There are 28 sites currently listed as derelict in Westmeath, with 156 more under investigation, it emerged this week.
Pat Tighe of the council’s environment section told councillors that increasing numbers of new and unfinished properties are being investigated under the Derelict Sites Act, due in part to home owners abandoning sites they are no longer able to pay a mortgage on.
Some 28 sites across the county (excluding Athlone town ) have been placed on the county’s Derelict Sites Register. A further 20 have been valued, while 156 are currently under investigation by the council.
According to Mr Tighe, the negative impacts of dereliction can range from visual, anti-social behaviour, and vandalism, to risks to public health and safety and effects on commerce and tourism.
Each site reported by a member of the public will be investigated, with several courses of action then open to the council including warning letters, levies, and as a last resort the acquisition of the site by agreement or compulsorily.
Monday’s report was broadly welcomed by councillors, with contributions from 14 councillors outlining the level of interest in the issue.
Cllr Colm Arthur praised the work carried out on The Bridge House in Rochfortbridge, while Cllr Dan McCarthy was assured that three derelict house sites in Rathwire are to be secured.
Concern was also raised regarding two houses in Delvin, which Cllr Frank McDermott suggested could be considered for council housing, while Cllr Joe Whelan suggested the Iarnrod Eireann railway station in Moate should be investigated.
Meanwhile Cllr Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran wondered whether the process of placing sites on the Derelict Sites Register was eating up council resources. “It is tremendous work but how far can we go? You can’t get blood out of a turnip; we can’t get money out of someone who is bankrupt or has left the country,” he suggested.
However county manager Dan McLoughlin assured him that the council would not be chasing ‘lost causes’. “If we think the property can be used by us we may enter discussions. It is important to us as a planning authority to show the public we are doing something about dereliction. We could go to court, but we would have to make a judgement call as to whether it is worth pursuing,” he said, citing the “robust approach” taken towards dereliction in Connaught Street on the west side of Athlone.
“We made a decision we could use buildings for housing purposes. How can we encourage people to invest in a street with seven derelict sites? We have a responsibility to bring streets up to a certain level,” he added.