One in 10 ghost estates completed or made safe

Fri, Jul 6, 2012, 01:00

ONE IN 10 unfinished housing estates identified last year by the Department of the Environment has been completed or made safe, new figures show.

More than 2,800 “ghost” estates – unfinished or vacant housing estates, some of which presented a serious danger to public safety – were identified by the department’s 2010 National Housing Development Survey.

A more in-depth examination published last year revised that figure to 2,066 estates. A number of measures were established to address the problems, depending on the condition of the estates. These ranged from the completion of almost-finished developments, to making safe estates that were often effectively building sites.

A progress report published yesterday by Minister of State for Housing Jan O’Sullivan shows 211 estates have been “resolved”. However, of these, just 75 have been “taken in charge”, which means they have been completed to the satisfaction of the local authority.

The other estates have had varying degrees of work completed, from finishing access roads to clearing half-built blocks to remove the risk to public safety.

Last February a two-year-old boy drowned on an unfinished estate close to his home near Athlone, Co Westmeath. The site has since been secured.

Of the remaining estates almost one-third are tied up in legal actions. These 636 estates are the subject of enforcement proceedings taken by local authorities, in many cases trying to recover the development bond that should have insured the satisfactory completion of the estate. To date local authorities have been successful in drawing down bonds to pay for the work in only 128 estates.

Some €5 million had been allocated by the department to allow local authorities to address the most urgent safety problems. Applications have been approved by the department for €3.2 million to fix problems in 128 of these developments, while safety work in a further 29 is being funded by the National Asset Management Agency, while the Health and Safety Authority is taking action in relation to 20 sites.

The department hopes to eventually recoup the taxpayers’ investment in fixing these estates. However, in relation to 140 developments it has been unable to make any contact with developers.

While some small-scale demolition has taken place as part of the safety works, Ms O’Sullivan said that “hard decisions” might have to be taken in the future in relation to demolition of estates that had no prospect of being completed or occupied.

The rate of resolution of estates has varied widely. Almost a quarter of those that have been successfully dealt with, either through completion or safety work, are in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, yet this local authority had one of the lower levels of unfinished estates at 61, of which 45 have been satisfactorily addressed.

In Roscommon, 235 problem estates remain unresolved and just 14 have been dealt with. Of Sligo’s 237 unfinished estates, just four have now been completed or made safe. “There are particular local authorities that have very significant issues to address, the Border [and] midland areas in particular,” Ms O’Sullivan said.

* This article was edited on October 23rd, 2012