The State is sitting on nearly 100 empty sites as housing groups cry out for land

The government spent almost €1m on maintaining and guarding vacant properties last year.

By Conor McMahon Deputy editor, Fora

THE STATE IS sitting on nearly 100 unoccupied sites as housing groups and developers call on the government to free up its properties for new homes.

In response to a recent parliamentary question from Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary, Minister of State Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran said there are 98 unoccupied properties directly under the State’s ownership – excluding those held by government agencies and semi-state firms.

Moran said that in 2017 alone, the government spent almost €1 million on security and maintenance costs associated with the vacant lots.

He said that many of the sites are closed former garda stations or properties such as custom posts and ex-coastguard stations, which are unlikely to be suitable for housing developments.

However, the figures quoted by Moran only account for properties managed by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and do not include sites that may be under the care or ownership of other State bodies.

When asked to provide the number of unoccupied State-owned properties – including those belonging to government agencies – a spokesman for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government told Fora that the issue was “a matter for the OPW”.

Similarly, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform – which responded to the original parliamentary question – directed enquiries to the Office of Public Works.

A spokeswoman for the OPW told Fora that some of the 98 vacant sites under its watch are “being retained because of their future strategic development value”, however the office didn’t respond to a question on the total number of vacant properties in State hands.

In response to a separate parliamentary question, it was stated that three of the OPW’s sites were deemed eligible for the vacant sites register, which was set up to discourage property owners from hoarding land suitable for housing development.

Two of the listings have been successfully appealed by the OPW. When a property is added to the vacant sites register, it allows local councils to charge the owner with levies of up to 3% of the market value of the site.

Social housing

In a recent interview with this website, the head of Co-operative Housing Ireland, Kieron Brennan, said a lack of access to land was “limiting” the organisation from delivering more social housing units.

At the time, Brennan said there are a number of sites under the ownership of the State that could potentially be used to deliver social housing:

“We don’t have our own land bank. The State has a substantial land bank. It would seem logical and desirable that the State would match those two things up,” he said.

The head of the Construction Federation of Ireland, Tom Parlon, has made similar complaints of “a massive amount of land owned by State agencies”.

“There is a special team in the Department of Housing looking at getting their hands on that land, but they tell me they’re extremely frustrated – it’s difficult to get the State agencies to hand over their land,” he said.

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