THE preliminary results of the Census disclosed there were almost 170,000 vacant properties in the State and that more than 10% of these, 17,280, were in Cork. This is considerably more than the 10,000 estimated to be derelict/vacant/a council void in a recent story in The Corkman on the issue of dereliction.
While the number of unoccupied houses/buildings in Cork was very high, according to the Census forms which we filled in on April 3, it’s a marginal reduction on the 2016 figure.
One of the reasons for this is what campaigners for revitalising #Derelict Ireland, Frank O’Connor of Kiskeam and his partner Jude Sherry, ascribe to a lack of appetite among officials to get to grips with owners of derelict properties even though there could be a considerable financial benefit to cash strapped local authorities, such as Cork County Council, if they did.
When a property is placed on the derelict house/site register, it attracts a fine of 7% of the market value annually. This can become a charge on the property which is payable to the State by an eventual purchaser.
When the figures are analysed, the return for getting to grips with such an issue and exacting the income owed to the council, the figures involved could be significant, a benefit which would be very welcome in the context of rising costs and decreasing budgets.
Cork County Council has 13 properties on its derelict register at the moment - while thousands of houses and sites are vacant and in decay around the county.
Frank and Jude said there were 95 properties on the derelict site register a few years ago and the income from that was around €2m annually - so it’s fair to extrapolate from that if even ten percent of the properties now lying derelict in Cork were put on the register, around 1,000 to 1,600, that would generate considerable income for the local authority.
So why doesn’t Cork County Council collect the fines on these vacant properties and cash in to pay for services, the cost of which are increasing daily?
“There is a lack of appetite arising,” said Frank O’Connor who, along with his partner Jude, runs the Anois.org agency.
“We’ve seen that across the board really from our work.
“There’s a huge cultural issue around property - you’re looking at going back to The Field (by John B. Keane) really, that idea.
“There is a lot of resistanceand we’ve seen that because we’ve kept the pressure on locally for two years, we’ve seen changes happening but that’s just by keeping it on the agenda every day.”
Frank and Jude highlight derelict properties in Cork and throughout Ireland on their twitter feed under the hashtags #DerelictCork #DerelictIreland.
“I think people don’t see it as a vote-winner,” he said.
At present the approach preferred by Cork County Council is to deal with the owners of such sites informally - which, officials feel, is more likely to yield positive results.
Frank and Jude, who lived for some time in Amsterdam, think we can learn from the experience abroad to put derelict properties in Ireland to good use.
“We’ve been pushing - and we’re not the only ones - for a much more comprehensive one stop shop so people who want to take on derelict or vacant properties can get full support - either grants or heritage advice.
“The funding collected from dereliction levies could be used to build a team of people who could make a huge difference - it does seem like a no-brainer but it does seem like there’s been a lot of resistance to it.”
While Frank and Jude focus for the main part on Cork city, they have travelled around Cork and seen the dereliction in towns around the county up close.
The issue around the informal manner in which the Council deals with owners of derelict properties is how long do these talks go on and what outcomes they produce. If the talks are protracted and dragged out, is this just a waste of resources and would the Council be better off escalating the issue to ensure that the delay is at the expense of the owner rather than their expense?
Councils, such as ours, as well as being strapped for cash are also short on people to be able to devote to such work and property owners, in a rising market, can only profit by employing delaying tactics and stalling on taking action.