Derelict sites are defined as land that “detracts, or is likely to detract, to a material degree from the amenity, character or appearance” of a neighbourhood. The country is littered with such sites. They are a blight throughout rural and urban Ireland. There is scarcely a community unaffected.
This would be unacceptable at the best of times. At a time of a housing emergency, however, it is nothing short of a disgrace. There is a most urgent need to rectify this situation and address the issue of dereliction nationwide.
Each local authority is obliged to keep a register of the location, owner and value of such sites — and details of any action the council has taken, in terms of site notices or demands against the owners. Independent Clare TD Michael McNamara has elicited information in the Dáil that reveals a startling level of inaction.
He writes in this newspaper today that such properties must be brought back into use. To do so would inject life into towns and villages and deliver much-needed homes. However, as he writes, “nobody seems to be doing anything about it”.
The compiled data released and debated in the Dáil last week dates back to 2019, the most up-to-date figures available. It reveals that our local authorities did not issue any site notices at all under the relevant legislation — the Derelict Sites Act 1990 — and several others have issued only a handful, including councils in large urban areas such as Waterford City and County, where only one notice was issued, even though 33 derelict sites are registered.
In Sligo, another area of significant population, not a single site notice was issued, even though 20 derelict sites are registered.
These councils are by no means outliers. Indeed, such a seemingly laid-back approach appears to be routine. That said, some councils took a far more robust approach. In Mayo, for example, 475 site notices were on 178 registered sites; and in Limerick City and County, 180 notices were on 94 sites. That is more like it.
The compiled data reveals that 1,402 derelict sites were registered nationally in 2019. We imagine this to be a significant under-representation of the scale of the problem. Of the registered derelict sites, only one was acquired by agreement and 46 acquired compulsorily, and only 329 were levied during the year.
It may be that local authorities face obstacles to implementing the law. An amendment to the relevant legislation is making its way through the Dáil to create a charge on derelict land, related to expenses incurred by councils to tackle the issue in the first place. However, there is no real excuse for allowing the current state of affairs to continue. Local authorities must act uniformly under the powers they already have.
The country is shot through with sites that have been allowed to fall into a ruinous, derelict or dangerous condition, or which have been generally neglected. At a minimum, such properties are unsightly, with litter, rubbish, debris and waste gathering.
At a more serious level, they are the location of anti-social behaviour, where disturbing events have occurred. Their continued existence is increasingly unacceptable, particularly so during a housing emergency. The Government’s Housing for All plan needs to be strengthened to provide whatever further powers are needed to end this state of dereliction.