Restoring derelict buildings would make a vast difference to Ireland achieving its greenhouse gas emission targets rather than relying on new builds, a leading campaigner has said.
Jude Sherry, a long-time advocate of derelict building restoration with partner Frank O'Connor, said it was "heartbreaking" that derelict buildings were still lying idle despite the record numbers of homeless.
She told the Climate Bar Association's conference on environmental law in Cork that she and her partner returned to Cork after years abroad in Amsterdam and Cardiff to "find massive scales of decay, dereliction, and disrespect for the built heritage in the city".
"With the housing crisis, coming back seeing people sleeping rough outside derelict and empty buildings is heartbreaking. After 100 years of independence, this is what we are doing to ourselves," said Ms Sherry.
"There are children who live in emergency accommodation who can’t get to school without passing long-term derelict buildings. We are telling these children they don’t matter as much as the owners of these buildings," she said.
Although legislation around dereliction can be complicated, authorities are using this as an excuse not to take action, she claimed.
As well as being cheaper than new builds, restoring derelict buildings would save tonnes of carbon emissions, according to the Anois design agency co-founder.
She pointed to 23% of global emissions coming from concrete, steel, and aluminium, with 11% of Irish emissions coming from construction and demolition.
There would be a reduction of up to 75% of emissions in six key categories by renovating buildings instead of new builds, Ms Sherry said.
Leading environmental solicitor Joe Noonan spoke of how four notorious derelict buildings on Cork's historic North Main Street brought life to a standstill. Cork's principal trading street for hundreds of years was closed overnight due to the partial collapse of two of the buildings in 2019, he said.
Housing Minister Darragh O'Brien has announced that some €150m will be given to local authorities around the country to tackle vacancy and dereliction.
This week sees a six-week advertising campaign to highlight the supports available to people to buy, lease or sell vacant property, or convert vacant commercial property into homes.
The €150m will be replenished from the proceeds received from the sale of a site or from its use, which will allow a local authority to establish a rolling programme to tackle long-term vacancy and dereliction without borrowing or the associated financial risk, the Department of Housing said.