Thursday, 26 May 2022
Property Services (Land Price Register) Bill 2021: Second Stage [Private Members]
I am delighted to speak in support of Deputy O'Callaghan's Bill. I believe it has considerable merit and addresses a yawning gap in the measurement of wealth in this country. All the evidence suggests that land, property and housing generally are inextricably linked to wealth inequality. We know from successive reports from the Central Bank and from various reputable think tanks that the vast bulk of wealth in this country is held in assets and most of those assets are property. That includes not just housing but also land.
As the saying goes, we can only manage what we measure. We do not adequately measure land wealth, the value of land transactions and how lands can be speculated upon and flipped, making people millionaires many times over and sometimes overnight. It is something in which our society must take a closer interest. The Bill aims to create transparency around land transactions to tackle land speculation and to address the hoarding of development land.
I bring the attention of the House to a Bill the Labour Party introduced last year, the Acquisition of Development Land (Assessment of Compensation) Bill 2021. The Minister may be familiar with this because what it sought to do was essentially to tackle the issue of land hoarding and speculation by finally implementing the recommendations of the famed Kenny report, capping the price of land and allowing local authorities to compulsorily purchase land at capped prices. That is something we hope the Oireachtas can further consider in greater detail in the next period of time.
This Bill will create a new publicly available electronic register to provide information on land prices, ownership, location, zoning and so on. In addition, it broadens and updates the current residential property price register to include the size of the property and ownership details where these properties are not a principal primary residence. The establishment, in the first instance, of the residential property price register a number of years ago was an important intervention. This Bill builds on that important intervention to give us more clarity about the nature of the property market and who owns what.
As I say, we welcome the Bill. I thank our colleague, Deputy Cian O'Callaghan, for the work he has put in. We support it and hope the Government will too. We hope the Government will not merely take the opportunity to sit back and wave it through because it would be useful if the Government would express practical support for it and organise for the Bill to be scrutinised on Committee Stage at some point soon. This is an important Bill and there is a necessity for the Government to respond to what is in it in the context of the housing crisis we are facing.
Transparency is something we, as a society, should always welcome. Where this relates to land prices, it is even more important given that land is such an important source of wealth, hidden wealth and generational wealth in this country. It is equally important that the information is provided independently, clearly and in such a way that the public, researchers, policymakers and legislators such as ourselves can have faith that it accurately represents the true position as it relates to land value and, thereafter, land costs in Ireland.
We are currently in the position that the Government, Opposition, researchers and, most importantly, members of the public are too often reliant on data and statistics produced by private organisations, surveys and research projects that may be initiated by private interests to see the reality of the housing crisis for renters, buyers and, in this case, developers. While the work of those organisations is often excellent and robust, and nobody is suggesting otherwise, it should not be needed. The State should be collecting this data, using it to guide policy and providing it freely and accessibly to everyone. This Bill seeks to do that with respect to land cost but we believe that similar measures must be taken in other areas of public policy, establishing easily searchable, accessible and independent data.
There is undoubtedly a problem across the country of land being purchased, planning permission sought and granted and land being sold on, often at a very significant profit, without anything actually being built on that land and only for the cycle to continue almost into perpetuity. That cannot be allowed to continue. We recognise that the Government has stated it will make some efforts to end this cycle through certain measures contained in Housing for All but further measures are needed, including those contained in this Bill. It is a modest and moderate Bill. It is not revolutionary. It is just asking the Government to do something simple and straightforward; something it should be doing in any case.
Construction and land costs are consistently cited as significant issues in delivering homes quickly and affordably. It is vital that we are able to track land prices and to be able to clearly see the profits that have been made from land, often with no homes to show for it, with a significant amount of money lining the pockets of those who purchase land and move it on.
The Labour Party is pleased to support this important piece of legislation. I pay credit to Deputy Cian O'Callaghan and the Social Democrats for developing this legislation. It is important and it arguably should have been done a long time ago. It is one of the missing pieces of the jigsaw that we are required to implement as we continue to tackle the housing crisis that is bedevilling our society.