Healy O'Connor

Ghost Estates

Developers and bankers have been urged yesterday to “do the right” thing in relation to unfinished housing estates.

Minister of State for Housing Willie Penrose said legislation to give local authorities power to take over “ghost estates” could form part of a solution to the problem.

He was examining the Derelict Sites Act 1990 with a view to amending it to give local authorities compulsory purchase powers over unfinished housing developments, he said. However, he also expected developers, banks, the National Asset Management Agency and other interested parties to “do the right thing” in regard to unfinished states.

Mr Penrose was speaking at the launch of the final report of the Advisory Group on Unfinished Housing Developments.

He anticipated that everybody would get involved in resolving the problems. “If there is any reluctance or tardiness or delay or obfuscation or procrastination, they will be hit with the Derelict Sites Act and other legislation where required.”

The report, Resolving Ireland’s Unfinished Housing Estates , said 2,846 housing developments were inspected. It found that 23,250 dwellings were completed and vacant and almost 10,000 were near completion. A further 9,800 dwellings were at early stages of construction.

The report recommended that site resolution plans be prepared by site owners for each unfinished development. It said teams should be established within banks, Nama, the Construction Industry Federation, approved housing bodies and local authorities to co-operate and facilitate decision-making.

Sites must also be secured to minimise risk to current residents and the public, it said.

Mr Penrose said he would establish a national co-ordination committee in the next two weeks to oversee work on unfinished developments. The committee would be made up of representatives from the Department of the Environment, local authorities, residents, Nama, the Irish Banks Federation and the Construction Industry Federation, as well as the Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency.

John O’Connor, chairman of the advisory group, said there were up to 200 sites that developers had completely left, which put them in legal limbo. Although it was open to banks to put the sites into receivership, which would “tidy up” legal issues, this was not always done if there wasn’t enough funding in the development to pay for a receiver.

The group had tracked down one developer in Australia working as a carpenter, he said. “He literally walked away and left behind the problem that he had still got title to.” Since then, the local authority had addressed some safety issues on the site, but ownership had still not been resolved.

It would be useful if a simple legal process could be developed so that an owner could sign a declaration saying they no longer had an interest in a site. Mr O’Connor also said all stakeholders needed to be “realistic and not get caught up in bureaucratic niceties”.

“There is no point in waiting for the economy or market to change as these developments are deteriorating day by day. We need to get houses that are complete occupied as soon as possible.”

Some banks were still holding out for €200,000 for a property when they could have got a buyer at €150,000, he added.

“The Irish banks are the most problematic. You can talk to the non-Irish banks and get a decision. Now probably the Nama process has delayed it, but the Irish banks have been the most problematic.”

Mr Penrose also highlighted the €5 million earmarked by the last government to local authorities so that they could carry out urgent safety work on partially occupied, unfinished developments.

Of the 230 such estates identified, 28 were in Nama and repair works on them would be funded by it, he said. Almost €1.5 million had already been allocated to 10 local authorities to carry out safety works and other applications were being dealt with. He also expected 300 site resolution plans to be in place by the end of the year.

2,846 housing developments were inspected

23,250 dwellings completed and vacant

10,000 near completion

9,800 at early stages of construction

€1.5m already allocated to 10 local authorities to carry out safety works out of €5 million fund

(The Irish Times, Friday 10th June 2011)

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