Local authorities have been provided with a number of powers and measures to deal with the issue of derelict buildings. There also exists a framework of overarching policy and capital funding which provides support to development, including urban regeneration.
Under the Government's Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness, the Repair and Leasing Scheme has been introduced to assist property owners in bringing vacant properties back into use for social housing purposes. The scheme is particularly targeted at owners of vacant properties who cannot afford or access the funding needed to bring their properties up to the required standard for rental properties.
Subject to the suitability of the property for social housing, and the agreement of the property owner, the cost of the necessary repairs is met upfront with a capital loan from the local authority or an approved housing body (AHB) up to a maximum of €40,000, and up to a maximum of €50,000 in the situation where the property is a former bedsit. This allows the property owner to sign-up to a lease arrangement with a local authority or an AHB for a period of time that is linked to the value of the repairs, subject to a minimum lease period of 5 years. Up to end Q1 2019, a total of 102 homes had been brought back into use under the scheme.
A similar measure entitled the Buy and Renew Scheme supports local authorities in purchasing and renewing housing units in need of repair which can then be made available for social housing use. It is a matter for each local authority to determine the suitability of a property for social housing. Important considerations in that regard include the location of a property in relation to housing need and demand, the design and scale suitability of a property for social housing use, and the costs and practicality of acquiring and remediating a property.
The Buy and Renew Scheme particularly focuses on older vacant homes to help tackle the problem of dereliction and improve the appearance of the community. As a complementary initiative to the Repair and Leasing Scheme, it provides the option for suitable properties to be purchased rather than leased, if that is the preference of the owners of vacant properties. Since its introduction, local authorities have delivered over 430 new social homes under the scheme. Activity in this regard is largely delegated to local authorities so they can respond flexibly to all opportunities to provide new social housing.
The Derelict Sites Act 1990 imposes a general duty on every owner and occupier of land to take all reasonable steps to ensure that the land does not become, or continue to be, a derelict site. The Act also imposes a duty on local authorities to take all reasonable steps, including the exercise of appropriate statutory powers, to ensure that any land within their functional area does not become, or continue to be, a derelict site.
Local authority powers include requiring owners or occupiers to take appropriate measures on derelict sites, acquiring derelict sites by agreement, or compulsorily, and to apply a derelict sites levy on derelict sites. It is a matter for local authorities to determine the most appropriate use of the legislation within their respective functional areas.
Under the Act, local authorities are required to maintain a derelict sites register, which includes the name and address of each owner and occupier, where these can be ascertained by reasonable enquiry, of any land which, in the opinion of the local authority, is a derelict site. Under section 8(5) of the Act, a copy of the derelict sites register for any local authority can be inspected at the offices of that authority during office hours. Members of the public can engage with their local authority in relation to addressing individual derelict sites in their local areas. The 1990 Act does not differentiate between one-off houses and any other type of derelict site.
The Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 enables local authorities to apply a levy to vacant and underutilised sites in urban areas. The main objective of the Vacant Site Levy is to incentivise the development of such sites for both the provision of housing and the development and renewal of land, and to facilitate the most efficient use of such land and sites and enable them to be brought into beneficial use. The levy applies to all sites, both public and privately owned, which exceed 0.05 hectares on residential land or regeneration land and which meet the relevant criteria. In order to avoid a double levy on any site, the Derelict Sites Levy is not payable for any site subject to the Vacant Site Levy.
Under the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018, both the Derelict Sites Levy and the Vacant Sites Levy will increase from 3% to 7% of the market valuation of relevant sites with effect from January 2020. This change in the rate of the levies is intended to ensure that the levies have more meaningful impact and that the powers of local authorities in tackling dereliction and vacancy are strengthened for the purpose of bringing relevant sites into productive use, thereby facilitating urban regeneration and development while also combatting land hoarding.
In addition, the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No.2) Regulations 2018, which came into operation on 8 February 2018, provide for an exemption from the requirement to obtain planning permission in respect of the change of use of certain vacant commercial premises, including vacant areas above ground floor premises, to residential use. This measure is aimed at facilitating the productive re-use of qualifying vacant commercial buildings as homes, while also facilitating urban renewal and the bringing on stream of increased housing supply.
Project Ireland 2040, launched by the Government in February 2018, is the overarching policy and planning framework for the social, economic and cultural development of Ireland. It includes a detailed capital investment plan for the period 2018 to 2027, the National Development Plan (NDP) 2018-2027, and the 20-year National Planning Framework (NPF).
The NDP established four new funds, with a combined allocation of €4 billion to 2027. The Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF), which is the fund operated by my Department, was launched last year and has an overall provision of €2 billion to 2027. €58m is available in 2019 to provide initial support to the 88 projects announced last November on foot of the first call for proposals.
The URDF was established to support applicant-led projects that will contribute to regeneration and rejuvenation of Ireland’s five cities and other large towns, in line with the objectives of the NPF and the NDP. The aim is to achieve more compact, sustainable and mixed use development, with a view to ensuring that more parts of our urban areas can become attractive and vibrant places in which people choose to live and work, as well as to invest and to visit. This will be done by supporting proposals that contribute to the re-development of key brownfield areas, including areas containing derelict sites and buildings, both by enabling infrastructure and new master-planned development proposals.
While the URDF is not intended to provide direct support for particular housing projects, some of the projects it is currently supporting will enable a significant proportion of residential and mixed-use development to be delivered within the existing built-up footprints of our cities and towns.
With regard to one-off housing and dwellings, my Department established a working group to review and, where necessary, recommend changes to the 2005 Planning Guidelines on Sustainable Rural Housing, issued under section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. Once ongoing deliberations by the working group are completed, I will be in a position to finalise and issue to planning authorities revisions to the 2005 Guidelines.