In-depth data for the city centre postcodes of Dublin 1,2, 7 and 8, broadly defined as the area within the Royal and Grand Canals, shows for the first time a breakdown at street level of the number of vacant buildings, and whether they are commercial, residential, or mixed use – generally with ground floor shops, restaurants or offices and flats above.
This street-by-street breakdown also shows how long each of these properties in the city has been vacant, with almost a third – 941 – unused for more than four years.
The data shows almost 60 per cent of the 3,234 vacant buildings in the city centre are commercial, with 20 per cent mixed use, and 21 per cent residential.
However, the commercial buildings are far worse hit by long-term vacancy, representing three quarters of the buildings vacant for more than four years, while mixed buildings account for 22 per cent and residential buildings just under 4 per cent of long-term vacant properties.
The city street analysis shows a heavy concentration of empty commercial units in the Dublin 2 and Dublin 8 area, with large numbers of empty mixed buildings in Dublin 8 also, but with concentrations in parts of the north inner city, such as Dorset Street, Capel Street and the north quays.
GeoDirectory also maps buildings which are entirely derelict – which it defines as uninhabitable and requiring structural works or reconstruction. Throughout the city and county, 246 buildings are identified as derelict, just over 70 of which are within the city centre. However, some of the 941 long-term vacant buildings are at significant risk of becoming derelict, and several are on Dublin City Council’s register of 107 derelict sites, which uses a different metric to define dereliction.
The council’s Derelict Sites Register includes properties which are “in a ruinous, derelict or dangerous condition”, similar to the GeoDirectory definition, but also more broadly, properties in a “neglected, unsightly or objectionable condition” or even with a buildup of litter or rubbish.
GeoDirectory is an electronic register of addresses matched to their geographical locations that has been jointly developed by An Post and Ordinance Survey Ireland, now part of Tailte Éireann, the State’s land registry, valuation and mapping agency.
The data supplied to The Irish Times was collected over a year from June 2022 to June 2023 and then categorised by GeoDirectory. As such, there will be some properties which are no longer vacant, and possibly a smaller number no longer derelict, although these are generally slower to move. Some of the buildings in the short-term vacant categories – two years or less – may be newly built and recently occupied, or may have been buildings that were in the process of sale, or progressing through probate, which has since been resolved.
The GeoDirectory database is not the only measure of vacancy. The Census also measures vacancy. However, the Central Statistics Office cautions the Census “should not be used as a measure of long-term vacancy” as it is a “point-in-time indicator taken on Census night as to whether the property was inhabited”. ESB connections and Local Property Tax Returns also offer some insights into vacancy.
New questions in the last census asked the reasons for vacancy, and in subsequent census returns those questions are likely to offer “a better picture of the types of things we talk about when we talk about vacancy”, said Dr Cian O’Callaghan, associate professor of urban geography at Trinity College Dublin.
There was potential for an agency that would establish a “more granular understanding of vacancy”, including the different types of vacancy, the reasons behind it, and “is being held as a development asset? Does the owner face challenges in bringing it back into use?
“Instead of focusing on vacancy as a singular thing, ie non-use, you can then focus on the particular problematic types and I think that’s where an agency could come in and take some charge of that.”
Planning Regulator Niall Cussen points to the lack of a “universally agreed set of indicators or criteria in defining vacancy” for local authorities to work with. “In addition, in terms of local authorities tracking ownership of vacant or derelict properties in devising strategies for longer-term action, they often have to grapple with the issue that not all property is registered,” he says.
“Bearing in mind these complexities, it is often pragmatic to focus on particular black spots where there are major opportunities for local authority led interventions focusing efforts on identifying property owners working with them or taking the necessary steps to acquire ownership of the properties. Bottom line – you have to start somewhere to get results.”