There are many factors that may influence commercial property vacancy rates around the country. The Government is committed to doing all it can to help minimise commercial vacancy in cities, towns and villages using all available mechanisms. In this regard, while my Department is not the lead Department in terms of commercial enterprise, it does have policy responsibility for a number of areas that it is bringing to bear on this issue, such as through planning policy, the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund, building standards, and commercial rates. Local authorities also work closely on the ground with business and communities on this issue.
The Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF) is an important element of Project Ireland 2040. It comprises an allocation of €2 billion from the National Development Plan (NDP) to 2027, with €58 million available for expenditure in 2019 and an overall Exchequer allocation of €550 million earmarked for the Fund up to the end of 2022. The URDF, targets the regeneration and rejuvenation of Ireland’s five cities and other large towns. URDF support of €8.2m have been approved in principle, for projects in Sligo and Leitrim.
In terms of commercial rates, legislative provision is made for the refund of rates paid on vacant commercial properties in certain circumstances such as, for example, if the premises are unoccupied for the purpose of additions, alterations or repairs; where the owner is bona fide unable to obtain a suitable tenant at a reasonable rent; and where the premises are vacant pending redevelopment. The collection of rates and the determination of eligibility for a refund in this context are matters for each individual local authority.
Some local authorities have introduced locally designed business incentive schemes which promote the use of vacant commercial property. Such schemes rely upon Part 9 of the Local Government Act 2001 that provides that the functions of local authorities include providing grants, loans guarantees or other financial aid to promote the interests of the local community, including economic interests. No Ministerial sanction is required for the setting up of these schemes.
The Local Government (Rates) Bill 2018, which contains proposals for modernisation of the legislation governing commercial rates and provision for schemes for the abatement of rates on vacant properties, is currently before the Oireachtas.
Finally, my Department has made legislative amendments in support of the reactivation of vacant properties. New exempted development Regulations came into operation last year, allowing for the change of use, and any related works, of certain vacant commercial premises to residential use without the need to obtain planning permission.
This week sees the formal launch of the new Bringing Back Homes Manual for the Reuse of Existing Buildings, the contents of which have been informed by a representative working group, established and chaired by my Department. The manual provides property owners, local authorities and those involved in the construction industry with clear and detailed guidance on current policy and regulatory requirements that apply to vacant “over the shop” type development. The manual is available on my Department's website at the following link: