CORK City Council has defended its approach in tackling building vacancy in the city centre by warning absentee landowners that they will face penalties.
It emerged that the local authority is one of 22 nationally not to publish an updated Vacant Sites Register this year, meaning that the owners of unused will escape the increased levies introduced by central government.
New legislation will hit landowners of vacant properties with levies of 3% on January 1, 2019, with levies increasing to 7% the following year if the site remains unused. However, the levies are only applicable to sites included on Vacant Sites Registers as of January 1, 2018.
While Cork County Council updated its list to include 32 sites, the city failed to do so.
Ann Doherty, chief executive of Cork City council, moved to play down fears about the city's action on vacant sites in the city centre, though.
"It's not just a matter of saying that a site is vacant and putting it on a register," she said.
"There is a process of engagement with the owners and due diligence that is required and, often, you find that there are plans in place which would mean it is not appropriate to put certain sites on the register.
"There are a small number of properties that will be going on the register over the next couple of weeks."
Ms Doherty said that the city favours working with owners of the sites in question to return them to use rather than applying punitive measures. However, she said the City Council will not shy away from hitting vacant properties with increased levies if required.
She said, "It's not in anyone's interest to create registers and put properties on them. I would far prefer to get them into productive use. But, this comes with a health warning: if people are not prepared to do the necessary work, we will intervene.
"In the case of derelict sites, we will take them over. In the case of vacant sites, they will be subject to a very significant levy.
"For me, it is the end of the process, not the beginning. Let there be no doubt, we are well prepared to go to the end of the line when needed and we have done it."
A spokesperson for the local authority confirmed that notices will be issued shortly in a bid to motivate activity on a number of sites.
A spokesperson for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government noted that adding a site to the register requires 'considerable preparatory work.' This includes giving written notice to registered owners, establishing that sites have been vacant for more than 12 months and obtaining market valuations.
"The local authorities that currently don't have their registers populated are progressing the implementation of the levy and will progressively populate their registers over the coming months once satisfied that sites have been vacant for at least twelve months, with a view to applying the levy in subsequent years," the spokesperson said.