One way or another, unfinished housing schemes appear to be resolved

Number of ‘ghost estates’ fell by more than half from 2,846 in 2010 to 1,258 today

 Unfinished houses in a ghost estate, at Glenatore Homes in Athlone. Photograph:  Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Unfinished houses in a ghost estate, at Glenatore Homes in Athlone. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Fri, Nov 29, 2013, 01:00

The figures tell the story: Ireland’s “ghost estates” are on the way to being exorcised.

Over the past three years, the number of unfinished hous ing schemes fell by more than half from 2,846 in 2010 to 1,258 today. Within the last 12 months, 553 schemes have been “resol- ved” in one way or another.

Unfinished estates were the most visible legacy of over-buil- ding during the boom years and provided suitably grim images for articles on the collapse of the property bubble.

Abandoned by developers who realised they would no longer cover their costs in a depressed housing market, they stood as gaunt reminders of planning and housing folly.

For a time, shock almost prohibited any action being taken as all parties – banks, Nama, local authorities and central government – invested time and effort in assessing the scale of the damage.

Under the watchful eye of a national co-ordinating committee chaired by Minister of State for Housing Jan O’Sullivan, everyone is now much more engaged. The committee has brought a clear focus on the issue and gathered the various parties around the same table – aided by a “site resolution fund” of €10 million to deal with problem sites.

“We’re pretty well through the worst of it,” says Niall Cussen, the Department of the Environment’s most senior planner. “The local authorities are getting on top of this now.”

There has been a significant reduction in the number of vacant units (houses or apartments), from 23,250 in 2010 to 6,370 today. In addition, there are a further 14,446 units in varying stages of completion.

Some of these are now likely to be demolished; indeed, it is estimated that all or part of about 40 unfinished estates will fall to the bulldozers or wrecking balls.

Decisions to demolish are effectively being taken by the banks, rather than the local authorities or central government. As a result, the department cannot say where they are located for “confidentiality reasons”, but it’s a fair bet that most of those targeted for demolition are in counties such as Cavan and Longford, which were hit by a tax-driven building boom.

First to be demolished was Glenn Riada, an apartments scheme outside Longford town, which was among those most photographed after the crash; it has been “returned to open space”, in Mr Cussen’s words. Also cleared as a result of a site resolution plan was the Glenatore scheme outside Athlone, where a toddler died tragically as a result of lethal site hazards.

Few unfinished schemes have been made available for social housing, mainly because most of them are remotely located from nearby towns.

Contracts have been signed for just 446 units, thus any no- tion that these would provide a new source of social housing has turned out to be misplaced.

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