Living Cities Bill 2017: First Stage

I move:

That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Derelict Sites Act 1990 to increase the levy placed on derelict sites; to ensure the register of derelict sites compiled by a local authority is made publicly available on the local authority's website; to ensure protection for the rights of homeowners who have moved into residential care and own a derelict site; to amend the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 to extend the definition of a "vacant site" to include sites below 0.05 hectares; to ensure the documents associated with the entry of a site onto the register of vacant sites are made publicly available on the local authority's website; to increase the vacant site levy in each subsequent year; to increase the scope of the levy to include properties in negative or low equity; and to provide for related matters.

I am introducing this Bill in view of the need for greater urgency and transparency in tackling the housing crisis we are facing and the ongoing dereliction in our cities, which is not being addressed with sufficient speed or breadth by the Government. Our objective is to achieve living cities in whose centres people of all different incomes and backgrounds can live. One of the mechanisms necessary to achieve this aim is by means of a strengthening and tightening of the way in which we deal with derelict and vacant sites in cities. The Bill includes several simple but critical provisions that we hope all parties will support.

With regard to derelict sites, we are proposing that the same higher charge that was introduced in respect of vacant sites should also be applicable to them. We need that type of punitive measure in place to encourage the development of those sites. In addition, we are proposing to extend the provisions relating to how the register is maintained in order to achieve greater transparency. There is a social justice consideration to take on board in that the owners of derelict sites may themselves be vulnerable and possibly living under the social care of the State. We must be cognisant of this possibility in our application of compulsory purchase orders so that people are not left vulnerable through the actions of the State.

In the case of vacant sites, the application of the levy provided for in the 2015 Act must be extended to include sites of less than 0.05 ha. A survey of vacant sites in Dublin city in 2015 showed that of the 280 sites examined, 143 were below that size threshold. A January 2017 survey of 979 sites found that only 385 were deemed eligible for the vacant site levy, with 174 excluded from the application of the levy on the basis that they were below the size threshold. To give some context, 0.05 ha is roughly equivalent in size to a basketball court. If we are to create living streets and cities, vacant sites below the threshold must be included in the levy, so that they can be used for housing, apartment developments, mini-parks and a whole range of urban uses. Their current non-usage is wasteful and is killing urban streets.

We would do well to take the advice of Mr. Thomas Drummond, Under-Secretary for Ireland in the mid-19th century, who said that property has its duties as well as its rights. There are several high-profile examples of vacant and derelict sites which put the problem in context and illustrate the utter lack of willingness by the Government to act to address it. The Iveagh Market site off John Dillon Street in the centre of the Liberties has been vacant for 25 years and there is no sign of it being developed. This was an important civic space and part of the texture of the Liberties, but it is has been left lying idle because of a lack of ambition, political direction and willingness to pursue the interests of society against those of individual property owners. A more recent example is the unfinished development of the Kilternan Hotel, formerly the Dublin Sports Hotel, which was almost completed when the property market crashed and the owner could not meet the bank repayments. The building was put into the National Asset Management Agency and sold on to a new developer, but it has been left to fall into dilapidation. These examples of dereliction show the ongoing lack of care when it comes to creating a vibrant urban environment.

This legislation can play a critical role in addressing the problems caused by dereliction and dilapidation in urban areas by giving the State greater powers in the management of both vacant and derelict sites. Doing so is an important part of addressing the housing crisis.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Is the Bill opposed?

Question put and agreed to.

Since this is a Private Members' Bill, Second Stage must, under Standing Orders, be taken in Private Members' time.

I move: "That the Bill be taken in Private Members' time."

Question put and agreed to.