THE new Fine Gael-led government is making progress in dealing with the serious problem of ghost estates, according to newly elected Fine Gael Party Chairman, Charlie Flanagan. The Government recently published the final report of the Advisory Group on Unfinished Housing Developments.
“Ghost estates present a huge challenge in Laois/Offaly where a Government Report has categorised 70 estates comprising 945 units in Laois as “unfinished” and 30 estates with 311 units in Offaly as ghost estates. Those living in these estates are really suffering and it is imperative that solutions are found to the problems that exist.
“The Government has inherited a huge problem, the roots of which lie in Fianna Fáil’s failure to govern responsibly over the last fourteen years. However, the new Fine Gael-Labour administration has acted promptly in appointing a Minister with special responsibility for housing,” outlined Deputy Flanagan.
He said the Government approach involves the establishment of a National Co-ordination Committee to oversee the implementation of action on unfinished developments and to monitor and drive progress, to be chaired by Minister Penrose. As well as this there will be formal protocols for liaison between the various stakeholders, developers, financial institutions, resident, local authorities, approved housing bodies and the Department, should be put in place to facilitate the sharing of information.
The report will also include resolution of public safety and other critical issues eg public lighting, drainage etc, that are having a serious impact on the living conditions and quality of life for residents of unfinished developments should be dealt with as a matter of urgency.
Also there will be the prioritisation by local authorities of a number of developments to act as lead projects to demonstrate what can be achieved.
Finally the report will see the implementation of the best practice Guidance Manual on Managing and Resolving Unfinished Housing Developments, which will be published later this month together with the Code of Practice (currently being finalised by the Department), which will set out ways of resolving unfinished developments.
“The Government has highlighted the need for developers and financial institutions to take a more pro-active approach in working out long term solutions for ghost estates and I am calling on the stakeholders in Laois/Offaly to honour their responsibilities in this regard,” Deputy Flanagan concluded.
Deputy Brian Stanley while welcoming the report said clearly much more needs to be done by the Government on this issue.
“€5 million has been allocated for public safety funding which is a start, but obviously given the sheer volume of ghost estates that we are faced with; this is inadequate to deal with the scale of the problem.
“Further to this, the Group have recommended that the Health and Safety Authority have a role in these sites. However, this misses the point as the HSA will only take on a role in sites which are active – almost all of the sites are inactive so obviously the agenda needs to be driven more by local authorities. As well as this, the proposed site resolution plans are a good idea but existing residents need to be at the front and centre of this. They are the people best placed to know what is needed,” said the Sinn Fein Deputy.
He said the report also contains proposals on the use of the Derelict Sites Act. “While we believe there is a role for this particular piece of legislation to be used, it must be amended in order to allow its use in relation to new sites,” he said.
He added that there is a major weakness in response from the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government in that it has given no real commitment to use any of these developments for social housing. “It is our view that there must be a social dividend from the NAMA-held properties. They could easily be used to house people on social housing waiting lists or be sold at affordable prices rather than continuing to fork out millions to private landlords for RAS. Affordable housing must be sold at a rate that is actually affordable for people. There must be a strategic integrated approach taken to this, and there is a real opportunity here for the Department to ensure that the developments become mixed-tenure estates rather than merely providing the same social housing ghettos of old,” he said.