. Another is that in cases where developers provide money or land, local authorities take time to use it, thus delaying the provision of social and affordable housing.

The current Green Party housing policy, updated last December, promises to "amend" Part V by requiring developers to produce an equal quantity of affordable and social housing in "all" residential schemes.

"The Green Party will also tighten the social housing opt-out provisions of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2002," the policy states.

"We will place restrictions on the use of land transfer, which delay the delivery of ready-made houses, and place limits on the use of the measures that allow developers to fulfil Part V obligations ‘off-site' and pay cash contributions instead of ready-made units."

But Mr Gormley appears to have decided the changes recommended in his party policy are no longer required.

Fine Gael TD Lucinda Creighton recently tabled a parliamentary question to Mr Gormley, asking him if he would amend the law.

Mr Gormley left it to his junior minister, Fianna Fáil TD Batt O'Keeffe, to give the formal answer, which made clear the department will not make changes.

"I am satisfied that Part V is operating effectively, evidenced by its increased delivery of both social and affordable housing. Accordingly, I have no plans to amend the legislation," the answer stated.

Meanwhile, Mr Gormley and his fellow Green ministers, Eamon Ryan and Trevor Sargent, will travel abroad to represent Ireland on St Patrick's Day, a party spokesman confirmed yesterday, without revealing their destinations.

When in opposition, the Greens had criticised ministers travelling for St Patrick's Day.

In 2006, for example, Mr Sargent said: "This Dáil should start to recognise that, outside this House, it is completely unacceptable, regardless of the explanations being put out, that some members are going to be on the other side of the world and therefore, we all have to mark time."

Paul O'Brien
Irish Examiner


No comments: