NOTHING BETTER encapsulates Ireland’s property crash than bleak images of “ghost estates”, which is why they have featured alongside the concrete skeleton of Anglo Irish Bank’s putative future headquarters in Dublin’s docklands in so much of the international media coverage of our current travails.
What we must not forget, however, is that thousands of people are still suffering from the inevitable consequences of the crash, none more so than the residents of half-built housing estates abandoned by their once gung-ho developers when the bubble finally burst. Yet the feedback from many local authorities to the Department of the Environment indicated that “getting positive engagement from developers, site owners and financial institutions responsible for the loans on such developments was proving very difficult”, according to Minister of State for Housing and Planning Willie Penrose.
As the final report of an advisory group set up to deal with this widespread problem made clear, “the primary objective of addressing unfinished developments should be to address the needs of the residents”; indeed, this is rightly seen as “imperative” and will apply, in the first instance, to public safety issues such as the lack of street lighting, or open drains that could be used by children as dangerous playgrounds.
The number of schemes with such works outstanding represents 58 per cent of the 2,846 unfinished housing estates examined in a survey co-ordinated by the department; most of these are located outside the main urban areas, primarily in the midlands and Border regions, although half of all the schemes surveyed involve 30 residential units or less.
The aptly-named Battery Court in Longford, once marketed as the town’s “most prestigious address”, is cited by the authors of the report, Resolving Ireland’s Unfinished Housing Developments, as a good example of what can be done. After the 90-unit scheme was put into receivership last year, the receiver arranged funding to finish its open spaces, public lighting, roads and services as well as completing work on unfinished houses and carrying out remedial work on others. Furthermore, unoccupied houses are to be taken over by a voluntary housing agency while Longford County Council “continues to take a proactive and co-ordinated approach to re-assuring purchasers of housing in the development”. If this success can be replicated elsewhere, “ghost estates” would become a thing of the past.
However, the first allocation of funding to remedy public safety issues – €1,493,556, to be distributed among 10 local authorities – is a mere drop in the ocean, given the scale of the problems to be tackled. Much more will need to be spent under the watchful eye of a national co-ordination committee, set up to oversee the implementation of action on unfinished developments, which will be chaired by Mr Penrose himself. It will also need to rely on what he described as the “pro-active co-operation” of Nama to address unfinished estates, which are now either under its control or subject to loans held by the agency.
Report - Irish Times