Tackling derelict and vacant sites in Cork will unlock city’s 'unlimited potential'

Tackling derelict and vacant sites in Cork will unlock city’s 'unlimited potential'

Jude Sherry and Frank O’Connor who have found 450 derelict properties in or near the city centre. Picture: Dan Linehan

FORMER homes, pubs, restaurants and community buildings acrosCork city that were once vibrant and full of life are lying vacant or derelict while Ireland finds itself mired in a housing crisis that is impacting thousands of people.

The issue of housing and accommodation has been in the spotlight once again in recent weeks after the government announced its ‘Housing For All’ action policy, and it was reported that third level students are finding it almost impossible to find accommodation near their college.

Cork-based researchers Frank O’Connor and Jude Sherry have been highlighting both dereliction and vacancy in Cork for several years, showcasing it as a blockade to the housing supply in the area.

The urban design and sustainability consultants returned to Ireland in 2018, after living abroad for a number of years, mainly in Amsterdam.

In recent years, the duo has found around 450 derelict properties within two kilometres of Cork city centre, and have also taken to highlighting dereliction in other cities and counties across Ireland.

Speaking to The Echo, Frank O’Connor stated that, for Cork to meet its “unlimited potential” as a city and provide a viable alternative to Dublin, dereliction and vacancy must be tackled.

“We think Cork is an amazing, beautiful city,” he said.

“If you look at the heritage, wildlife, location, River Lee, and everything, it’s a wonderful place that can and should compete with the likes of Dublin.

“We look at cities under this model of ‘Rest, Play, Work’ which states people should have a home, somewhere to play and create, and access to meaningful work,” he explained.

“If you apply this model to Cork city, it highlights the need to tackle that vacancy dereliction and that will only improve the heritage and this will lead to Cork standing way above other cities.

“The potential of Cork is really unlimited and tackling that dereliction and vacancy would go a long way to tapping into it.”

Cork City Council’s own derelict sites register has around 100 properties currently on the system.

“But we know there’s more than that,” said Mr O’Connor. “We have found around 450 properties within around two kilometres of Cork city centre and there are probably more.

“Some of those are long-term derelict and will need a lot of work, but some could be brought back to life relatively quickly.

“The level of vacancy in Cork is also pretty high,” he added.

“You can see it when you walk around, there’s vacant units above or below shops.”

Jude Sherry also highlighted the issue of vacancy in and around the city area.

“The challenge for vacancy is the lack of laws to tackle it,” she said.

“For derelict sites, there is the Derelict Sites Act which allows local authorities to add sites to the register and attempt to bring them back into circulation through engaging with owners.

“There’s not much the council can do, but there needs to be a full-time vacant sites officer resourced to find these properties and to work to bring them back into the public domain.”

She said there has definitely been a growing awareness of vacancy and dereliction in recent years. “The vacancy in large or new buildings and apartment blocks is particularly grating for people.”

Mr O’Connor noted: “From our view, particularly in the last few months, we have seen the conversation on vacancy and dereliction growing. We’ve been working on a derelict Ireland campaign, looking out even further than Cork because it is a national issue.

“There is frustration there with the local authorities who seem to be boarding up houses in many areas,” he said.

In a statement to The Echo, Cork City Council said that a vacant sites officer has been assigned. However, it is not yet known if the appointment is on a full-time basis.

The council added that reports by members of the public on possible vacant homes to www.vacanthomes.ie will be forwarded to the vacant homes officer.

They will then seek to identify the owners, engage at an early stage with them, and provide them with information on the supports available to bring the property back into use.

“It can be difficult to comprehensively establish ownership or whether such properties are vacant or not,” the council stated.

“Some address referrals on the website also make it difficult to establish the correct location of the site, and properties remain unregistered on Land Direct and the Registry of Deeds.

“Also, a portion of the sites referred have been redeveloped and others are dealt with or referred to the Derelict Sites unit under the derelict sites process.”

In terms of dereliction, a spokesperson for the council said it is currently compulsorily acquiring a number of properties under Derelict Sites Legislation and more are set to follow.

The council also plans to implement a new inspection programme, which will allow for 100 site inspections to assess the status of each site reported as derelict.

The council admitted that trying to identify owners is “the first hurdle to overcome and some owners can be reluctant to engage with local authorities”.

The council said it has supported the delivery of around 500 homes from derelict sites in recent years, including large developments at Green Lane, Hawkes Road and White Street.

The council also reported that, at the end of July this year, 212 vacant social housing properties were under active repair having been made vacant. A further 242 were vacant but are now in the process of being allocated to social housing tenants, the Council added.

Meanwhile, some 67 sites have been added to the Derelict Sites Register in recent years, while 39 have been removed with this largely due “to the removal of dereliction,” according to the Council.

A further 27% of sites on the Derelict Sites Register are in the planning process or have received planning permission in the course of the last two to five years, while others have been sold.

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