06 Jul 2022

Laois council called on to put 'serious levy' on vacant properties and 'implement law'

'Very concerned' Laois County Council demands 'immediate attention' for derelict Portlaoise shopping centre

Gardaí in attendance at the Centrepoint complex which is finally being demolished by its owners after action from council in 2021

Councillors want Laois County Council to penalise the owners of vacant properties with fines but one public representative has queried why the council did not report charging any owner as emerged recently in the Dáil.

The issue of vacancy was raised recently by Cllr James Kelly, Independent, when he highlighted a new initiative by the council involving vacant and/or derelict properties in towns and villages. He said the council had invited expressions of interest for the supply of such properties for extra housing in Laois.

While he said this should be highlighted, he questioned what was happening on the enforcement of vacant property laws in Laois. He referred to recently published figures following a Dáil Question which showed that the Laois local authority did not submit a return on its Derelict Site Levy figures to the Department of Housing for 2020.

Under the Derelict Sites Act, councils can apply the levy, which requires owners to take appropriate measures to deal with the dereliction, or attempt to acquire sites by agreement or compulsorily.

While just a fraction of the €12 million levied by other councils was paid by owners, Cllr Kelly still wanted to know that the problem is in Laois.

He said: “What is the issue that we have?”  

Cllr John King, Fine Gael, felt the answer to his colleague's question was resources.

“We need to get more resources into our housing and planning section so that we as an authority can stay up to speed with the requirements,” he said.

Cllr King felt there is an opportunity for housing from vacancy. He said it would be better for the council to buy these properties if they are suitable for social housing.

“There are a lot of vacant and derelict sites in our towns and villages and there are avenues who have these premises to seek help and advice from the council so that we can repopulate our towns and villages to be a nice place to live,” he said.

Nevertheless, Cllr King supported Cllr Kelly on the need to get tough with owners saying dereliction is an issue for all councillors. He said he had come across the issue in Rathdowney where the owners of such properties do not live in the town or county.

“If they are not going to do something about their properties we have to put a serious levy on them,” he said.

“I have no time for people who leave properties vacant; the only way to penalise them is through serious levies and giving them three to five years to make up their mind on what they are going to do with the buildings,” he said.

Cllr Ollie Clooney, Independent, backed his colleagues.

“There is nothing as annoying as derelict properties left for years,” he said.

He also called for the council to be more proactive.

“We have to up our game for 2022. Where these properties are vacant we have to implement whatever law is there - no ifs or buts,” he said.

Cllr Paddy Bracken, Fianna Fáil, agreed with his colleagues saying it is time to get rid of dereliction.

“We have to get going in 2022 with a vigorous campaign. There is a lot of property that could be converted, especially in towns,” he said.

Cllr Bracken added that the council had recently been given the go ahead to recruit six new staff in the housing section.

The issue was raised at the December meeting of the Borris-in-Ossory Mountmellick Municipal District.

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