621 'ghost estates' built across State

Wed, Jan 27, 2010, 00:00

LEITRIM IS the county most affected by so-called “ghost housing estates”, and it could be at least seven years before house prices in the region stabilise, according to new data released by academics.

The Maynooth-based National Institute of Regional and Spatial Analysis (Nirsa) yesterday issued a county-by-county breakdown of housing estates where more than half of the properties are empty or remain under development.

It gave details behind its recent claim that more than 300,000 new homes are empty, a figure more than double the official estimate.

Yesterday’s data showed there were some 621 “ghost estates”.

Some 86 of these estates have more than 50 properties, 253 are made up of 21-50 properties, and a further 282 comprise 10-20 properties. The Nirsa study showed that Co Cork had 90 such estates – substantially more than any other county – but that when the figures were broken down on a per capita basis, the most negatively affected counties were Leitrim, Longford, Sligo and Roscommon. Leitrim was found to have 21 ghost housing estates, Roscommon 35, and Sligo 24.

The counties in the midlands along the N4 corridor were by some margin those most negatively affected by the bursting of the property bubble, according to the director of Nirsa, Prof Rob Kitchin. This was because development there had started later than elsewhere in the Republic, he said.

“If you think about it they were the last counties to be developed. The property boom had already stopped when developments in these counties were at their peak and these counties were developing estates far beyond what population growth required,” he said.

He said property demand and supply had been “completely uncoupled” in the midlands and northwest between 2006 and 2009. “Based on population growth, Leitrim would have needed around 588 new houses over that period, yet there were actually 2,945 houses built. That is an oversupply of 401 per cent.”

He said the oversupply problem was likely to be exacerbated by the recession, which would inevitably see people gravitate towards urban areas in search of employment. He estimated it would take seven to 10 years for property prices in the worst-hit areas to return to anything close to their current levels.

He said that, nationally, the oversupply problem could be addressed within three years of the country coming out of recession.

“I fear that no one is going to take responsibility for many of these properties so they will just sit there. Who is going to be the first person to move into one of these estates and take a risk on services being developed?” he asked. “A lot of these houses will undoubtedly have to be knocked and their continued existence will keep the housing market in some areas depressed for a very long time to come.”

Although the figures published are preliminary, Prof Kitchin said they portrayed “an accurate picture of the data”.

Last week Nirsa reported that 300,000 properties were lying empty. This figure was more than double the estimate from Minister for Housing Michael Finneran, who had told the Cabinet there were 100,000-140,000 houses lying empty. The construction industry claimed the true figure was 40,000.

Prof Kitchin decided to calculate the extent of empty housing because official figures do not exist.

His department used Ireland’s national address database – the GeoDirectory, the 2006 Census and Department of Environment figures based on ESB connection points.