Councillors at last Monday’s Municipal District meeting (June 12 ) collectively expressed frustration regarding the number of derelict buildings in Athlone, and the council’s limited powers to remedy the situation.
The chamber was informed that a mammoth €650,000 in levies is owed to the council from owners of these sites. A total of €153,000 is owed this year alone, but just €9,600 of this figure has been collected.
Fianna Fáil councillor, Frankie Keena, expressed his frustration regarding the criteria that define a site derelict. Referencing the old Athlone Shopping Centre, he noted that the building is in a state of disrepair and constitutes an eyesore.
Minor improvements made to the site of late, mainly painting and vegetation removal, mean that it no longer qualifies as being derelict. Councillor Keena said this is unacceptable, saying the site is a health and safety issue and that its current state is unfair on people trying to conduct business in the area.
Mayor Aengus O’Rourke said it is an “appalling reflection” on the Government and local authority that they do not have more powers to deal with the issue. He said people living in Athlone are somewhat acclimatised to these sites, but that they creating a bad impression to tourists and visiting investors.
Cllr John Dolan (FG ) said the council should be able to do more with derelict sites when it is in the common good.
Sinn Féin’s Paul Hogan said a much more stringent approach is needed, including reclassifying what makes a building derelict, something he said the council has the power to do.
Director of services, Barry Kehoe, said taking derelict sites in charge is a very difficult process. He said the council can only inform site owners of the work necessary to remove a site from the derelict list, and prosecute them for not undertaking this work. Any further action is difficult due to property rights in Ireland being very strong.
However, he added that a co-ordinated three year plan to tackle the issue has been proposed. Led by the council’s environment section, the plan will allow for a countywide management approach, including the possible CPO of sites deemed beneficial for the locality.