Over Zealous Protection of the Rights of Landowners in our Legislation

Educate Together met the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution today. This meeting was as part of the Committees work in reviewing the sections of the Constitution that deal with Private Property. This review has been requested by an Taoiseach as a result of sustained public concern over the costs of new housing and infrastructural developments.

In its presentation, Educate Together drew attention to the escalating cost to the State of providing sites for urgently needed new schools. Up until January 1999, religious bodies or voluntary groups had to provide sites for all new schools. In that year, as a result of extensive lobbying, the State offered to purchase the sites for new schools. However, despite the declaration of the State’s willingness to purchase sites, very few have actually been bought. Where private individuals or corporate bodies own sites for schools, the costs involved have drastically constrained the ability of the Department of Education and Science to proceed to purchase.

The central legal issue Educate Together asked the Committee to consider is:-

The State – through its Local Government planning process – took decisions that resulted in tracts of land accruing significant additional value. Now, at a later date, the State is being compelled to pay this inflated price for vital educational infrastructure. If the property owner decides to hold out for the full development value of the land, the site can remain fallow in perpetuity and the urgently required educational facility denied to the community. The State is being held to ransom in these circumstances. Stepping back a moment, what is in essence happening is that the Capital Building Programme of the Department of Education and Science is subsidising a private landowner’s housing development.

This is in stark contrast to the ability of local authorities to affect the transfer of land for roads, footpaths, parks and public open space at no cost to the State and as a condition of planning permission.

In our opinion, the provisions in Article 43 of our Constitution were not intended to restrict the State in this fashion. It was intended to protect a person’s right to private property, not compel the State to enrich the owners of private property.

We would like to ask the Committee to ensure that Article 43 cannot be misused in this way. We would like the Constitution to empower the State to pass legislation that will allow the transfer of lands for vital infrastructure as a condition of rezoning or planning and that this transfer is either gratis or close to the original value.

Educate together simply ask that, in the course of their deliberations, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution ensure that nothing in the Constitution remains that could prove an impediment to urgently needed legal reforms which would enable the State to address with maximum efficiency the educational needs of coming generations.