Donohoe warned over ‘politically sensitive' zoned lands tax plan

Donohoe warned over ‘politically sensitive’ zoned lands tax plan
© Getty Paschal Donohoe

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe was warned that any plan to tax land which was being used for farming even though it had been zoned for housing development was likely to be “politically sensitive”.

Department of Finance records reveal the Department of Housing wanted to exclude such land where it had been later rezoned for redevelopment or regeneration from the Government’s plan for a zoned lands tax.

However, both the Revenue and Department of Finance had “significant reservations” about this exemption and how it might hamper the availability of badly needed development land in future.

The idea behind the 3pc a year tax is to deter hoarding by speculators of land that could otherwise by used for housing developments.

Officials said any attempt to exclude certain agricultural land from the plan could “undermine the whole proposal” in a submission prepared for Mr Donohoe.

They said they were concerned over Department of Housing suggestions to exclude farming land where it had been bought before being rezoned.

An internal submission warned that it may “exclude land zoned suitable for residential development where there is an accepted and, at times, acute housing need, in particular where such land is adjacent to urban commuter towns, for example Lusk and Rush in north County Dublin, or large towns in rural areas”.

Officials said there were other parts of the country where farmland was zoned residential but where the housing need might not be “quite as pressing”. They said in places like that, application of a zoned land tax could be “politically sensitive”.

They told the minister that any exclusions from the new zoned land tax to prevent hoarding of valuable sites and property were also likely to prove contentious.

The submission also explained how some lands within residentially zoned areas were being used for legitimate and positive activity but could be hit by tax under the measure.

Officials said there would be major challenges with any zoned land tax for determining when lands were being used for “legitimate” reasons and when these alternative uses were deliberately being used to “thwart” the application of tax.

The submission said: “The issue here is that for the purpose of the tax, some sites may have longstanding very legitimate uses and applying a zoned land tax in such situations may be viewed as disproportionate.”

This could apply for instance to car parks, and that this had already proved a difficulty with the vacant site levy leading to a large number of appeals.

Discussions also took place over when property might be excluded with a number of key areas “agreed in principle” before approval was sought from Mr Donohoe. This included land zoned for residential which was occupied for social or community infrastructure, transport facilities, or other utilities.

Zoned land tax will be charged at 3pc per year on the land’s value.

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