In February of this year I had the pleasure as a Member of Dáil Éireann of speaking on the Derelict Sites Bill 1989. On that occasion I welcomed the Bill and expressed the view that it was a sound legislative measure that was overdue. I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak further on it and to substantiate my contribution by update of references to matters related to the notion of dereliction.
I listened to the debate over the last week and I will mention one or two points that were made by some of the Senators. I was glad to hear Senator Hederman mention the impact that the Tidy Towns competition has had on the environment and in particular the role that competition has played in eliminating dereliction in towns throughout the country. I would like to say to the Minister and to the Minister of State that the Department of the Environment should have a role in that competition. It is one of the most important competitions in the country. I have been a member of the Malahide Tidy Towns Committee for the last seven years and former chairman and have been lucky enough to have been involved with some great people in that regard.
I know the role the competition plays throughout the country. I will come back to that later. I want to say, in the absence of the two Ministers that I hope they will take on board the idea that the Department of the Environment be involved in promoting funding for that competition. Bord Fáilte are heavily involved in it but the Department of the Environment should be, too.
I found it extraordinary that Senator Costello did not refer to the tax incentives that have been provided by the Government for areas of dereliction. Last Sunday's Business Post had a major article on inner city tax breaks and on what can be achieved. Last Saturday's Evening Press had a headline that about £500 million worth of investment in Dublin related to tax incentive schemes. It is extraordinary that in this regard Senator Costello's contribution was negative.
In fairness, a great deal has been done over the last two years to try to eliminate dereliction. Senator Costello also made the point and asked the Minister to answer it — I am sure he will have no problem next week when we come back to this Bill — as to the funding and personnel that would be involved in the establishment of a register of derelict sites.
Senator Eoin Ryan, speaking last week, mentioned that the corporation had already put in place a register of derelict sites. Dublin County Council, the local authority I am involved with, are already putting such a register in place too. I do not see any problem in regard to implementing this very important provision. Cost and personnel are not major problems.
Senator Naughten rightly said that thatched cottages were something that should be preserved to ensure that they remained part and parcel of rural and urban life. In north County Dublin we are very pleased that many property owners have thatched roofs and are very keen to keep them. As Senator B. O'Keeffe mentioned, Cork County Council have brought in a scheme. I am very pleased to say that Dublin County Council recently brought in a scheme to grant-aid the refurbishment of thatched cottages and so forth and to promote the idea that applicants for planning permission would be encouraged, where suitable, to provide thatched cottages. While the money this year is limited, I have no doubt that the concept of promoting and grant-aiding thatched cottages is worth while. I am delighted that the scheme was unanimously passed at a recent council meeting. These are important issues that are coming in place.
I wish to deal first with section 8 of the Bill as I believe the compilation of a register of derelict sites by local authorities in their respective functional areas is a key factor in dereliction control. The Bill broadens the definition of derelict site as it was understood in the Derelict Sites Act, 1961. It very wisely includes lands which already detract to a material degree from the amenity, character and appearance of land in the neighbourhood of the land in question as well as lands likely to detract in this manner. I am sorry that Senator Manning is not here because he would know in this area the old Baldoyle racecourse. That has been lying there for about ten years. We also have a position now where a major planning application is in front of us for the Phoenix Park racecourse. Without going into what might happen to that application, at least this Bill will make sure, if the decision were to be against the application, that we would not have the same situation that prevails in the racetrack in Baldoyle. Again, it is something very important. It will come into effect straightaway on an issue such as that.
This latter clause allows for the consideration of incipient dereliction as a proper focus for the attention of local authorities. This dovetails neatly with the provisions of section 8 concerning the compilation of a register of derelict sites. Such a register could consist of properties already derelict and as such would not take into account cases of incipient dereliction, where in the view of engineers or other appropriate professional persons, the state of lands in question would be likely to deteriorate further to an ultimate state of total dereliction. Owners of such properties could be advised of this and made aware of the penalties and restrictions to which they would be subjected in the event of further deterioration.
I have in mind the other side of the dereliction coin, which is preservation. Such a register could, or should, I suggest, advert to the significant features of any site and where necessary cite any other Act of the Legislature which would relate to their upkeep or preservation. In recent weeks we have had the unauthorised demolition of Talbot Lodge, Grove Avenue, Blackrock, which, unfortunately, was not yet listed but had been noted for listing in the Dublin County Development Plan. We had demolition of property of historic and architectural note on the public quays and we had the case of the recovery in Newry by the RUC of two 18th century fireplaces which had been taken from a listed building in Parnell Square.
I believe a register of derelict sites would be of value in the field of preservation just as much as the control of dereliction. The Bill does not lay down in minute detail how this register shall be compiled, nor does it essentially limit the extent and the exact detail it might usefully contain. This gives scope for an innovative, constructive approach by local authorities along the lines I have just mentioned. The Bill directs the local authorities to compile the register within one year after the commencement of this Act and thereaftr maintain it.
I hope that the notion of maintenance is sufficiently directed to ensure that each local authority would carry out an annual review of the register and that the maintenance of it would make it obligatory to keep it constantly open for new entries in the interim period. I would like to see this register as an instrument that would have a very public life so that the concept of dereliction prevention would be placed firmly centre stage in the public consciousness. This could be assisted in two ways. First, I would like to see a copy of the register readily accessible to the general public in each area, town or borough. The local public library might serve this purpose. On the occasion of a formal annual review of the register, inspection of the register for the purpose of new submissions, additions and deletions should be invited by way of public notice. While the Bill requires the local authority to inform the owner of a site prior to its inclusion in the register, it might be useful and give a spin-off benefit if through the public awareness measures I have mentioned, citizens could see there is a process in place to redress negligence of civic duty in this regard.
Major black spots of dereliction tend to get a lot of attention while we tend to ignore the lesser sites and sometimes these are even more hazardous or unsightly. It was good to read in the newspapers in recent days that Dublin City Manager, Frank Feely, said that £500 million would be spent over the next five years on derelict sites in Dublin. This large sum represents a huge investment in replacement works which will not only transform the sites visually and aesthetically but will mean that the replacement developments will provide employment during the period of construction and afterwards there will be sustainable employment in commerce, manufacture and specialist services.
The Dublin docklands transformation is a good example of innovative derelict sites use. I am aware that in towns and cities throughout the country there are sites of this nature that have had their initial purpose outpaced by the March of time and as a result, have been neglected. They are often disused railway yards and dock facilities or mills. The reasons for choosing them initially to fulfil a commercial or industrial role are as valid today as they were in the past. There is a greater opportunity today for such developments as we approach 1992. Location today is not so tied to factors like transport, market nearness, et cetera. We should exploit our great assets in our young, well-educated and highly skilled work-force. We should marry all these factors in attractive packages to lure overseas investors to come to us rather than have us export our expensively educated and trained brainpower to their home bases.
I quote all this to show the persuasive values which I see in this Bill. In addition to the large sites already adverted to, there are many substantial buildings which, despite the passage of time, the ravages and neglect, somehow managed to remain structurally sound and which would present opportunity to developers with an eye for the architecturally beautiful, cut stone, et cetera. It is a great pity that such fine premises should be allowed to fall into disrepair and irredeemable decay. Finally they reach the stage where the awful sentence of dereliction is pronounced. For the most part they are buildings of great and enduring character and it would be a pity if under the terms of this Bill there was an inconsidered rush to demolish them. Demolition is not the best remedy for derelict buildings and should be the remedy of the last resort. Rather than act hastily in this way, consideration should be given to the possibility of restoration and a continued life in another capacity.
Members of the House will remember the sad fate of the old Grammar School in Drogheda, which, like the Talbot Lodge already mentioned, was pulled down. Buildings like these are not easily replaced with modern structures of equal dignity. At a time when enterprise is central to all modern theories of economic advancement, we should seriously consider converting such buildings to enterprise centres in order to stimulate local manufacture and enterprise. An employment group in Malahide, of which I was a member, were able to convert an old school that was lying idle there, into a worthwhile community enterprise venture. There are many committees throughout the country involved in community enterprise. The IDA's project, Enterprise Space Limited, is probably a way where an old factory or mill could be restored. Senator O'Keeffe suggested the extension of the tax incentive in section 27 to this type of project. There are many buildings in different parts of the country which could be converted to enterprise centres. This would ensure the upkeep of the property and provide much needed enterprise space for the promotion of business and the creation of jobs. The scheme in Malahide that I have referred to has taken persons who may have been working from a garage or a house in the black economy, into the system. In my view, this is very much self-financing.
The Minister should discuss with the Minister for Finance the question of having section 27 extended to the type of promotion where an old building is developed by private investor, that he or she would get relief on the rents that accrue later. I would like this type of development to be encouraged by an extension of the provisions of section 27 so that the refurbishment of buildings such as old mills, warehouses and schools could be carried out at little or no cost to the Exchequer. Instead of wrecking or levelling of buildings with a one man JCB the owners could be encouraged to replace dereliction with development and thus provide valuable workspace units on such leasehold or rental terms as would allow the owner to recoup in time his or her outlay by writing off the capital cost against rents accruing from the development. That is something that might be looked at.
This does not represent such a big concession as it at first seems. For example, there are very attractive tax breaks available to encourage the revitalisation of inner cities within the designated areas. This means that a person on a particular rate of tax actually earns income by renting a premises within a designated area or alternatively a person willing to acquire and to redevelop old premises, may avail of capital allowances which can be offset against current income. These tax breaks apply to inner city zones in Dublin, Cork and Limerick and other areas as well as to a sizeable list of provincial centres. It applies even to buildings or restoration of dwellings in designated areas. My proposal is more simple. It is to ask that the concession of section 27 relief be extended to derelict sites in non-designated areas where the restoration and redevelopment works would be for the purpose of providing enterprise workspace.
If I could be parochial for two sentences. In my constituency, the town of Balbriggan, an area where there is very high unemployment, unfortunately, and a lack of investment both public and private, there are many old factories that with the right type of tax incentives would be redeveloped. This would have a major impact in improving the environment and more importantly or equally importantly would provide jobs. I hope to have an opportunity to come back to the Ministers on that, to see if that town can be helped.
I would like to make a few points about the city and the corporation. The present physical planning system envisages as a priority the preservation of amenities and the renewal of obsolete areas. However, over the past ten to 15 years we have seen the complete dereliction of Aston's Quay and Batchelor's Walk just yards from the centre of the capital city. This dereliction was a joint effort between Dublin Corporation and the property owners. It is not true or fair to theorise that if the development plans, planning enforcement and urban renewal incentives were doing the job, we would not have any dereliction. The ridiculous road planning schemes adopted by Dublin Corporation were the main contributory factor to this dereliction. Over the years owners of property were not permitted to redevelop pending the implementation of the new ring road systems proposed. This resulted in property being allowed to become derelict while awaiting compensation or compulsory purchase orders. It is for this reason that the problem in Dublin is extensive. I would like to suggest to the Minister that a more flexible approach should be adopted in the development plans at present under review in relation to derelict sites.
I genuinely believe that temporary permission should be encouraged even for non-conforming uses. These uses may from time to time be in conflict with the zoning of the area but would be of great social use to the community — scout dens and various other community uses could be allowed where there is this type of road lines. The idea of a temporary permission is worth pursuing. It is something that would possibly eliminate the situation we have had in the capital city over the years, while waiting for road lines to come on board. This dereliction has been spoken of by many Senators over the last couple of weeks.
I am pleased that the powers in this Bill will put an end to carelessness or neglect on the part of local authorities in dealing with their own derelict sites. Under section 11 the duty of reasonable action falls on the local authority. Section 12 goes on to outline the power of the local authority to take action directly or to make the owner take action. This is where the Bill is clearly a two-edged instrument. It would be very difficult for a local authority to apply the powers under this Bill against a third party if at the same time they were failing in their duty as the owner/occupier of lands. The powers conferred on the Minister in section 13 should prove an effective break on any local authority whose lands might fall short of the requirements.
Finally, if I might turn to the implications for the environmental aspect of tourism in so far as dereliction is a factor, one of the great annual events in Irish tourism, is the Bord Fáilte Tidy Towns Competition. Under the aegis of this competition, many derelict sites have been eradicated by the voluntary workers, who year after year by sheer persistency and unremitting effort have done incalculable work in the reduction of dereliction. Having attended the annual award winners press conference on six occasions when Malahide was awarded the accolade of the Tidiest Large Town, I am well aware of the views of tidy towns campaigners on the problem of dereliction. From Bord Fáilte personnel I am aware of the negative impact which derelict blackspots have on visitors. With those two perspectives very much in mind, I could never overstate what I perceive to be the value of this legislation.
This Bill will do great things for tourism and for Irelands clean, green image. The image of Ireland as a clean green island on the fringe of Western Europe is a key point in the marketing strategy of food exporters. Anything we do to boost this image greatly enhances the marketability of our food abroad. We must never forget that the IDA and other agencies and individuals are constantly seeking to woo foreign investment so as to create employment. Investing companies use personnel from the company base to oversee subsidiaries. These foreign managers will not choose to live in areas whose landscape is married by dereliction. When acts of vandalism occur we are very quick to lay blame usually on teenagers who very often are obliged to live out their young lives in the shadow of derelict buildings. They are surrounded by derelict sites and the physical evidence of decay and neglect. The owners of the buildings live elsewhere and find it easy to condemn these young people.
This Bill has as one of its ingredients environmental reform which is the forerunner of social reform. The Bill has both direct and indirect values which will in time realise to all of our advantage. It is a very important Bill and taken together with other legislation for the control of litter, it will bring us close to the ideal of a clean green country. I am very happy to congratulate the Minister on promoting this Bill. I sincerely hope it will pass through the Seanad as quickly as possible so that it can come into force.