The issue of unfinished housing estates is essentially one for each local authority and my Department does not systematically collect information on this matter. However, the Department did carry out an informal survey in 1998 among local authorities on the extent of the problems with unfinished housing estates and the factors contributing to such problems. Replies were received from 77 of the 88 planning authorities and revealed that 706 housing estates were then regarded as unfinished, which, along with a further 542 finished estates, had not yet been taken in charge. The size of the estates involved ranged from two to 200 houses. From the information received it is not possible to estimate the number of houses affected.
My Department does not have available any estimate of the potential cost to local authorities of completing the estates. Local authorities have been asked by my Department to ensure that permissions for development of housing estates are subject to a condition under which an acceptable security is provided by way of bond or otherwise so as to ensure the satisfactory completion of the estate.
Responsibility for the enforcement of planning control is a matter for planning authorities. In addition, it is open to any person to seek a court order under section 27 of the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1976, as amended, requiring compliance with conditions laid down by the planning authority. The planning Acts specifically allow for conditions about the giving of security, the phasing and completion of works and the occupation of structures. Effective use of such conditions by local authorities and follow-up enforcement action can do much to obviate the kind of problems that arise in unfinished estates. The Planning and Development Bill, 1999, includes much strengthened provisions regarding the enforcement of planning law and will enable a planning authority to refuse to grant permission to a developer based on past non-performance, subject to the consent of the High Court.
The Bill also provides for new requirements on planning authorities concerning the taking in charge of housing estates. Where an estate has been completed to the satisfaction of the local authority, the authority will be required to take it in charge when the developer or a majority of the residents request that the authority do so. Where an estate is unfinished, and the seven year period for taking enforcement action has expired, and a majority of the residents so request, the planning authority will be obliged to take the estate in charge.