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Renewed push for vacant land "tax"

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The Adelaide City Council is preparing to debate a new push to punish the owners of long-term empty, undeveloped land – such as the former Le Cornu site – with higher rates.

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Vacant land "tax"

In May, a report into the city council’s finances recommended that it review the notion of applying a “differential” rate for vacant land, but cautioned that such a policy would be “hard to defend”.

The report, by independent local government finance expert John Comrie, argues that “unless the differential rate was extremely high, other factors are likely to be far more material in deciding whether a landholder will develop their property”.

“… in terms of benefits received … and capacity to pay, it seems hard to defend charging a higher differential rate on vacant land,” the report says.

Nonetheless, North Ward councillor Phil Martin will prosecute a motion at tomorrow night’s meeting, urging council staff to investigate how the council might implement a differential rate, beginning mid-next year.

Martin told InDaily this morning that vacant land serves “no useful purpose” and that it was worth investigating the issue.

“Councils all over Australia apply a separate rate on vacant land,” he said.

“Having a bit of dirt sitting vacant for long periods of time is in no-one’s interest. Vacant land serves no useful purpose.”

Martin’s motion would instruct council staff to look into vacant land rates used by other Australian local government authorities to develop a process “leading to the possibility of introducing this rate from the beginning of the 2018/19 financial year”.

The renewed push comes as the South Australian Council of Social Services (SACOSS) urged governments to tax vacant land.

SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley told InDaily the former Le Cornu site could be an ideal location for a public housing development – or a mixed public/private housing development – and that it may be necessary to apply a financial incentive to achieve that end.

“It (the site) could be the subject of … a development that would be ideal for public housing,” he said.

“Anything that creates an added incentive (…to develop it) would be very beneficial for the community.

“It’s a prime location (…which) has been the subject of multiple applications and yet nothing has happened for year.”

The latest SACOSS Cost of Living Update report, released today, says that more than 100,000 South Australian households are living in “housing stress” and warns of a long-term decline in public housing.

“Our report … highlights an alarming long-term decline in the provision of public housing in South Australia – from 11.2 per cent of all private dwellings in 1991 to around six per cent (now),” Womersley said.

“This represents an alarming and unacceptable decline in a major part of the housing safety net which needs to be addressed to assist the most vulnerable in the housing market.”

Comrie’s report is available here.

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