Owners face levy if they don't develop derelict 'urban' sites
Enough land zoned across country to build 400,000 homes
THE Government has recategorised entire swathes of land across the country as being in 'urban' areas - meaning landowners can be hit with an annual levy if they refuse to develop derelict sites.
The move comes as new figures show there is enough land zoned across the country to build 400,000 new homes, enough to meet demand for the next decade.
But there are concerns that prime sites in urban locations are lying idle as landowners wait for prices to rise.
Regulations signed in recent days will bring hundreds of plots of land under the provisions of the Derelict Sites Act, allowing local authorities to force landowners to remedy dangerous buildings or clean-up sites, and impose an annual levy based on 3pc of the site value if it remains undeveloped.
The Derelict Sites (Urban Areas) Regulations categorises areas across 21 counties as being in 'urban' locations, meaning councils can use existing legislation to force owners to take action.
It has also emerged that the Government intends closing a loophole whereby owners can circumvent the act by erecting hoarding around a site, closing it to the public, instead of carrying out works to make it safe.
The moves come as Finance Minister Michael Noonan yesterday launched a public consultation on plans to introduce a vacant site levy on owners of residential zoned land which is not being developed. The levy is expected to amount to 3pc of the value of the land, rising to 6pc over time, which would fall due if the site was identified as a priority for development but remained unused.
The Department of Finance says there is 17,000 hectares of undeveloped residential land which could provide 400,000 new homes across the country.
Similar provisions to impose a levy already exist under the Derelict Sites Act. A site can be classed as derelict if it contains land or buildings which are "neglected" or in an "unsightly" condition; contains dangerous structures or has accumulated litter or other waste.
If a site qualifies as derelict, councils can work with landowners to complete certain works. It can also serve a legal notice ordering that works be carried out, add the property to the register of derelict sites or acquire the property.
Counties affected by the new regulations are Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, Limerick, Longford, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Sligo, Tipperary, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow.
The Department of the Environment said that some of these urban areas were being 'restated' following changes to the local government system, but some had been added at the request of local authorities.
Green Party councillor on Dublin City Council, Ciarán Cuffe, said among the problems facing local authorities were difficulties in tracing the owners of sites.
In addition, the levy was registered as a charge against the property - meaning it could not be collected until the site or building was sold.
He also said the levy should be based on the value of the site if it was put to productive purposes, and was not lying idle.
"I think the blame lies on both the local authorities themselves and the legislation which needs to be updated," he said.