Before the so-called "nuclear option” of demolishing unfinished housing estates is embarked upon, a public debate on possible alternative uses for these botched developments is urgently required. Local communities and voluntary groups should be consulted on how ghost estates might be utilised for social housing, community centres, sheltered housing and other purposes before final decisions are taken.
Progress has been made in bringing developers, financial institutions, local authorities and various government departments together in a co-ordinated approach to address legal, financial, safety and technical issues. The needs of residents of partially completed estates, particularly in relation to public safety, are now receiving attention. But a deeper level of public engagement and consultation is required so that local communities can benefit to the greatest extent possible from past mistakes.
The majority of unfinished homes are in the upper Shannon basin, in Leitrim, Longford, Cavan, Roscommon and Sligo. Government grants and tax breaks contributed greatly to these failed projects. Because of their number and relative isolation, it may not be possible to find productive uses for all of them. Minister of State for Housing Jan O’Sullivan has identified 1,100 estates where a small portion or entire developments are in a “seriously problematic condition”.
Because of financial constraints, local authorities and government agencies have a vested interest in avoiding additional responsibilities, be they fiscal or social. It is a difficult situation. Before short-term financial considerations lead to irreversible decisions, however, the wider community should be consulted. Ms O’Sullivan appears willing to consider alternative uses. That is to be welcomed. Local communities will, however, have to display greater unity of purpose if they are to acquire suitable units for sheltered housing, community nursing care and other projects.