Labour’s victory in the UK general election could alter the environment for Irish Government policy in unexpected ways, most importantly in relaxing the planning constraints on the housing market.

Labour has targets to address housing shortage (everyone favours ambitious targets) but has also signalled real-world policy changes, including the imposition of rezoning obligations on local authorities in the green belt around London and other cities.

It remains to be seen whether there is follow-through but the implication is that central government recognises the need to impose its will on local authorities, to whom zoning powers have been delegated since the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947.

The role of local authorities as gate-keepers of land-use in Ireland dates from the 1963 legislation, copied in its main provisions from the UK 1947 Act.

The intention in both countries was to put a stop to unsuitable patterns of development, for example industrial and commercial uses imposed in residential areas.

In the early 1960s, there were still slaughterhouses attached to butchers’ shops on many high streets around Ireland.

The unintended result has been an acute housing shortage, unaffordable prices and rents, urban sprawl, longer commuting distances and traffic congestion.

The governing legislation has turned out to be a Nimbies’ charter, conferring veto powers on geographically small planning authorities sensitive to the objections of residents’ associations entirely local in their focus.


Labour has committed to address the planning log jam through reducing the prerogatives of the local authorities. Especially in the south of England, where a giant green belt surrounds London, it has been accepted that you can end up with too much local democracy.

Young people living at inconvenient distances from centres of employment or colleges, or at home with parents, are abandoning any expectation of buying a home.

Even patience into middle age and the likelihood of inheritance is frustrated by the improvement in life expectancy for older people.

The Irish Times, most often a cheerleader for the Irish version of local democracy, on Monday last carried a persuasive piece by the developer Michael O’Flynn arguing that a continuation of the Nimbies’ charter will extend the betrayal of a generation.

There is no shortage of land in Ireland, even in the surrounds of Dublin city. There is a shortage of zoning and usable planning permission, courtesy of the planning system.

The central areas of Dublin and the inner suburbs have numerous sites devoted to low-value activities (poor golf courses, bus garages) and the outskirts just outside the M50 to rolling prairies of land zoned ‘agriculture’, or ‘amenity’, whatever that means.

The more central sites will always command a premium but there is enough land available a little further out to bring prices and rents back to some kind of sustainable level.

There will be no solution to Ireland’s housing shortfall until it is fixed in the Dublin area.

O’Flynn specifically mentioned the new UK government’s altered priorities: on Monday the new chancellor, Rachel Reeves, outlined mandatory house-building targets for local authorities and it is clear that her government has had enough of foot-dragging under the camouflage of delegation to local councils.

She also committed to delivering more permissions for onshore wind-farms, another victim in Ireland of the sacrifice of national priorities to local interests.

Aside from the promised repeal of the outgoing government’s Legacy Bill, which would have afforded immunity to state officers for actions taken during the conflict, the Labour manifesto has little to say about Northern Ireland.

No extra funding

The incoming government will support the devolution settlement and the restored executive but there will be little or no extra funding from the UK Treasury.

Outstanding debt is high and rising.

Labour has undertaken to avoid across-the-board tax increases, is concerned about the build-up of sovereign debt and intends to contain future budget deficits.

This rules out any loosening of the purse-strings for Northern Ireland.

Nor will there be any startling initiatives about rejoining the EU’s single market or customs union, despite public disenchantment with the ‘Get Brexit Done’ exit deal of Boris Johnson, the signature policy of the 14-year span enjoyed by the Conservatives.

The biggest impact on Irish policy of the Labour success is most likely to be on the planning system.

Most European countries do not abdicate responsibility for land use to local units of government so comprehensively as has been done in the UK and Ireland.

Although separated by a 16-year interval, the key legislation in the two countries in 1947 and 1963 had the same good intentions and has had the same damaging outcomes.

There are political battles ahead for the UK government as it champions those who would like to be home-owners against those who already are. If they succeed, younger people will hope that Irish politicians again choose to follow the UK example.