Finished homes on ghost estates are 'left to deteriorate'

Sat, Apr 28, 2012, 01:00

CONSTRUCTION HAS stopped on 90 per cent of ghost estates, leaving many in a dangerous and deteriorating condition, according to the chief executive of the Government Housing Agency John O’Connor.

Just over a quarter of the money made available by the State to deal with safety issues in unfinished estates has been drawn down by local authorities, the annual conference of the Irish Planning Institute heard yesterday.

Developers and banks were allowing some almost complete estates to deteriorate rather than sell at a reduced price, said Mr O’Connor, who heads the national co-ordination team on unfinished development.

The vast majority of developments which had habitable houses were in areas where there was a demand for housing, he added.

Construction activity on unfinished estates dropped by 43 per cent between 2010 and 2011 and work was being done to complete just 244 of 2,066 estates.

This was a significant cause for concern, but an even greater worry was the number of finished but unoccupied houses which, at just over 18,638, accounted for more than half of all the houses in ghost estates.

“We really need to do everything we can to get these occupied,” Mr O’Connor said. “The vast majority are in areas of housing demand and should be utilised.”

He told the conference about a development in Kerry which was substantially complete in 2009 but was left vacant and by 2011, it had become run down to the extent that it was no longer habitable.

In another case, a local authority offered to pay the bank €140,000 for each unfinished unit but was refused. Six months on the houses had deteriorated and the council offered €100,000; it was again refused and now the condition was so bad that a lot of work was needed to make them habitable.

“There is a view that these houses have no value; that isn’t the case. In the vast majority of areas, there is a demand for housing but whoever owns the development isn’t prepared to sell it for what it’s worth today.”

The most important issue for residents was addressing safety on dangerous unfinished estates, Mr O’Connor said. He referred to the toddler who drowned in February on an unfinished scheme in Athlone and said it must never be allowed to happen again. “It is absolutely critical that we do whatever we can to make these developments safe.”

However a senior planner with Limerick County Council said only a small portion of the €5 million allocated by the Government two years ago to deal with the most urgent safety problems in these developments had been used.

Gerry Sheeran said figures showed that local authorities had drawn down only €1.3 million for use on the unfinished estates.