Monday, October 18, 2010

Irish State broadcaster RTÉ enters property selling market

Irish State broadcaster RTÉ has entered the property selling market in partnership with online property service

RTÉ.ie stated as the website of Radio Telefís Éireann, Ireland's National Public Service Broadcaster, which relies partly on mandatory licence fees payable by Irish resident owners of television sets, has launched the service 'RTÉ Property' and it is focusing on residential, commercial and holiday property sales.

The Irish obsession with property coupled with lax banking regulation, cronyism, a corrupt land rezoning system, poor planning and little concern for conflict of interest, has doomed the Irish economy.

During the bubble, senior politicians publicly urged citizens to buy houses in case they missed the boat; many of them did as the bubble headed for a peak in the crazy year of 2006 and they are now sinking with negative equity.

Maybe RTÉ might be able to get away with claiming that its property service is an advertising vehicle but in a well-run European country such an excuse would not wash.

If you present a business service to consumers under your name, you are responsible and excuses about partnerships would not matter.

The following is from a comment that was made in August on an online forum relating to issues of planning and conflict of interest.

The case that the planning system should be examined and reformed with the same seriousness that is being given to the banking crash, is very strong.

It was inevitable that in a small country with 88 planning authorities and a culture where conflict of interest is almost an alien concept, there would be serious consequences for the economy and much of the population, when there was a spike in demand for development land.

Development land is the main driving force of corruption across the globe and Ireland has been no exception.

In Ireland, the rezoning system has been used to create an artificial scarcity of land and during the boom site costs as a proportion of the cost of a house jumped and a small number became immensely wealthy from the system.

Restrictive planning is a big factor in house price inflation and in England, Tory controlled shires have traditionally restricted housebuilding to preserve the so-called green belt while in the cities, it has been in the interest of the Labour Party to keep populations hemmed in to preserve their core support base. In one year in recent times, there was no new house built in David Cameron’s constituency!

In Ireland, local government power had been transferred to county and city managers to reduce the opportunities for corruption but local councillors were left with the power to rezone agricultural land for development. It gave the often uneducated elected officials, a powerful means of raising funds, ostensibly for election campaigns.

RTÉ’s Prime Time programme in Nov 2007, disclosed statistics about the involvement of elected representatives in the land development and property business.

A total of 22% of councillors dealt in or developed land through their day jobs as estate agents, landowners and builders. In Mayo, that figure rose as high as 45%, in Offaly it was 44% and in eight other counties it was 33% or more.

Prime Time found that in Clare, declarations of interest showed that 97% of elected members had no beneficial interest even in their family home. In ten counties, two-thirds or more of the councillors had not declared an interest in the family home.

In Scandinavian countries, if a councillor intervened behind the scenes to influence a planning or rezoning decision it would be considered corruption – a criminal offence – but in Ireland, it’s the norm.

So in a country that is estimated to be 4% urbanised and despite the huge rise in new stock, Ireland has poor housing conditions compared with other countries with similar living standards, with floor areas per person of around a fifth less than the western European average, even though a large number of dwellings (45%) are detached houses.

The UK’s Policy Exchange think tank, argued during the boom that the Irish planning system creates too many ‘starter homes’, of often mediocre quality on monotonous estates, and allows insufficient quantities of larger, better quality properties. The lack of better properties has fuelled house price inflation, it argued, so that the high headline housebuilding figures gave a misleading picture of the true supply situation.

The quality of some apartments built in Dublin during the boom is a national disgrace; occupiers have not only to deal with negative equity but very limited storage space and poor soundproofing. In the Gas Works development in South Dublin, bicycles have to be stored on balconies. At least they don’t have to worry about storing coal in the bath — that’s if they have one!