Fewer than 100 vacant buildings in Dublin have been redeveloped under a tax incentive scheme introduced almost seven years ago to bring city centre premises into residential use.
The Living City Initiative came into effect in April 2015 but the uptake has been "disappointing" despite it allowing building owners to claim 100 per cent tax relief on refurbishment and conversion work, a Dublin City Council conference on vacant buildings heard on Wednesday.
The scheme, which is designed to bring mostly pre-1915 houses and apartments above shops back into use, is open to owner-occupiers, landlords and owners of commercial premises.
However, despite what the council said is an intensive annual promotional campaign, and on-going engagement with historic building owners, landlords’ groups and estate agents, uptake has remained extremely low.
"The numbers of applications we have got have been disappointing considering the amount of effort that has gone into adverting it," Paul Clegg, who heads the council's development department told the conference.
“We do see an upsurge in queries after every advertising campaign but they aren’t leading to more applications.”
To date, the city council has received 155 valid applications for the scheme - 86 from owner occupiers and 68 for rental accommodation. So far work has been completed on just 94 projects.
A council survey of the Irish Property Owners Association found 40 per cent were reluctant to engage because the process was "too confusing", Mr Clegg said, and 50 per cent favoured an amendment to the scheme to include either a direct grant or a reduction in the tax relief period from 10 years to three or four years.
“In terms of better financial incentives, our recommendation is that there would be direct grant rather than tax relief.”
The council also wanted the area governed by the scheme to be extended, Mr Clegg said. It currently only applies to some streets in the city centre, and parts of those streets are excluded.
“We would like to see a broader extension of the scheme to within the canals.”
This, he said, would take in many two-storey residential pre-1915 areas such as Portobello, Rialto, Stoneybatter and Blessington Basin.
The current city centre population of around 174,000 was not sufficient to stem the retail vacancy rate at ground floor level, the conference heard.
Neil Bannon, executive chairman of Bannon commercial property consultancy, said there was a need to attract the suburban shopper back to the city with a more diverse offering.
While there were considerable numbers of retail closures during and shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic, he said, “there has been an over representation of failure among UK high street retailers”.
“We could end up with a much more interesting city when they’re gone to be blunt, rather than having a generic UK high street feel.”
He said that with people able to work, shop and be entertained from home, “necessity is no longer motivation to visit shopping destinations” so it had to be replaced by desire.
“People are looking for that organic experience they are looking de-Starbucksification of their trip.”
City planner John O’Hara said the council was keen to build on public realm improvement and diversify the retail offering with an emphasis on activity at “street level” to attract people back to the city.
“The department store is probably a thing of the past now,” he said.
In addition to attracting out of town shoppers back to the city, he said there was a need to increase the city population.
“There are about 50,000 more homes into the city area than in the 1980s but the 1980s was a terrible era in the city.”