Vacancy poses risk to historic buildings

Vacancy rates in Dublin’s commercial buildings rise nearly 60% in four years

The number of vacant buildings in the capital has risen significantly. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

The number of vacant buildings in the capital has risen significantly. Photograph: Aidan Crawley

 


The number of vacant buildings in Dublin has increased by nearly 60 per cent in just four years, according to Dublin City Council.

Figures from the council’s rates department show building units paying reduced commercial rates because they are unoccupied rose 57 per cent from 1,214 in 2009 to 1,905 last year.

Large numbers of these are protected structures, with some historic streets such as Aungier Street, which has some of the city’s oldest buildings, having a vacancy rate of 30 per cent.

Leaving a building vacant puts it at a far higher risk of dereliction and becoming a vacant site, said Jim Keogan, executive manager at the council’s planning department.

“We have almost 9,000 protected structures in the city and vacancy is the biggest threat to their architectural and structural integrity. Occupancy of a historic building is the first step towards its conservation and preservation,” he said.


Initiatives
Recognising it costs more to bring a listed building back into use than a modern commercial structure, the council has introduced a range of initiatives.

Where an owner is making an application to the council for a change of use of a building, which is often the case when a vacant protected structure is being brought back into occupation, the owner will be exempt from paying development levies. An owner extending a protected structure will pay only half the standard development contribution.

Dublin Civic Trust conservation research officer Graham Hickey said such initiatives are vital at a time when Government funding for the protection of historic buildings has dried up.

“It’s not surprising that the rates of vacancy are high among historic buildings, because a significant proportion of commercial property in the city centre happens to be old buildings. People are put off by what they think are the onerous demands of a protected structure and that market perception is what can leave buildings, particularly on their upper floors, vacant,” he said.

The council’s measures are welcome, but need to be more widely disseminated, he said.

“A lot of owners are unaware of the measures the council has brought in, or that there are derogations from things like introducing disability access if your building is a national monument. These are significant measures which need to be more widely promoted.”

This view is shared by Irish Georgian Society executive director Donough Cahill: “The exemptions from development contributions are most definitely to be welcomed. But there is a whole range of concerns people have about investing in historic buildings. People find is that they try to comply with one set of regulations, say in relation to fire safety, and they end up not complying with another such as conservation obligations.”

Mr Cahill called on the council to produce guidelines that would clearly set out how owners of historic buildings could meet their obligations.