The owners of two of the most valuable sites that were listed on the Vacant Sites Register will not face land-hoarding fines when they come into force next week after successfully arguing that their plots were being used as car parks rather than lying idle.
Vacant sites valued at more than €300 million, which could be used for the development of thousands of houses, have been identified by local authorities across the State and listed on the register in an attempt to encourage development.
Fines of 3 per cent of the land value will become payable from January 1st and these will rise to 7 per cent in 2020 if the land remains undeveloped.
The most expensive plot that had been on the register, a site owned by Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) in Leopardstown, valued at €66.5 million by Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, will not face the levy following a successful appeal to An Bord Pleanála.
HRI owns two sites next to Leopardstown Racecourse that were entered on the register: the €66.5 million site and a smaller site valued at €12.5 million, which jointly comprise about 18 hectares. The levy on these sites would have left HRI with a bill of €2.37 million next year if they were not developed.
The council wants about 6.5 hectares of the larger site to be used for the construction of homes for people on the area’s social housing waiting list, and lower-income workers.
Overflow car park
However, HRI appealed to the board on the grounds that the lands were not idle but being used as an overflow car park for the racecourse. It also said consultants had been appointed to complete a masterplan for the overall racecourse “with all lands currently held by HRI in use for horse-racing purposes or for uses that support horse racing”. An Bord Pleanála agreed with HRI that the site should be removed from the register.
Two more Dún Laoghaire sites, which were among the highest value vacant sites nationally, have also been removed from the register.
A €22.5 million site owned by the Central Bank, next to the mint in Sandyford, was "integral" to the operations of "Ireland's currency centre" and it was "not best practice" to have houses in close proximity, the bank said. The site would have been liable for a levy of some €675,000.
A €21.5 million site owned by the Carmelite Order in Dundrum was in part used as a car park and putting it on the register was "unduly harsh", the order argued. It also said some 78 per cent of its original lands in the area had already been disposed of to enable "high-density residential development", a school, and Traveller accommodation. It would have been liable for a levy of €645,000.
The only site valued above €20 million remaining on the register is the former Player Wills cigarette factory on the South Circular Road in Dublin, valued at €23.8 million by Dublin City Council. The neighbouring former Bailey Gibson packaging plant is also on the city's register valued at €12.5 million.
Players Square Ltd had permission to build more than 500 homes on the combined sites, which are now under the control of receivers Grant Thornton, who will be presented with a bill of more than €1 million in levies.
Just under 100 site owners have appealed their inclusion on vacant sites registers nationally. An Bord Pleanála has to date upheld less than one-third of appeals. A total of 31 appeals were made against the decisions of Dublin City Council to include sites on the register, but the board upheld just six of these.