Shifting Sands – Navigating the Legal Changes Heralded by Housing for All

Brought to you by McCann FitzGerald.

Housing for All, published on 2 September 2021, frames current Government policy on housing in Ireland to 2030. Anyone aspiring to home ownership or affordable rental options will find lots in it for them. But there’s also a lot to take in for anyone involved in housing delivery.

Legislation to support the implementation of the policy has already been passed. We’ve had the substantial commencement of the Affordable Housing Act 2021 including provision for cost rental housing and the increase to 20% of the Part V planning obligations on developers. We’ve also had the increased 10% rate of stamp duty on bulk purchases of residential property. New residential tenancies legislation extends rent pressure zone (RPZ) designations to 2024 and ties the maximum allowable increases in rents in RPZs to inflation. And although not yet commenced, the Land Development Agency Act 2021 puts the Land Development Agency on a broader statutory footing, supported by a wide range of powers to achieve its mandate including State-led delivery of social housing.

In fact so much legislation was enacted in July that it prompted President Michael D. Higgins to raise concerns at the “overwhelming number of Bills” presented to him in the two weeks before the recent Christmas and summer recesses. It won’t have escaped the attention of anyone involved in housing delivery that a lot of that legislation brought significant changes for them, requiring rigorous assessment of the impact on current or future-planned residential development and investment projects.

As lawyers, legislation is very much at the centre of what we do, but so too is a thriving client-base. The volume of recent changes has prompted a leading real estate services firm to call on the Government to draw a line in the sand on policy changes.  These concerns are not lost on us as lawyers, who see the devil in the detail of all the changes which the property sector has been expected to absorb in recent months, with more to come.

But while the Government has announced in excess of €20bn in funding over the next five years to support Housing for All, it is also relying on investment from the private sector of over €80bn in the same period to meet its targets.  This presents opportunities for investors who can fit in with the Government policy.  Planning is at the heart of Housing for All and the commitment to reform planning regulation, particularly a new fast-track process for Large Scale Residential Developments (to replace the current SHD regime); reform of the judicial review process; and the introduction of the new Planning and Environmental Division of the High Court to resolve planning disputes, are all positive changes to facilitate development.  Other positives for the sector include the potential for Public Private Partnership with AHBs to deliver 10,000 social homes every year to 2030; the proposal to introduce the Croí Cónaithe (Cities) Fund to ensure that planning permissions for apartments in high density areas already secured by 2021 are activated by the end of 2025 for build to sell; and the commitment to facilitate serviced site capability including to allow developers meeting certain requirements to self-lay water infrastructure.

No-one denies that the housing crisis can be solved without legislative intervention but neither, to pardon the pun, should a house be built on shifting sands.  The success of Housing for All will depend on maintaining a thriving open market, supported by balanced regulation that keeps the market healthy and functioning, but also correctly focussed and in check. We look forward to supporting our clients in achieving the best possible outcomes for all.

Image right supplied by McCann Fitzgerald.

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