Vacant site levy to speed up housing development, says Kilkenny Minister

Political journalist Tim Ryan analyses and writes about issues at both local and national level

Darren Hassett


Darren Hassett


Kilkenny Kilkenny Kilkenny

The vacant site levy was introduced in 2015 with the aim of incentivising the development of vacant and under-utilised sites in urban areas

The value of land is a very significant component in the cost of house production, whether it is public or private, Minister of State John Paul Phelan told the Dáil.

As land is a finite resource, there is an unquestionable public interest in ensuring it is efficiently used, particularly in urban areas but also in rural areas, he said.

Replying to a debate on vacant sites, he said the vacant site levy was introduced in 2015 with the aim of incentivising the development of vacant and under-utilised sites in urban areas for both housing and regeneration purposes.

“As a Government, we are open to ensuring that the levy continues to be an effective land management tool,” he said. “While the levy has been levied since this year, it will not be payable until 1 January next year.

“It would be fair to say, therefore, that its impact would be difficult to measure now but from speaking to a number of local authorities that have put together a vacant site register, there has been activity in terms of ownership, planning applications and inquiries about planning applications on sites that are included on the vacant site register.

“The Government’s role cannot be to put forward legislation it believes to be unconstitutional,” he added.

“Through the levy’s introduction in 2015 and on foot of it becoming payable from January 1 next year, we will have a standard with which to compare activity in the housing market and the impact the levy is having on it in Dublin and right across the country.”

The minister said that it was fair to say that the existing rules around compulsory purchase often lead to a very cumbersome process that becomes legally embedded in the courts process, which is also a very expensive process.

“Many local authorities and other agencies are reluctant to go down that route,” he said. “This is why the Government recently asked the Law Reform Commission to conduct a review - the Commission has commenced the project - on how best to reform and update the law and procedures around the compulsory acquisition of land.”

Lack of awareness on anti-social activity

While we have by-laws in each county governing litter and anti-social activity and there is anti-social behaviour legislation, the public does not feel empowered and often they do not know if what they are witnessing is illegal activity or not, Fianna Fáil Senator Jennifer Murnane O’Connor told the Upper House.

“It is quite simply unfair that we do not give the power of knowledge to our citizens and tell them exactly how to deal with this behaviour,” she said.

“They need information on who they should call. We all know that if one has an emergency, one rings 999, but when one comes across this type of behaviour who does one contact?

“We need greater public awareness about citizens’ rights in these situations. We could do with a debate about our laws and how we can enforce them and make the public aware of them.”

Only recently, she said, people had heard of a hosepipe ban and people were told they could be fined if they use a hosepipe to water the garden.

“The question must be asked about who will enforce it, who will fine them and sort this out,” she said. “We have no enforcement of the law. Who will enforce these provisions? We need to bring the Minister to the Chamber to discuss the by-law and see what we can do to help people become more aware of the by-laws.”

In response, the Leader of the House, Senator Jerry Buttimer said the issue Senator Murnane O’Connor raised was one for further debate, because it is not peculiar to Carlow or Kilkenny.

“There are also people affected in many parts of the country,” he said. “I would be happy to have that debate.”

Funchion seeks opportunity to repeat Leaving Cert subjects in same year

Sinn Féin Deputy Kathleen Funchion asked the Minster for Education & Skills if provision could be made in exceptional circumstances for the sitting of missed Leaving Certificate subject examinations without the necessity of waiting a year to dso or of repeating the year.

She said she was raising the issue because she was not a fan of the Leaving Certificate system.

“It does not suit every student,” she said. “I do not believe in a pressurised two-weeks system with the whole country waiting to see how many students get seven A1s and all that nonsense.

“As part of reform I would like to see a system of continuous assessment, which is why I welcome it at Junior Certificate level.

“As part of the reform, there should be a repeat option,” she said. “There might be an issue around deadlines but it is something we should be able to examine because at third level there is always the option of repeating in August.”

“I have heard of students who sat exams in hospital, but there is a range of situations in question.

“I raise this because a person with cystic fibrosis came to us,” she continued. “The person cannot physically do two or three exams in one day. Many students fall into that category.

“If there was an option of repeating in late July or early August, students who fall into that category could stagger their exams.”

In response, Minister Richard Bruton said the State Examinations Commission has looked at how it can be flexible by giving rest breaks throughout the period of the exams and going to different venues and so on, but it has confined it to the day the exam takes place.

“It is caught because of the CAO timeframe which is very definite,” he said. “What is different from a higher education situation is that the CAO allocates places and they must be taken up.

“In higher education, one is going from first year to second year, for example, so the place is there and it is not a question of someone else waiting to take it if one does not take it.”