Building on shifting sands
WOULD you want to live in one of the country's estimated 650 ghost estates, homes that nobody wanted but were built anyway, most of them in rural areas where there was never any reason to anticipate significant demand? Now they lie empty, their future to be decided by the Government "in coming months", according to the planning minister, Ciaran Cuffe, yesterday.
Whether or not you would want to live in a ghost estate, do you think there should be an independent inquiry into the failure of the planning system that created them, and into the Government's failure to manage the property bubble?
These are two of many fundamental questions raised by a scathing report by the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA), which is based in NUI Maynooth. The answer to the first question may help to explain why planning permission is still being given -- and thousands of houses and apartments still being built -- in parts of the country that contain swathes of abandoned housing projects. If developers are still building houses and apartments, it can only be because 'location, location, location' still has its attractions.
Houses and apartments are going up in locations when, half a mile away, sites lie half built, abandoned as soon as it became clear that they could not be sold.
Yet NIRSA estimates some 120,000 homes lie vacant up and down the country. When holiday homes and properties that were bought for investment purposes but lie idle for one reason or another are added, the number of empty dwellings reaches 330,000.
This means there are more than five times as many dwellings unsold and empty in the country as there are people currently on local authority lists, seeking a roof over their heads.
Should there be an independent inquiry into the Government's failure to control building development and planning, as NIRSA says, or are the Irish public all inquiry-ed out at this stage? Would it tell us anything we don't already know?
Professor Rob Kitchin, director of NIRSA, has suggested that an inquiry into planning decisions could reveal close links between politicians and property speculators. No doubt the Taoiseach would sigh wearily and remind us, yet again, that we are where we are.