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Friday, 6 May 2011

Ghost Busters!

National group to oversee efforts to deal with ghost estates...

A NATIONAL co-ordination group is to be established within weeks to oversee action by local authorities in dealing with the most problematic ghost housing estates, according to Minister of State for Housing and Planning Willie Penrose.

Addressing the Irish Planning Institute’s annual conference in Galway yesterday, he said one of his top priorities was that “clear, decisive and proactive actions are taken to progressively resolve the issues with unfinished housing developments”.

It has emerged that the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) has 10 per cent of about 150 of the worst ghost estates that are unfinished and pose health and safety issues.

The vast majority of the ghost estates that require the most work were financed by the foreign-owned banks operating in Ireland.

About 28 per cent of the loans at Nama relate to land and development and about 16 per cent are in the Dublin area, where there is a greater demand for housing.

Mr Penrose, who is to chair the co-ordination group, said his officials were already “working hard on innovative ways to find positive uses for vacant housing, including the leasing or purchase of units from Nama” for families on local authority waiting lists.

He will shortly be receiving a report by the Advisory Group on Unfinished Housing Developments, made up of community, central and local government, professional banking, construction representatives, and planners, and he said this would be published.

Mr Penrose said the planning system should be “focusing demand in a way that will rekindle market interest in stalled developments”, while the “core strategy” approach that must now be adopted would help rationalise the “excessive zoning” of recent years.

Referring to the 2010 Planning Act, he said planning was now supported by “evidence-based requirements” and linked to the Government’s strategic plan and capital allocations for infrastructure and suitably located services.

“We are constructively tackling the legacy of over-zoning and moving towards a more co-ordinated and joined-up approach to the delivery of critical services such as schools, public transport, water services and social housing,” he said.

“We are refocusing on revitalising our city and town centres, moving against the tendency of the Celtic Tiger era to envisage extensive, even sprawling extensions of our cities and towns, drawing the lifeblood out of older, established central urban areas.”

However, the institute’s president, Gordon Daly, called for a Government policy on planning that would “set out a clear road map for the country’s physical planning over the next five to 10 years” and harness the potential of agri-food, tourism and renewable energy.

Complaining that policy in the past had been “far too dependent on the vagaries of the marketplace”, Mr Daly said: “We need to have a wider vision and this policy would achieve this by bringing a more balanced view on where we need to go for the future.”

He also moved to allay fears among councillors that the 2010 Act had shifted power to central government, saying he believed it “puts real power in the hands of councillors to make the key decisions” on population growth, housing, transport, retail and services. Referring to a reduction of 25 per cent in the number of planners in local authorities over the past two years, Mr Daly said “we must get more from less”.


Report FRANK McDONALD and SIMON CARSWELL - Irish Times

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