That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to give security to local authorities, by way of creating a charge on the land concerned, in relation to the expenses incurred by the local authority in order to give effect to measures which the local authority considers to be necessary in order to prevent the land from becoming or continuing to be a derelict site, for that purpose to amend the Derelict Sites Act 1990, and to provide for related matters.
I seek leave to introduce the Derelict Sites (Amendment) Bill 2021. The Derelict Sites Act 1990 enables a local authority, where, in its opinion, it is necessary to do so in order to prevent land from becoming or continuing to be a derelict site, to serve a notice in writing on the owner or occupier of the land. Under section 11 of the Act, where the person on whom the notice has been served does not comply with it within a specified period, the local authority may take such steps, including entry on land by authorised persons, as it considers reasonable and necessary to give effect to the terms of the notice. The authority may also recover any expenses incurred from the person on whom the notice was served as a simple contract debt in a court of competent jurisdiction. If, however, the derelict site belongs to an insolvent company and a liquidator is appointed who sells the land, the proceeds of the sale must be distributed according to the rules relating to priority of debts. Secured creditors come first and unsecured creditors are at the end of queue. At the end of the process there may be nothing left to pay unsecured creditors, including the local authority. The Bill proposes a short amendment to the Act so as to convert the expenses incurred by the local authority into a charge on the land, making the authority a secured creditor for the purposes of a subsequent liquidation.
The main reason I am introducing this legislation is that in my own home town of Mallow we have a derelict site, the former Central Hotel, which gave rise to litigation in 2012. A fire at the hotel, where there was continuing dereliction, gave rise to a court sitting. In an article in The Corkman newspaper, Mr. Bill Browne stated:
At a court sitting in October 2012 the then owners ... were hit with a fine of €91,033.07 plus legal costs under the Dangerous Structures provision of the 1964 bill. This total also included recouping cost of the remedial work undertaken by Mallow Town Council. It is understood the monies remain outstanding.
In June of 2016 two separate fires at the dilapidated building within the space of three hours caused even more internal damage to the building.
The following month the building once again came under the spotlight after it emerged a Dublin-based property developer had purchased it for a sum ... A subsequent application for a major plan of works there, lodged in the name of Mallow Capital Ltd, was shot down by county council planners.
In the case of the Central Hotel in Mallow and countless numbers of derelict sites throughout the country, the fact is that where a site is in the ownership of an insolvent company and the local authority intervenes to make it safe, the taxpayer loses. The taxpayer has no mechanism to recoup that funding through the local authority making the site safe. The purpose of this legislation is to make good that wrong and ensure the taxpayer is protected such that, where a local authority intervenes to protect citizens in a streetscape in the event of a building becoming derelict and requiring to be made safe, the authority will not be left at a loss for the costs of doing so. We are seeking to rectify and amend the Derelict Sites Act 1990. I am hopeful the Government will support this Bill and that it will receive cross-party support because this issue affects each and every one of us in our constituencies.