Report on Urban Regeneration

Report on Urban Regeneration

Full Transcript: I thank Deputy Duffy for agreeing to share time with me.

I will start with a nod to Waterford because it is mentioned throughout the report. The report is excellent and should be important if its recommendations are implemented. I hope it will become important.

Waterford is rightly mentioned in that it has led the way under the repair-and-lease scheme. This features mainly in our urban centres, precisely to whose heart there is a need to bring people. Waterford has also led the way with high-quality public-realm projects. It has invested heavily in these in Waterford city and Dungarvan and Tramore town centres. I must give the nod to the integrated homelessness service on Parnell Street, Waterford, which has helped to mitigate at least some of the issues related to homelessness. These issues are being experienced across the country.

I agree with Deputy Leddin that there is a false dichotomy between urban and rural. Waterford provides us with a microcosm of the whole country. We have Ireland’s oldest urban centre in Waterford city.

We also have settlements such as Tramore and Dungarvan, which are greater than 10,000 and are mid-sized towns, and then smaller communities such as Cappoquin, Lismore and Ballymacarbry. All of these urban centres stand to be improved and to benefit from serious investment and a serious tackling of vacancy and dereliction.

I will be slightly partisan and I hope I will be forgiven for it. Notwithstanding the presence of the Ceann Comhairle and Deputy Ó Broin, we see the Green Party over-represented in the Chamber this evening. There is a sense that the Green Party is talking to itself a little bit here.

Funnily enough, this is what it sounds like when the Green Party talk among themselves. We bring a different lens to issues of this kind. We have made a significant contribution in this Government to reimagining how we approach the issue of housing. We take an ecological approach or a systems-based approach where we see these things as they knit themselves together. I hope we are bringing an element of policy coherence when we discuss housing. It is not just housing alone, and it is also the Town Centre First policy, the Our Rural Future policy, Connecting Ireland, where we begin to bring public transport between those communities, and the active travel funding that helps people to move around those urban centres. All of those knit together.

Homes are a physical expression of our social fabric and they are a relatively permanent expression of that. The decisions that we make in our built environment have long-lasting consequences. In the past few decades, we have allowed ourselves to become atomised. I have to wonder if that is an expression of the economic system and the extreme individualism that we see in neocapitalism. As Deputy McAuliffe said, not all housing is created equal. Dispersed housing patterns result in fragmented communities and that locks in transport emissions. It is very interesting that there is a specific chapter in this report on transport-oriented development, which is very progressive. Dispersed housing patterns undermine local services such as public transport and the face-to-face interaction that Deputy Bacik mentioned, such as in the local shop, the local school and the local pub. It makes services such as utilities, wastewater and local road infrastructure so much more challenging to provide. It pressurises our land use patterns and makes it difficult for us to improve forestry, agriculture and renewables. It makes all of those decisions so much more difficult to implement.

The opposite is also true. Good quality urban regeneration is going to do the opposite. It is going to knit communities together, sustain the local shop, the local school, the local pub and so on, and make it hugely easier for the Government to provide high-quality public services and high-quality public transport, for example.

In addition, dealing with vacancy and dereliction can address all of these issues but also take account in a meaningful way of embodied energy, embodied carbon and the embodied heritage skills and materials that are often built into these properties. Deputy Duffy referred to that and I know the Minister of State is very strong on the idea of heritage skills being used to regenerate our vacant and derelict properties.

Deputy Ó Broin referenced the idea of both stick and carrot. I broadly agree with that in respect of taxation, although we would be at variance in our approach to local property tax. The Deputy is dead set against it but I have a concern that we do not do a good job in this country of taxing wealth.

If we leave property out of that equation, it leaves a huge lacuna. Nonetheless, I am not convinced that the local property tax as currently constituted does all of the jobs that we need it to do. The taxes that are proposed in this report – the derelict sites tax and the vacant properties tax – are perhaps supplemental but I am not sure it is the direction we should actually be going. We have long been arguing for a site valuation tax, which would be a much more complete and powerful tool in taxing wealth, but also for activating sites and properties in our urban centres. A site valuation tax acknowledges that proportion of a site’s value that actually derives from the State’s investment in the services that surround that property, and it is definitely a direction in which we would like to go.

Every one of us is looking for the same thing. We are looking for thriving cities and towns that are sustainable in terms of population, sustainable in terms of social interactions and social life and, most importantly from my perspective, sustainable in terms of community. We want measures that can tackle the homelessness and the housing crises that are affecting our communities. Within this very insightful report, we have a lot of recommendations that can put us on a pathway to deliver on these related goals if we take it seriously by targeting urban renewal. I agree with Deputy Gould that any report is only as good as its implementation but I have heard no voice pulling against this report in the Chamber this evening. Let us drive on. There are excellent recommendations here. Let us put them in place and let us make sure this is not a report that sits on a shelf gathering dust.