One-in-six houses empty for most of year, finds report

ONE-IN-SIX houses are lying idle for the majority of the year resulting in growing economic and criminal problems.

According to the National Institute for Regional and Spatial Analysis (NIRSA), the problem of uninhabited properties is particularly evident in the 620 “ghost estates” across the country.

Their report — A Haunted Landscape: Housing and Ghost Estates in Post-Celtic Tiger Ireland — claims that “reckless planning” led to a dramatic oversupply of housing, with more than 300,000 housing units now uninhabited for the majority of the year.

Labour senator Dominic Hannigan said: “I would get calls on a weekly basis from my own county of Meath and they exist elsewhere in estates that aren’t finished where the developer has either gone bankrupt or disappeared, yet people are meant to get on with their lives in these estates where road surfaces are not finished or public areas are full of construction material.”

Mr Hannigan added that these surrounds are not suitable for raising families with children.

Ghost and not fully completed estates are also causing increased criminal problems, with activities ranging from the theft of materials from completed units, to criminal damage, loitering and activity associated with drug use.

David Walsh, managing director of security company Netwatch, said: “The ‘eyes of the street’ that typically act as a deterrent to criminals do not exist in empty premises or estates, so the opportunity to engage in criminal activity is heightened.

“Due to the economic downturn, there are ever-increasing numbers of unoccupied buildings. We are now monitoring over 60% more unoccupied premises than we were three years ago. It is critical that local authorities, building owners or other relevant bodies, put appropriate systems in place now to stop the degeneration and “ghettoisation” of certain areas.

Mr Hannigan says due to funding problems for councils, estates must be dealt with nationally by the Department of Environment.

NIRSA also examined possible solutions to ghost estates and associated problems. These included the off-loading through firesales of vacant properties or their use as social housing. This would result in existing residents’ negative equity being exacerbated.

In addition, there are questions as to the suitability of some properties for social housing due to location and access to employment, public transport, services and community facilities.

Holding properties will mean that residents will continue to live without neighbours and on building sites for some time. This approach will also result in costs with managing empty or under-construction properties that will need to be maintained to stop the stock deteriorating.

According to the report, demolishing ghost estates would be highly disruptive and it will be costly to return land to its former state.

According to historian Conor McCabe, who is researching the history of the Irish property market, the Government’s current favoured option of taking property assets under the control of NAMA is damaging the wider economic recovery. “In order to pay for NAMA, the Government is extracting billions of euros from the economy, and then is using this money to prop up unaffordable land and house prices.

“It is taking money from people’s pockets in order to keep house prices unaffordable. It’s sheer lunacy.

“Most property bubbles take around eight years to deflate. Because of NAMA, this is going to take even longer, with serious repercussions for the wider economy,” he said.

Planning Minister Ciarán Cuffe said that long-awaited measures to deal with unfinished housing estates will be unveiled in the coming months.

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From florist to fraudster, leaving a trail of destruction from North Cork, to Waterford, to Clare, to Wexford and through the midlands ... learn how mistress of re-invention, Catherine O'Brien, scammed her way around rural Ireland.

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