Local authorities must take action on the scourge of dereliction

Local authorities must take action to deal with the scourge of derelict buildings in our towns and villages, a Fine Gael Senator has said.

Fine Gael Senator Tim Lombard raised the matter in the Seanad this week highlighting public health concerns arising from dereliction of privately owned buildings and noting a particular example in Bandon Co Cork which presented a local health and safety risk.

Senator Lombard said: “Dereliction of urban areas is an issue we all need to address and local authorities play a key role.  When we have a dereliction or safety issue, it is important that local government acts appropriately and responsibly.

“Exactly 11 weeks ago, a building collapsed at about 2 am in Oliver Plunkett Street, Bandon. Thankfully nobody was hurt however the street is still closed off which is having negative impact on rate paying local businesses including the hotel, which of course also impacts visitors.

“This street closure has had a major effect on economic activity within Bandon town and it cannot be allowed to go on any longer. I also know I know of a street in Innishannon, County Cork, where there are 11 idle houses; an unacceptable situation

“I raised the issue in the Seanad to ascertain the role of local authorities in relation to this.

“The Minister responding on behalf of the Government, John Halligan, confirmed to me that local authorities have in fact been given substantial powers under the Derelict Sites Act 1990 in relation to any such sites. These powers include requiring owners or occupiers to take appropriate measures which, in the opinion of the local authority, are necessary to prevent the land in question from becoming or continuing to be a derelict site.  This applies to the initial stages of dereliction.  A local authority can also acquire derelict sites, either by agreement or compulsorily, and apply a derelict site levy on the registered owners of derelict sites which should be applied annually for as long as a site remains on the local authority derelict sites register.

“Furthermore the Minster confirmed to me that the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act 1964 deals with dangerous structures, and empowers local authorities to give notice to an owner or an occupier of a dangerous structure to carry out works, including the demolition of the structure or the clearing and levelling of the site to prevent it from being a dangerous structure. Where a local authority is obliged to undertake any works in relation to a dangerous structure, the local authority can seek to recover any costs or expenses incurred by it in undertaking such works from the owner of the property concerned.

“The Act also imposes duties on the local authority to maintain a register containing the details of all such orders made in relation to dangerous structures and this register must be available for public inspection.  In the case of both the Derelict Sites Act and the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act, failure to comply with a notice issued by a local authority is a prosecutable offence.

“The Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018 also made a significant change to the Derelict Sites Act 1990 to provide that the derelict sites levy will increase from 3% to 7% of the market valuation of relevant sites with effect from January 2020.  This increase is intended to ensure that the measure can have more meaningful impact and incentivise owners to bring derelict sites back into productive use at an early stage.

“So it is time for the owners of such derelict sites to consider the consequences of this significant change to the law and start preparing now to bring their buildings back into use. The Government has made it in their financial interest to do and of course it is in the interests of the local communities affected.

“It is so important we get these derelict sites on our main streets back into circulation part of the economic success of our towns and villages.

“Local authorities have the power to ensure our main streets are vibrant and functioning as part of flourishing communities. I want to see them taking action to avoid this kind of dereliction. I have asked that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government engage directly with Cork County Council on the particular example I have cited, but I also I want to see all local authorities stepping up their work to tackle the scourge of dereliction.”

 

27 February 2019

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