Ghost estate funding only for homes, O’Rourke told

Cllr Aengus O’Rourke stands outside a derelict commercial property on Magazine Road, Athlone.

Cllr Aengus O’Rourke stands outside a derelict commercial property on Magazine Road, Athlone.

A local councillor has accused the Government of refusing to deal with the problem of derelict commercial properties after his suggestion to extend ghost estate assistance to non-residential developments was not adopted.

Earlier this year Cllr Aengus O’Rourke wrote to the Minister for Housing Jan O’Sullivan to see if her department could give a local authority “the necessary legislative power to take temporary ownership of the [derelict commercial] buildings”.

However, this week Cllr O’Rourke received “a frank reply... firmly refusing to adopt the proposal”.

“Ghost commercial properties are the shops, apartments, office units, pubs that today lie idle and abandoned in Athlone and across every town and city in Ireland, and each one of them a potential magnet for anti-social behaviour. They’re often occupied by squatters, and they are where much of today’s drug dealing takes place,” said Cllr O’Rourke.

“Once seen as good investment opportunities by unfortunate speculators, these units are a pitiful everyday reminder of the effects the Irish property crash has had on towns all across the country,” he explained.

“My proposal to Government was similar to the ghost housing estates arrangement; effectively where a commercial building is in substantial disrepair and poses a risk to the health and safety of the public, the local authority would be given the necessary legislative powers by Government to take temporary ownership of the buildings,” he continued.

“The local authority can then move to make the premises and grounds safe and improve its overall appearance. The money to carry out these improvements would come from a special Government fund. However, in time when the building is finally sold on the seller will compensate the authorities out of the proceeds of the sale for work carried out while the building was idle,” he said.

However, this week Minister O’Sullivan told Cllr O’Rourke that “there are no plans to extend this scheme to unfinished commercial orå retail premises at this time”.

The ‘Public Safety Initiative for Unfinished Housing Developments’ - as it is technically called - has allocated €3.5m across 21 local authorities “to address immediate public safety issues” since it was set up almost two years ago.

“Real progress is being made with regard to public safety works required to improve the living conditions of existing residents on unfinished estates,” said the Minister.

However, Cllr O’Rourke was not satisfied by this reply.

“It is clear from the Minister’s flat refusal to support my proposal that the Government has no intention of dealing with this issue. I will pursue this proposal through Fianna Fail and will do what I can to ensure action is taken on these dangerous and unsightly properties.” he concluded.


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