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Finance Bill 2014: Second Stage (Resumed) (Continued)

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 856 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd] I accept that it is included in the legislation and, obviously, is going to happen, but the key aspect is regulating the price of building land. This issue was raised a long time ago. I think Deputies Peter Mathews and Thomas P. Broughan might remember the Kenny report when we were just four or five years of age. Do the Deputies remember it?

Deputy Peter Mathews: Information on Peter Mathews Zoom on Peter Mathews I was older.

Deputy Denis Naughten: Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten I was not even in nappies.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd One day I went looking for it; it is a lovely small book running to only about 20 pages. Needless to say, it also included a minority report, but it contained a lot of common sense. If we are to make sure people are not ripped off, we must address this issue. I appreciate that land is not being released and that there are different issues around Dublin, but, at the end of the day, particularly for poorer households and the taxpayer who will be paying for local authority housing, public works and public buildings into the future, we need to look again at this issue, about which I have concerns.

I welcome the continuation of the living city initiative, but there is a problem with it. It includes Dublin city, Cork, Limerick, Galway and - hey presto - Kilkenny. Whatever for? Deputy John Paul Phelan is sitting beside me. How did Kilkenny get in?

Deputy John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan Because it is a city.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd Technically, it is. As it is only half or even one quarter of the size of Drogheda, I want to know why this initiative does not extend to places such as Drogheda and Dundalk in my constituency.

Deputy John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan That is not true.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd No, it is a fact. Drogheda is the largest town in the country, with a population approaching 40,000 citizens. The heart of Drogheda, Dundalk and many of our cities and towns was devastated - businesses were closed and there was no rates income; nothing. At the centre, they are ghost towns. However, what do we have on the outskirts owing to the planning policy of other Governments are huge shopping centres that have broken the heart of towns. This is a core issue. The living city initiative is an excellent one and I support it fully, but I regret very much that in a reply to my recent parliamentary question it was stated there was no intention to extend it in the budget. I would like to lay down a marker - it ought to be extended, which would make a lot of sense, as one could bring back to life the core of our towns and cities, many of which are denuded of people at night. We want to see commercial activity and enterprise. Extending the living city initiative and looking again at new initiatives to include urban renewal would make a lot of sense. It is much cheaper to provide new apartments and so on where commercial buildings are extant and can be improved.

I welcome the extension in the budget of section 28 tax relief where anybody who owns a private house or those who own residential properties and flats can avail of it. One of the key issues about which people complain is the fact that the quality of apartments to be let in the market is not up to scratch and does not meet basic requirements for modern living. This initiative will certainly help and is most definitely a move in the right direction.

I wish to raise a very important issue. It concerns encouraging enterprise and businesses to start up. There is a 10,000 sq. ft. property in my constituency in Drogheda which is empty. The previous business has closed and all of the charges have been paid. The planning fees have also been paid and the car parking is right. Somebody wants to move in and start up a business, but what are they faced with? First, they have to meet planning fees of almost €4,000, have a fire certificate at a cost of €2,697, meet a disability access certificate application fee of €800 and, let us not forget, the change of use fee of €23,752. That is an absolute disgrace and the issue needs to be addressed in every single urban area. We are killing enterprise and ensuring places that are denuded of commercial activity will never reopen. Young people want to get going and start off, but how are they going to do it? They cannot and will not do so. We are not tackling this core issue that needs to be addressed. We talk a lot about enterprise and there is no doubt that the number of jobs around the country are increasing and that the unemployment rate which was 15.3% when we took office is now 11% and falling. That is a fantastic achievement on the part of the Government which has been brought about by having the right policies and the drive and energy of the Administration. It is most welcome, but economic recovery has not trickled down sufficiently to ordinary people. It is a little like what they are saying in Great Britain, the United States and Ireland. Yes, we are improving and creating more jobs, but we do not have enough of them. There are too many barriers in our way.

I suggest to the Minister and the Department, if they are listening, that we tackle this issue. Let us scrap these damn fees. Let us open a new window of opportunity in a 12 month trial. For the next 12 months let us cut the fees to damn all for anybody who wants to open a new business. What would be the benefit to the local authority? I rang a local authority official whom I will not name about this issue. Local authority officials are decent people. They asked me what they would do for money, but there will be no one in this place. Why are so many shops empty? Why are people afraid to start a business? The reason is they cannot afford the charges. There is a premises at the very centre of my town that has been empty. A new business wants to move in, but guess what it needs to do so? It needs to pay a change of use fee. It must also pay huge planning fees. It must pay €30,000 to open up. This premises is right in the heart of my town and could be buzzing with people, creating employment and generating income for the local authority, but it is now empty and will remain so, unless we can find a way to deal with the issue. This lies at the heart of our commercial and economic recovery.

I will hand over to Deputy John Paul Phelan, the fellow from Kilkenny who people say is a good hurler. I welcome all of the significant changes that have been made and all of the good things included in the Bill, but we need to open our eyes a little more and tackle these issues in order that we have an open door policy and a welcome mat for anybody who wants to set up a business. We should tell them that we want them, that we are prepared to cut their costs, including their planning costs, down to zero. Let us give it a go and see what would happens because the local authority would be getting rates. It would have an income, people would be working and our towns would be alive. They would no longer be dead. Let us wake up and smell the coffee.

Deputy John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan I thank Deputy Fergus O'Dowd for his compliments, but my hurling days are behind me at this stage.

I will correct my earlier interruptions. I would have no difficulty if Drogheda was to be included in the Living City Initiative, although it would have to be renamed the living town initiative. Seeing as it is called the Living City Initiative, it is only appropriate that all cities are included in it. It is a very good initiative. Deputy Fergus O'Dowd is not the best at mathematics and I think he used to be a teacher. With a population of over 25,000, Kilkenny has far more than one quarter of Drogheda's population.

Deputy Fergus O'Dowd: Information on Fergus O'Dowd Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd I accept the correction.

Deputy John Paul Phelan: Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan The Deputy is spot on in terms of the value of the initiative and that it should be extended to large towns such as Drogheda. Dundalk is another large town in his constituency which I am sure could also benefit.

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