LIMERICK TDs have been urged to find their voice on an issue which councillors believe they have been “awfully silent” on up until now.
This was the call at a special meeting in County Hall to debate Residential Zoned Development Land, which was announced by the Government in Budget 2023.
Council members gathered in the Dooradoyle chamber last Friday to discuss the tax, which is set to encourage the timely activation of zoned and serviced residential development land for housing, rather than to raise revenue.
It is primarily intended to “influence behaviour towards increased housing output”.
But Fine Gael councillor Liam Galvin described it as “the most lunatic thing” to come out of Budget 2023 at a recent Economic Development, Enterprise and Planning SPC (Strategic Policy Committee) before calling for a special meeting on the matter.
Cllr Galvin said: “If we zone a landowner’s land residential – be that an acre, five acres, or ten acres – and a developer does not require this land, the landowner will still have to pay land tax of three per cent of the land’s value per annum. The Government has lost the run of themselves and this is not the answer.”
At this week’s special meeting, the Newcastle West area representative claimed that most of the lands zoned residential in County Limerick over the last two decades are still “lying idle”.
“It is not cost effective for developers to build houses at the moment,” he told the council executive.
Cllr Galvin also took issue that the zoning and de-zoning of lands was one of the few rights councillors still had left.
“If we go ahead with this, they will think we are off our heads.”
Green Party councillor Seán Hartigan had a different take on the land tax.
“I am broadly supportive of the proposed process to tax residential zoned land. Liam Galvin’s motion that only landowners who refuse to sell Residential Zoned Land at the market value is unworkable.
“As any auctioneer here today will tell you that market value can only be determined on the day that land is sold.
“Liam says that the cheapest zoned land around Newcastle West is valued at €70,000. What he’s proposing is that landowners are only taxed and put under pressure to sell when they get at least €70,000 per acre for land which would have been valued at €10,000 before it was zoned for development,” Cllr Hartigan said.
Cllr Galvin believes this process will help to address one of the main barriers to building which is the price of land.
“The Residential Zoned Land Tax should drive down the value of development land and facilitate building. I see one of my roles as a councillor to be to help people to afford housing not to further the interests of wealthy landowners unlike some councillors who spoke here today,” Cllr Hartigan concluded.
Independent councillor Eddie Ryan offered his support to Cllr Galvin and described the land tax as “unacceptable”.
“It’s half-cocked, half baked, it’s meaningless,” he declared.
Fianna Fáil councillor Michael Collins said he supported what Cllr Galvin was trying to achieve, but felt it was “a bit immature”.
“We haven’t seen the land maps. You are clutching at straws. We don’t have any power. What has any TD done?” Cllr Collins asked.
“We can’t change things and I propose we don’t make any decisions until we know what’s what. We need to put this back on our TDs,” he suggested.
Fine Gael councillor Adam Teskey agreed with these sentiments and believed that all Limerick TDs should be invited to a meeting on the issue.
“This move is completely against rural Ireland as farmers are already struggling,” he claimed.
“We need to get our local Ministers and TDs in here to listen to the people. Once they get to the Red Cow roundabout, they forget what’s happening down here.”
Cllr Liam Galvin proposed a motion calling on the Minister for Housing to amend the proposed tax on Residential Zoned Land to the following:
“If an attempt to purchase qualified Residential Zoned Land at the market value on the day is refused by the property owner that the tax be implemented on the said property for that year and subsequent years until such time as the said property is either de-zoned or developed. Also that active farmed land be exempt.”
It was explained to council members that Limerick City and County Council is mandated to produce a plan on Residential Zoned Development Land Tax.
Senior Planner Maria Woods explained that the operation of the measure will, in the first instance, be through the preparation of maps which identify land which falls within scope of the tax, by virtue of appropriate zoning and servicing. Draft land maps must be drawn up by November 1.