Dublin City Council says 235 vacant sites in city holding back development
Council seeks to impose levy as efforts made to match 27 hectares to owners
A vacant Dublin City Council site in the city that remains unused. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Some 235 vacant plots of land have been identified at prime sites in the centre of Dublin. Dublin City Council has assessed more than 27 hectares of lands which are not being productively used, holding back the development of the city.
The council is in process of trying to match the sites to owners, in preparation for what it hopes will be a positive Government reaction to its request to impose a levy on land-hoarding developers.
Most of the land is likely to be in private hands, but a proportion is publicly owned. Some of these sites are owned by the council, but some of the largest individual plots are in the ownership of the Office of Public Works (OPW).
Some level of commercial rate is being paid in relation to six hectares of the lands, but in many cases this would be for surface car parking, which the council views as a poor use of central sites. This leaves 21 hectares which make no contribution to the city.
If sites which have planning permission, and therefore could be brought into use, are excluded, there are 16.5 hectares of land which owners are showing no intent to use.
It is this category which is of greatest concern to the council, executive manager in charge of planning department Jim Keogan said.
“What we’re dealing with here is development land without a use, which is not paying a rate and doesn’t have planning permission,” he said. “It’s a wasted asset.”
Rates of vacancy and dereliction in the city reached a peak in the 1980s.
A survey of vacant lands carried out by the council just before the introduction of the 1986 Urban Renewal Act found that vacant lands, derelict sites and surface car parks combined, accounted for some 300 acres of city land.
The 1986 Act introduced the property tax incentive schemes which kick started construction, dramatically reducing vacancy rates. However they also fuelled the overheating of the construction sector.
“The purpose of the Urban Renewal Act was to address urban blight and decay and it was hugely successful in doing that, but the tide went out and we were left with vacant lands.”
The suddenness of the crash caused particular problems in Dublin city, with sites which had been bought up and amalgamated for development left empty, resulting in huge vacant plots.
While there is a need to introduce measures to address this vacancy, care must be taken not to make the situation worse. A levy would be a “progressive measure” to bring land back into use, Mr Keogan said, but was just one of a range of range of initiatives the council was pursuing to address the levels of vacancy.
The council in January reduced the rate of development contributions by 26 per cent. “This means the cost of the development in the city has been reduced by 26 per cent and this has been deliberately done to reduce the costs and burdens to the development sector.”
Legislation enacted in 2010 enabled the council to extend planning permissions about to expire, so developers do not have to restart the often expensive process of preparing a planning application.
The council is also looking at the use of vacant lands for temporary uses such as parks or allotments, but Mr Keogan said while these were useful in improving the perception and visual quality of an area, they were no substitute for bricks and mortar.
“There has to be some form of revitalisation of the economy in Dublin to create a market for the end product which is the floor space.
“It’s important we put policies in place now so when the development market comes back, we are prepared.”