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West and midlands first target for wrecking ball

VACANT houses in counties Leitrim, Longford and Roscommon are set to be among the first to be demolished by the NAMA wrecking ball.

The toxic bank must decide in the coming months how much of the land and housing, valued at €2.2bn, it has taken over from developers will be built out or completed.

Planning Minister Ciaran Cuffe will today announce plans to conduct a national audit to find out how many vacant properties are finished or need more work.

Estimates on the number of empty houses and apartments range from 301,682 to 352,414.

A study from NUI Maynooth obtained by the Irish Independent reveals that there are 621 so-called "ghost estates" across the country where more than half of all units are vacant or under construction.

The data shows counties Leitrim (21 estates), Longford (19) and Roscommon (35) had a "particularly high ratio of estates per head of population". These are followed by Sligo (24), Cavan (21), Monaghan (18), Carlow (15), Cork county (90), Tipperary North (16), Kilkenny (21), Westmeath (18) and Laois (15).

Director of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland (RIAI) John Graby last night said those counties with the highest concentration of "ghost estates" outside major towns and cities were most vulnerable.

But he said a national survey was needed to establish the condition of properties and to decide what should be kept.


"Part of the idea of having a national survey is to find out where they are and what condition they're in before you decide if you're going to get rid of them," he told the Irish Independent. "What can we do with that kind of housing in those kind of estates? It's a real issue we have to look at. Saying you're going to bulldoze them isn't enough. The IDA say people want to go to towns and cities. The market will tell us what the strategy should be."

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But even in the cities there are problems. Councils in Dun Laoghaire Rathdown in Dublin, and in Cork have put 500 unsold affordable housing units for sale on the open market because no first-time buyer was interested in buying.

Some 1,150 affordable housing units are unsold nationally, many in urban centres.

On Tuesday, NAMA chief executive Brendan McDonagh told the Dail Committee on Finance and the Public Service that the so-called "bad bank" could be forced to knock unfinished property developments outside Dublin, some of which "should never have been contemplated".

Housing agency Respond yesterday said knocking down homes should be undertaken as a "last resort" and called for some properties to be used to house the 56,000 people on council waiting lists.

Mr Cuffe will today announce at the National Planning Conference that "tough decisions" will have to be made in relation to unfinished buildings, and that some will be demolished. An expert group has been set up to examine the issue, and will begin an audit of housing estates.

Guidelines will be drawn up for each local authority, developers and residents groups to address problems, which could include demolition. Industry sources said a new house left empty for a year, with no heating, would require some work to be carried out before being sold.

"If you leave a house unoccupied with no heating for a year it will take some work to bring it up to standard," he said.

"The work could include replastering, repainting and possibly new windows. Small undetected leaks which would be quickly addressed if someone was in the house could lead to bigger problems."

The first loan transfers bought by NAMA for €8.5bn last month includes €2.2bn borrowed on land or housing.

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