Changes to finance rules and emulating Waterford: how Cork City can shed its 'tired' appearance

An Oireachtas Housing Committee has heard details of how Cork city centre can tackle dereliction and vacancy
Changes to finance rules and emulating Waterford: how Cork City can shed its 'tired' appearance

St Patrick's Street, Cork: CNN journalist Richard Quest had sparked controversy over the weekend by saying the city looks 'tatty', prompting some criticism and some agreement. Picture: Larry Cummins

Small changes to financing rules, more ambitious targets, and emulating Waterford can help Cork City centre shed its "tired" appearance, members of the Oireachtas housing committee have said.

CNN journalist Richard Quest had sparked controversy over the weekend by saying the city looks "tatty", prompting some criticism and some agreement.

Mr Quest said: “Some of the places look tatty. I thought that in Cork. I loved the [English] Market, but the buildings look tired downtown.”

The committee had heard in its sessions compiling the report that there are 700 vacant buildings within 2km of Cork City centre.

Speaking at the launch of its report on urban regeneration, however, cross-party politicians said simple measures could be taken to improve the level of vacancy in the city in the short-term. 

Committee chair Steven Matthews said Waterford had "really positive" experience in using the Repair and Lease scheme to revitalise vacant housing and said broader knowledge of this scheme in places like Cork would help in the short-term.

"We're recommending [in the report] that we increase the amount available to the Repair and Lease scheme. These are things that can be turned around quite quickly because that scheme is being run quite successfully in Waterford and Louth and Limerick City. So, we replicate those schemes that are working, and we look at local authorities and ask 'why isn't this working?'

What carrot and stick do we need? What targets?"

Sinn Féin's housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin said he had taken a tour of Cork with his committee and party colleague Thomas Gould after the hearings and said Cork City Council was constrained by rules which stipulate that councils must wait to be refunded for the purchase of vacant units. 

He said that this can sometimes take 18 months, which made councils reluctant to undertake these purchases, but that the Housing Finance Agency is willing to provide low or no-cost bridging finance in these cases, which he said "would help schemes move much more quickly".

Social Democrat TD Cian O'Callaghan that the report's recommendation that changing the derelict sites levy to a tax collected by Revenue would have an impact.

"If you take Cork City centre, having a more robust collection of that tax would help."

The report makes 39 recommendations around incentives and enforcement measures, policy issues and resourcing aimed at regenerating urban centres by bringing derelict or vacant properties back into use, including for social and affordable housing.

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