There are almost 45,000 empty homes and commercial properties in the west, northwest and Border region, according to new analysis on the area with the highest vacancy rates in the State.
Of 244 towns and villages in the area, 72 per cent – or 175 towns and villages – had a recorded residential vacancy rate above the State's average of 4.9 per cent, the report by the Northern and Western Regional Assembly (NWRA) concluded.
The region faces “catastrophic” economic and population decline unless the trend is reversed, the NWRA’s regional vacancy and dereliction analysis said.
"Simply put, our villages and towns need rescuing. If action is not taken, we face a catastrophic situation where decentralisation and fragmentation of our communities will only deepen," said David Minton, director of the NWRA.
Out-of-town shops, cinemas, sports facilities, offices, homes and schools have “all contributed to sucking activity away from our town centres,” he said.
The report found the number of empty properties in the region exceeded the estimated annual requirement for 33,000 homes under the Government’s Housing for All plan.
There were 39,035 residential buildings either vacant or derelict in the region in 2020, accounting for 39 per cent of the national total, according to the report.
The total number of vacant commercial properties in the region stood at 5,870 in 2020, accounting for 25 per cent of the national total.
Co Leitrim had the highest residential vacancy and dereliction rate at 16 per cent of properties, while Co Sligo had the highest commercial vacancy rate at 16.8 per cent of properties.
Killala in Co Mayo had the highest residential vacancy and dereliction rate with 20.1 per cent of properties affected, followed by two villages in Co Donegal – Burtonport (19.8 per cent) and Bunbeg-Derrybeg (17.7 per cent).
Bunbeg-Derrybeg had the highest commercial vacancy rate with 30.8 per cent of properties empty, followed by Grange, Co Sligo (30 per cent) and Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon (26.9 per cent).
Mr Minton said the absence of a university in the northwest, which has only just received a new technology university, led to people moving away from rural towns and villages. That, in turn, made it difficult to sustain businesses and populations, he said.
The experience of remote working during the pandemic has presented a “huge opportunity” showing how systems and work can be delivered from remote areas, he said.
“What we don’t have is a coherent approach to driving population growth into our towns because services, transport, housing and social infrastructure aren’t there,” he said.
“We need a really concentrated effort to build up the weaker urban structures of our regions.”
The NWRA is one of three regional assemblies in the State which have a range of powers relating to spatial planning and economic development using European Union structural funds. It covers the counties of Donegal, Cavan, Monaghan, Leitrim, Sligo, Roscommon, Mayo and Galway.