I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 9 together.
I refer to the reply to Question No. 5 of today in which I indicated that my Department will consider together the ninth progress report of the All-Party Committee on the Constitution, the report on ownership and control of building land from Goodbody Economic Consultants, and the forthcoming report of the National Economic and Social Council on housing and land policy, with a view to proposing policies which can be implemented quickly and would deliver an increased supply of affordable housing.
The All-Party Committee on the Constitution concluded that, having regard to modern case law, it is likely that the central recommendation of the 1973 Kenny report — that land required for development by local authorities should be compulsory acquired at existing use value plus 25% — would not be found to be unconstitutional. Based on this assessment, the committee recommended that this designated area scheme should be re-examined with a view to its implementation, following such modifications as are necessary or desirable in the light of later experience.
The committee also identified a number of different mechanisms that could be considered as an alternative to the designated area approach to recover betterment, including development levies, planning gain and new taxation initiatives. It has also been suggested that, notwithstanding its view on the constitutionality of the Kenny proposals, change along the lines recommended in 1996 by the Constitution Review Group — that existing constitutional provisions concerning property rights would be replaced by a single new provision — may be desirable. That will require constitutional change.
Overall, these recommendations raise complex legal, financial and practical issues which merit and are receiving careful consideration by my Department. In particular, the designated area scheme proposal would have significant implications for the role of public authorities and the operation of the building and, especially, the housing markets. In this regard, the All-Party Committee on the Constitution explicitly acknowledged that even if the constitutional issue was settled, practical concerns about the proposed scheme would require rigorous analysis.
Meanwhile, the operation and future potential of Part V of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act 2000 as a mechanism for the provision of social and affordable housing should be emphasised. As a public representative, I have indicated concerns about the slow pace at which it has moved but it is now making progress. Following its amendment in December 2002, activity under Part V has increased significantly. More than 300 social and affordable housing units were acquired through Part V agreements in the first six months of 2004, and it is anticipated that some 500 units will be provided over the full year. This compares with delivery of only 46 affordable units in 2002 and 163 social and affordable units in 2003. I accept that those are low rates of completion, but everyone who has experience in this area knows that planning permissions that are already in operation were not covered by any element of retrospection. More than 2,400 social and affordable units are under construction or proposed on foot of Part V agreements, and significantly increased output under Part V is expected to continue over 2005. Like many public representatives, I have spoken to the planning authorities in my own area and urged more delivery under the Part V process which is a good system but has still not been fully tested.