Sir, – David McWilliams (Opinion & Analysis, "A plan to put Ireland's 200,000 vacant buildings to use", October 31st; "The rules of the property game have changed", October 17th) rightly draws attention to the persistent long-term vacancy and dereliction problem of properties in Irish towns and cities.
Several points he raises have been evident for years and still demand urgent Government action.
The first is the contradiction that over 200,000 buildings in the State remain vacant at a time of ongoing demographic growth and housing demand. This figure does not include partially empty buildings (where the ground floor is occupied but the upper floors remain empty).
The second is that despite a building being empty, it does not imply it is available to be reused. As your columnist points out, hoarding is an ingrained mode of operation in Ireland. Land, and the buildings on land, are a precious and finite resource, yet culture and policy in Ireland do not reflect this. Indeed, in the absence of any disincentives, the State arguably facilitates hoarding and perpetuates the cycle of dereliction.
Empty and derelict buildings are not only directly wasteful in themselves, with broader negative implications for cultural heritage and the urban realm, but in cities and towns where infrastructure is available, it makes even less sense to allow persistent vacancy to continue.
Site-value tax and compulsory sales orders are just two of the mechanisms gaining traction in other countries that could be replicated here. If these mechanisms are seen as the stick, then a carrot is also needed to support those who take on adaptive re-use of empty buildings to navigate the complex regulatory environment of building control and protected structure regulations.
The opportunity here is not just to make better use of existing buildings in towns and cities, but to do so as part of a low-carbon transition and meet our growing housing need at the same time. The third benefit is to society, by delivering quality homes and neighbourhoods that are walkable, diverse, and compact. – Yours, etc,