There is now more than €30m worth of property listed on the derelict sites register in Cork city.
Some 98 sites are on the register, a slight decline from a peak of 101 earlier this year.
Officials at Cork City Council say the addition of new sites is part of a coordinated effort to crack down on dereliction in the city centre, and that efforts will continue to identify and, if necessary, acquire derelict properties and return them to use.
If possible, the derelict sites will be converted to social housing.
In a major escalation of tackling dereliction, Cork City Council now lists 98 sites on the derelict sites register.
This is up from 56 at the start of 2017.
The figure reached 101 earlier this year but several properties have since been removed.
The current register includes a large number of city centre properties, including a cluster of sites on North Main St and Kyrl’s Quay.
In total, there are 11 sites in this area worth €3.2m.
Seven properties on the register are estimated to have a market value of more than €1m, including a site on Morrison’s Quay worth €4.5m.
Prominent sites — like the former St Kevin’s building in Shanakiel, the former Good Shepherd convent in Sunday’s Well, and the former Vita Cortex plant on the Kinsale Road — are all listed on the register too.
A spokesperson for the council said the local authority had increased its efforts to crack down on dereliction in recent years.
“As well as using the derelict sites register, in 2017 we commenced a process of acquiring a number of derelict properties, particularly houses, in situations where the owner was not cooperating in clearing the dereliction,” the spokesperson said.
“Six properties were acquired over the last 18 months as part of this process and the programme of acquisition is continuing.
“This is proving to be a successful way of addressing dereliction in selected cases, and should also act as a motivator for other owners to deal with dereliction to avoid acquisition.”
In 2018, Cork City Council levied €454,950 in fines for derelict sites. Less than 10% of this was actually collected, with just €44,500 handed over by the owners of sites.
In 2019 to date, €629,700 has been levied, of which €116,375 has already been collected by Cork City Council.
In addition to its work on clamping down on derelict sites, City Hall has also reported progress in identifying vacant sites.
There are now 12 sites on the vacant sites register, including land on the Middle Glanmire Road which previously formed part of St Dominic’s and is valued at €2.8m, and two sites worth €2.5m each: One on the Bishopstown Road beside Hawke’s Road and the grounds of Farranferris on Redemption Road in Blackpool, which is owned by the Cork Diocesan Trustees.
Three of the 12 properties on the site have no valuation listed at present, but these include the former Coca-Cola bottling plant on the Carrigrohane Road which has an active planning permission for student apartments.
Sites listed on the register in January 2019 will be subject to fines from 2020, as per the legislative requirements of the register, and further properties will be added to the register “on an ongoing basis”, Cork City Council confirmed.
Local authorities are rigidly tied to legislation that makes property rights paramount in many cases, writes Kevin O’Neill.
The blight of dereliction in cities and towns is a worsening issue but the blame should not be focused on local authorities.
Instead, it is time to strengthen legislation and point the finger at ineffective landowners.
Dozens of sites in towns and cities are derelict and unused, a situation that is particularly infuriating for many in the midst of a housing and homelessness crisis.
In Cork City alone, there are close to 100 sites listed as derelict, with a total market value of over €30m.
While some of these are wholly unsuitable for housing or modern retail purposes, a significant number could be transformed and put to better use.
Local authorities are frequently the subject of criticism for their perceived inaction on dereliction.
Why isn’t more being done? Why aren’t properties being taken off ineffective landowners?
Often, the case is simply that the legislation does not allow for it. Local authorities are rigidly tied to legislation which makes property rights paramount in many cases.
While some powers do exist, councils have to go through a lengthy process before they can take control of a property.
The process of even adding a site to the derelict sites register can be slow.
Local authorities are required to find and contact the property owner before any further action can be taken. Often, just finding the owner can be a difficulty in itself due to complex ownership situations.
Even if the owner is identified, the process can be cumbersome. Councils must first write to the owner saying it is intending to put the property on the derelict sites register.
It also has to submit a report to the owner stating what measures need to be undertaken to bring the building up to a proper standard.
Under the Derelict Sites Act 1990, a local authority can serve an order on a building requiring the owner to undertake work to refurbish it or demolish it, if it is a matter of health and safety.
Levies of 3% can be issued but, often, it can actually be cheaper for owners to pay levies than to invest in refurbishment.
Councils can also implement compulsory purchase orders (CPOs) but many have shied away from these as they can end up in potentially protracted legal proceedings.
In the past, many judgments have favoured the property owners, too.
It is clear that current legislation isn’t working. Officials in Cork City Council have stated in full council meetings on more than one occasion that they are prohibited from acting quicker against landowners, and counterparts in Cork County Council have described the legislation as weak.
The results are playing out as expected. Long-term dereliction is an issue. In Cork City, one site has been listed on the derelict sites register since 1993.
Two others are there since 1998. Both of these are owned by Cork City Council.
While the State has taken steps to beef up the process, it is too early to tell whether this will make any substantial difference.
The aforementioned levy of 3% is going to be more than doubled to 7% as of 2020.
There has also been the introduction of the vacant sites levy, with the owners of vacant sites that are not being used also due to pay fines as of 2020.
Cork City Council says it has stepped up its efforts in identifying both derelict and vacant sites and that it will continue to do so.
Since 2017, when there were just 75 sites on the register, it has taken a more proactive approach to engage with property owners.
In reality, though, until many of these buildings are returned to use, it will not be enough. A ballooning register will not satisfy people who want to see their city looking well and in use.
And, until the legislation allows for it — and the financial backing follows — that situation simply will not change.
The total value of the 98 sites on Cork City’s derelict sites register is €30,166,974.
The most valuable seven sites on the list are the following.
The former Vita Cortex plant on Kinsale Road. It is valued at €1.9m.