Unreal estate

When Derelict Buildings Are Left to Rot, the Council Steps in – Sometimes

On Adelaide Road, number seven has looked the same for years: boarded-up windows, a graffitied lower storey, and metal supports stretching under the windows.

It’s been on the city’s derelict-sites register for some time. It was there at least as far back as February 2015, when there were 46 derelict sites on the council’s list of properties that are so rundown that they’re considered a blight.

It is still on the most recent list from the council, which dates from July 2018, and now counts 87 sites.

It is not the only building that has remained on the list for a long while. Of the 46 listed almost three and a half years ago, 18 sites are still on the council’s register – more than a third.

In the last few years, Dublin City Council has taken more robust action against owners of properties it considers derelict – taking ownership of them through what is known as a “vesting order”.

But with many more pockmarking the city, some of which have been listed for years with little movement, can this be speeded up?

Some Moves

In 2015 and 2016, Dublin City Council didn’t acquire any buildings through the Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) process under the 1990 Derelict Sites Act. In 2017, that started to change a bit.

The CPO process means local authorities can force private owners to sell derelict sites to them, under the 1990 Derelict Sites Act. Once it has kicked off the process, the council gives a property owner one month to come forward and contest the purchase.

If nobody steps up, a “vesting order” can be placed on the site. That means a local authority can take possession of a property without paying compensation to the owner. (If somebody does step up, the council needs a nod from the minister to pursue it, the act says.)

Dublin City Council “vested” seven sites in March 2017 and four in October 2017. In July 2018, it “vested” six more.

Of the six recently vested sites, two are in Finglas – Barry Avenue and Glenties Park; two are in Santry, on Oldtown Road; one is in Stoneybatter, on Manor Place; and one is in Coolock, in Kilbarron Park.

In total, that makes 17 properties since March 2017.

“It’s good news,” says Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe.

Labour Councillor Andrew Montague, who is head of the council’s planning committee, says Dublin City Council has recently tackled a number of vacant and derelict sites in Finglas.

“These sites have been a thorn in the side of the local community for 15 or 20 years,” he says. “It’s great to see some movement.”

CPOs are effective in tackling derelict properties, Montague says.

Issuing CPOs “strengthens Dublin City Council’s negotiating hand”, says Montague. It puts increased pressure on Dublin’s derelict-property owners to act, he says.

But it’s still used on only a small number of the rundown sites that people spot around the city.

Reluctant

Historically, Dublin City Council was reluctant to issue CPOs due to protracted legal proceedings and unfavourable court rulings, says Cuffe. “It takes a lawyer and a good lawyer at that to make it stick.”

Fianna Fáil Councillor Paul McAuliffe says a “fast-track” process should be established to tackle derelict sites. “That could reduce the level of legal complication.”

When McAuliffe chaired the council’s economic committee, council officials proposed some kind of active land-management process, through which the council would engage in areas where development had stalled, often due to complicated property titles. “That came to nothing,” says McAuliffe.

The council’s derelict-sites register is effective, says Fianna Fáil’s McAuliffe. “Fines accrue. You can’t escape it,” he says.

Complicated legal titles, however, often lead to sites remaining derelict for long periods of time, says McAuliffe.

“Dublin City Council should be more aggressive in CPO-ing properties,” he says. “But we shouldn’t think that it’s a simple process.”

The Green Party’s Cuffe says both the vacant-site levy – which applies to some vacant sites above 0.05ha if they’re on a council list – and the derelict-sites levy should be increased to 10 percent.

At the moment, they’re set at 3 percent, although the vacant-site levy is set to rise to 7 percent under plans announced by Minister for Finance Paschal Donohue in October 2017.

“Seven percent isn’t high enough, though” says Cuffe. “If land is going up by 10 percent per year, the levy should be set fairly high for both [vacant and derelict] sites.”

Cónal Thomas portrait
Cónal Thomas

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach him at cthomas@dubinq.com

 

Comments

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  2. Anonymous commenter
    24 September at 09:36

    Just to note, even if an owner comes forward after a property has been vested, and has to be compensated, it is still profitable for local authorities to go through the process of turning over these properties. See 30 Merlyn Road, https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/derelict-dublin-homes-find-new-life-under-council-seizure-strategy-1.3516584?mode=amp

    Council needs to worry less about legal strategy and get derelict sites on the market, they’re great for investors who are currently competing with first time buyers etc for move in ready homes.

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