DERELICTION in Clare towns needs a tougher approach, including the use of compulsory sales orders, according to Deputy Michael McNamara.
The Independent TD told the Dáil that such orders were successful in other countries. “It is done in Scotland and if it is good enough for that country, it might be worth considering in Scariff,” he said.
Deputy McNamara was speaking during a special session the the Town Centre First Policy, unveiled last month by the Department of Housing. The document outlines a number of actions to tackle dereliction including the appointment of Town Regeneration Officers, investment, training for town teams, as well as local plans and national oversight.
Deputy McNamara said that he welcomed the plan, but had concerns about omissions, as well as the “political will” of some local authorities to tackle dereliction.
“To discuss what is in the plan, one of the main actions is that a town regeneration officer will be appointed to each local authority,” he noted.
“That is great but what is it really going to achieve? All local authorities have plenty of staff. It is not as if they do not have any employees. They do; they have lots of them.
“Some local authorities do not seem to have the political will to address the problem of dereliction. That is what I would like to see tackled. What is the problem? Some local authorities are quite proactive. Those in Limerick and Mayo were particularly proactive in 2019, according to the figures provided by the Minister of State.
“Other local authorities have been much less proactive. Some of them did not issue any derelict site notices. I find it hard to believe there are any counties in Ireland without derelict sites.
“It is a blight in every area. It is not as bad as it was and things have improved in the two years since the general election, I think it is fair to say, in most counties. However, it is still a problem that persists.”
Deputy McNamara pointed out that local authorities took different approaches to dereliction. “There is a view in Clare County Council that the problem is legislative and that the legislation needs to be changed,” he told the Dáil.
“Has the Minister of State or the Department consulted with local authorities to know why the implementation of the derelict sites legislative machinery is so uneven?
“Some local authorities are able to work it but others are not. Is the problem legislative? Do we need legislative change? Is the problem a lack of resources in some counties? Is the problem that counties have no resources or that they choose to spend the money on other issues and problems?
“We need to see derelict sites being brought back into use. I think the Minister of State very much agrees with that and it is an ambition in this plan. I am not saying the Minister of State is a fan of derelict sites because nobody is. The question is what are we going to do about it. I do not see enough about that in the plan.”
The Scariff-based TD also backed a call from a high-profile, Clare-born architect for pilot towns to be developed.
“Ms Shelley McNamara, a leading architect in Grafton Architects, is a Clare woman who is no relation of mine,” he said.
“I would not damn her by claiming she supports me in any way whatsoever. However, she has called for pilot projects in our market towns to examine building regulations. Nobody is saying building regulations should be abandoned but to bring older houses to the same standard as a new-build is a big ask, particularly for protected structures. Is there a bit more work that could be done around that?”
Responding, Junior Minister at the Department of Housing, Peter Burke said Councils should be more organised in their approach.
“When local authorities are making decisions on prioritising their work programmes, it should not be the case that individuals working in the vacant homes office are also dealing with broadband provision, for example, and a variety of other tasks,” Minister Burke said.
“Councils must be more co-ordinated in seeking to unlock the potential that lies right in front of them.”
Fiona McGarry joined The Clare Champion as a reporter after a four-year stint as producer of Morning Focus on Clare FM. Prior to that she worked for various radio, print and online titles, including Newstalk, Maximum Media and The Tuam Herald.
Fiona’s media career began in her native Mayo when she joined Midwest Radio. She is the maker of a number of radio documentaries, funded by the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI). She has also availed of the Simon Cumbers Media Fund to report on development issues supported by Irish Aid in Haiti.
She won a Justice Media Award for a short radio series on the work of Bedford Row Project, which supports prisoners and families in the Mid-West. Fiona also teaches on the Journalism programmes at The University of Galway.
If you have a story and would like to get in touch with Fiona you can email her at email@example.com or telephone 065 6864146.