Saving our main streets

The effects of dereliction on our towns and villages

Sir, – In Ireland, land and property are the biggest manifestations of wealth, and a third of it is owned by 1 per cent of the population (Central Bank report).

Many of the collected taxes are regressive in the sense whether you are rich or poor, you pay the same rate.

Sitting on land (mainly inherited), Ireland’s main form of wealth gets untouched, and in the hoarding of land, nothing happens to make society better.

A tax levied on land, variable, on its use would help eliminate hoarding which would substantially reverse dereliction. A vision is needed, not just to stop urban sprawl but to lower habitation costs in towns and cities, coupled with their rejuvenation.


The chronic dereliction in Letterkenny (my hometown) and many other towns highlights the adverse effect it is having on the character of an area.

Walking through Letterkenny shows a dire situation of buildings in need of repair, unoccupied and derelict. Even though a building has occupancy at the ground floor, looking up reveals neglect, crystallising a sense of dereliction.

A carrot and no stick approach has been attempted with tax reliefs and grants but little punitive action or threat of compulsory purchasing orders (CPO). Under the Derelict Sites Act of 1990 a derelict site register is a requirement specifying the owner, valuation and action a local authority has taken in relation to levies, maintenance and CPO. To be fair, a local authority’s ability was reduced by centralisation. The Local Government Act 2014 has foolishly hindered local decision-making and undermined the necessary staff requirements needed to implement the legal statute.

The significance of strong local government is a necessity to build a circular economy (an EU policy priority), a vital cog in the transition from fossil fuels.

These underutilised resources such as empty and derelict buildings are an obvious base for building small enterprises and co-ops in recycling, repairing and artisan projects to limit the inflow of resources.

Rejuvenating buildings adds life and vigour to the urban area and, with the robust promotion of eco sectors for a circular economy, has the potential to draw upon national and European financial support.

Such a vision has to have political will, not necessarily driven by market forces but by a combination of existing legislation and reform where necessary. This not only involves the Derelict Act but also the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act 1964 (dangerous structures) and the enforcement of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018. The latter increases the vacant site levy from 3 per cent to 7 per cent. There also exists an exemption for a change of use of certain vacant commercial premises to residential use.

Shops with living space overhead should be utilised even with the opportunity for mixed ownership. This should include mortgages for over-the-shop/ mixed-use developments. This would breathe life and add to footfall for local enterprises.

It is the duty of local authorities to use statutory powers to ensure “land situated in their functional area does not become or continue to be a derelict site”. The ancient concept of the common good should be an overriding requirement ameliorating any right to private property stipulated in Article 43 of the Constitution and, if necessary, amended where necessary in order to save our main streets. – Yours, etc,


Defending Environmental Wealth (DEW),

Co Donegal.