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A nation of ghost towns

THOUSANDS of new homes are still being built - despite a glut of 300,000 unwanted properties lying empty.

Up to 120,000 existing homes may never be sold, a new report has warned, with more than 600 "ghost estates" across the country.

The report into the property bubble shows that developers started work on almost 11,000 houses in the past 15 months at a time when the property market had collapsed.

Experts believe that some developers are gambling on what they feel are the right locations for cheaper prices -- but if this gamble fails there will be even more homes lying empty and unwanted.

The developers are forging ahead despite a massive reduction in house prices, major difficulties in getting mortgages and a surge in repossessions.

More than 7,000 homes have been completed this year alone and Environment Minister John Gormley is powerless to stop the continued development, fearing legal action if he imposes a moratorium on new builds.

In addition to houses under construction or just finished, thousands more have been granted planning permission in the past year.

The study from the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA) found that reckless planning decisions have left one in six houses uninhabited for most of the year in 620 unfinished estates.

It is expected that many of the unsold units will be leased for social housing purposes, leaving the taxpayer to pick up the tab.

Problems

Author of the study Professor Rob Kitchin said there was "quite clearly" no need for more homes to be built in the immediate future.

"The biggest problems are in counties like Leitrim, Roscommon, Longford, Sligo, Monaghan and Cavan," he said.

"Where we think construction needs to take place is for public infrastructure like public transport, schools, water treatment plants and broadband. We are not convinced about houses."

The report demands an inquiry into the planning system, saying that generous tax breaks "greatly exacerbated" the situation and that counties with the most vacant stock in 2006 later went on to build the most new housing in the following four years.

Just six local authorities -- Fingal, South Dublin, Kildare, Galway City, Meath and Wicklow -- employed "relatively sensible planning" during the boom years.

Currently, city and county managers cannot refuse a planning application on the basis there is excess housing already available.

Changes to the planning acts, signed into law by President McAleese on Wednesday, would give local authorities the power to refuse permission if there was an excess of empty units.

About 1,800 developers are expected to go into the State's 'bad bank' NAMA -- but hundreds more are still building new homes in counties where there is no demand.

See Analysis, Page 14


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