Builders set for le­gal fight as farm­ers get va­cant site re­prieve

Fears court ac­tion will un­der­mine mea­sure de­signed to tackle hous­ing cri­sis

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE - Fearghal O’connor

THE Gov­ern­ment’s va­cant-site levy is set to face le­gal chal­lenges from dis­grun­tled house­builders af­ter Hous­ing Min­is­ter Eoghan Mur­phy ap­peared to ac­cede in part to farm­ers’ de­mands to re­move them from the con­tro­ver­sial mea­sure.

The ap­par­ent climb­down sparked a call from the Con­struc­tion In­dus­try Fed­er­a­tion (CIF) for equal treat­ment for builders un­able to get bank fi­nanc­ing to build houses but who are still li­able to a levy set at 3pc — and 7pc next year — of the value of va­cant land.

In­dus­try sources pre­dicted suc­cess­ful le­gal chal­lenges would “to­tally un­der­mine” the levy — a key gov­ern­ment mea­sure to tackle the hous­ing cri­sis. Both farm­ers’ and builders’ rep­re­sen­ta­tives mounted lob­by­ing cam­paigns ahead of this Fri­day’s dead­line for lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to in­form landown­ers that land is on the va­cant site reg­is­ter.

Mur­phy ap­peared to bow to farm­ing lobby de­mands to stop at least 15 lo­cal au­thor­i­ties in­clud­ing farm­land on their va­cant site reg­is­ters. “It is up to each lo­cal author­ity to de­cide which lands go on to its reg­is­ter. If farm­land is in pro­duc­tive use, it should not be in­cluded,” Mur­phy stated in the Dail.

CIF di­rec­tor gen­eral Tom Par­lon told the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent: “We an­tic­i­pate that there will be chal­lenges to the levy if it is ap­plied as a blunt in­stru­ment. The CIF will con­tinue to de­fend house­builders that are af­fected, par­tic­u­larly smaller house­builders who are dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fected by this ap­proach.”

Par­lon said that, while his or­gan­i­sa­tion sup­ported the con­cept, it was never the in­ten­tion that it be ap­plied where land was not fi­nan­cially vi­able to de­velop.

The house­build­ing in­dus­try had noted the min­is­ter’s com­ments, he said: “The CIF seek a sim­i­lar as­sur­ance, that any lands that are in any form of pro­duc­tive use, should not be in­cluded in the Va­cant Site Reg­is­ter by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

“Where vi­a­bil­ity of res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment is clearly an is­sue th­ese lands should not be in­cluded.”

Asked would Mur­phy re­move land from the reg­is­ter if builders can­not get fi­nance to de­velop the site, a Hous­ing Depart­ment spokesman said: “The levy pro­vi­sions are in­tended to be ap­plied equally on own­ers of va­cant un­der­utilised sites ir­re­spec­tive of abil­ity to gen­er­ate bank fi­nance with a view to in­cen­tivis­ing the bring­ing of va­cant sites into pro­duc­tive use at the ear­li­est op­por­tu­nity.”

How­ever, the spokesman added the levy “should not be im­me­di­ately ap­plied” where “there is in­suf­fi­cient lo­cal de­mand for the im­me­di­ate pro­vi­sion of hous­ing or where the site is not ser­viced by the nec­es­sary sup­port­ing in­fras­truc­ture”.

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