I propose to take Questions Nos. 70, 110, 111 and 116 together.
The Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 introduced a new measure, the vacant site levy, which is aimed at incentivising the development of vacant, under-utilised sites in urban areas. Under the Act, planning authorities are required to establish a register of vacant sites in their functional areas, beginning on 1 January 2017. Planning authorities will be issuing notices to owners of vacant sites by 1 June 2018 in respect of vacant sites on the register on 1 January 2018, indicating that the levy will apply to those sites on 1 January 2019.
The primary purpose of the levy is to act as an incentive for the bringing forward of vacant under-used sites for development, for residential or regeneration purposes. I would hope that as many vacant sites as possible will be developed for these purposes, thereby avoiding liability to the levy.
Under the provisions of the Act, the levy will be applied by planning authorities, commencing on 1 January 2019 in respect of sites which were vacant and on the vacant site register on 1 January 2018 and will subsequently be applied on an annual basis thereafter, as long as the site remains on the vacant site register in the preceding year.
Planning authorities are empowered to apply an annual vacant site levy of 3% of the market value of relevant vacant sites where a site:
- exceeds 0.5 hectares in area,
- was, in the planning authority’s opinion, vacant or idle in the preceding year, and
- is in an area identified by the planning authority in its development plan or local area plan for residential or regeneration development.
All levies due on an individual site will remain a charge on the land concerned until all outstanding levies due are paid. Accordingly, under the vacant site levy provisions, there will be a cumulative effect associated with not activating a site for development purposes for each year that a site remains vacant or idle.
Planning authorities are presently engaging in the necessary preparatory work, prior to the application of the levy with effect from January 2019 in respect of sites identified on their vacant site registers in 2018. As required under the Act, this includes the identification of specific vacant sites for entry on the register, the registered owners of the sites in question and undertaking site valuations of the registered sites.
My Department does not maintain a central register of vacant sites as each local authority administers the vacant site register in respect of their functional area. However, on foot of a recent review of the on-line vacant site registers across all local authority areas, I understand that there are collectively 238 sites currently on the local registers. 219 of these sites were entered on the local vacant site registers on 1 January 2018 and will therefore be subject to the levy in 2019, unless development works are activated in the interim. In the Dublin area, 98 sites will, as things stand, be subject to the levy in January 2019.
My Department has actively engaged with local authorities in relation to the implementation of the vacant site levy, holding information seminars for local authorities on 25 May 2016 and 8 November 2017, and issuing a circular letter to planning authorities on the detailed arrangements in relation to implementation of the levy on 1 July 2016. My Department will continue to monitor implementation of the levy to ensure that it is being fully used, in line with its intended purpose of incentivising the development of vacant or under-utilised sites in urban areas and so that the full potential of the measure can be realised.
Following a commitment given in Budget 2015, a public consultation was conducted by the Department of Finance on the issue of unused zoned and serviced land with a view to examining what taxation measures might be taken to penalise land owners who do not develop such land. On considering the outcome of the public consultation and further to the enactment of the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015, the Department of Finance determined that no new tax intended to encourage the development of residentially zoned and serviced land - separate to the vacant site levy - would be introduced at that time.
However, as announced in the recent Budget 2018, it is proposed to increase the rate of levy from 3% to 7% of the market valuation of relevant sites with effect from January 2020 in respect of sites included on the local vacant site registers in 2019. Legislative provision for this increase will be tabled by way of Seanad amendment to the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016, which is presently at Dáil Report Stage.