Wednesday 24 January 2018

Erasing our many ghost estates not the answer

Knocking down the unoccupied houses in our "ghost" towns and returning the land to agricultural purpose may seem like a good idea, but in fact it would probably make a bad situation even worse.

According to my sources, professionals from various sectors of the construction industry who gave me educated 'guesstimates' based on their extensive experience, it would cost somewhere between €42,000 and €50,000 to demolish a single house!

It is not simply a case of moving in the wrecker's ball, it is far more complicated and the only people to benefit are likely be the recycling companies.

All the different components of the house have to be knocked and put into separate piles . . . tiles here, timber over there, steel girders in yet a third pile. Glass, bricks, cement and concrete, insulating material . . . all must be divided up by special machinery, then transported to a recycling yard where yet more "dividing" takes place. The cement rubble is broken up into small pieces and eventually used as a hard core for roads.

Meanwhile, back at the site where the house has now been razed to the ground efforts must be made to dig up the foundations which stretch for a foot or a foot and a half beneath the surface ... . a very big job indeed!

When everything has been cleared away and sent to the recycling yard the work starts on returning the land to viable use. Left with only sub-soil, unsuited for agricultural purposes, top soil must be brought in, spread over the area and either seeded or, more likely, covered with rolled-out grass.

Multiply this effort by the number of empty houses in our country and you come up with a cost of billions.

Moth-balling may be a far better solution.

The unfinished houses in our "ghost" estates should be boarded off from the occupied homes and secured, so that children can't get in to play around. (I know a young lad who was killed by just such an accident on an unfinished house.) This security system has often been used in the past by good builders to separate the various phases of large developments during construction.

Where houses have been finished, but are still unsold, it is important that they should be cared for so that, unoccupied, they don't go down in value. Whatever auctioneer has them on his books should be held responsible for maintaining them in good order -- and paid accordingly.

Indeed there is a case to be made for offering this job to some of the new residents who could keep an eye on the houses, checking for damp, etc.

It is, of course, important that the public should know these houses are still on the market, so periodically different counties should be marketed in much the same way as foreign properties -- selling agents taking a room in a Dublin hotel, advertising the sale of all new properties in that county, showing a video of the houses themselves and the facilities in the neighbourhood. Prospective purchasers could then be bussed to the various counties and brought around all the developments -- a one-day Sales Blitz, not unlike REA's effort a month ago.

Each county council should deal with its own estates in a caring manner, helping the residents to clean up the place and locals should be to the fore in helping the newcomers. It is time for a community effort.

Most counties in Ireland have a representative on the 2010 Rich List. Significant fortunes have been amassed by smart entrepreneurs in technology, retail, high finance, aviation and renewable energy.

Sportsmen, musicians, advertising -- all have their success stories on the world stage. Was "Bringing it all Back Home" just a slogan -- or did it actually mean something?

If each person on the Rich List looked to his or her native county and decided to donate some money towards making the ghost estates at least bearable for the young people who have already moved in, surely it would be a case of charity beginning at home.

We will never get back to the stage of constructing 90,000 homes a year, as happened in the last years of the boom -- a type of madness, or greed, that overtook us. The number of homes needed in Ireland is in the region of 45,000 a year. Perhaps it will go up to 50,000 if our population increases, but it is unlikely and, in fact, it is questionable whether planning permission should be given for building more homes than this on an annual basis. Let us learn from past mistakes.

Irish Independent

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