CORK City and County Councils are owed unpaid vacant site levies in respect of properties valued at €259,200, The Echo has learned.
The vacant site levies are being replaced by the residential zoned land tax (RZLT), which will instead tax land that has been zoned for housing.
Figures obtained by Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan showed that 17 out of 31 councils nationwide did not issue any demands for the levies to be paid last year.
A spokesperson for Cork City Council confirmed that they imposed vacant site levies (VSLs) on eligible sites. The city bills in arrears, so for 2022, it would bill for the full year of 2021.
The figures include one site which was billed for the previous three years, but the site was on appeal and the city could not levy it as a result.
The figures show that six sites valued at €434,875 in total in Cork City were liable in 2022 in respect of 2021. The levies are charged at 7% of the market value of the properties.
Payments were collected in relation to three sites valued at €315,875 in total. However, there are still payments due on properties valued at €119,000 collectively.
For Cork county, there were 16 properties valued in total at €8,197,000, liable in 2022 in respect of 2021. The value of demands issued in respect of 2021 was €600,250, for four properties. The number of, and value of sites for which payments were collected in respect of 2021 were both zero. There are payments due in relation to nine properties, valued at €140,200 in total.
Housing Minister Daragh O’Brien responded to Mr O’Callaghan, stating: “It should be noted that under Section 19 of the act, unpaid levies due remain a charge on the land in question until they are paid.
"My department will continue to engage proactively with local authorities to ensure that all vacant site levies due are paid and that the measure can achieve its full potential.”
Anti-dereliction campaigner in Cork City, Frank O’Connor, said the figures are “too low, as not everything is registered for vacancy and dereliction that should be. This needs to change.” Mr O’Connor said all vacant land should be included, and “likewise all derelict properties should be registered. This requires a more proactive approach from the council. The zoned tax is not high enough and is too slow being introduced.”
Green Party councillor Oliver Moran said: “There is an enormous amount of work needed to take place on dereliction in the city. While the starting point is very depressing, there are signs of hope, including a dedicated team now established among officials.
“The most obvious sign of the work this team is doing are notices that are beginning to be put on derelict buildings, where city officials are seeking to identify the owners. The team are currently working on a portfolio of almost 300 properties. These are at various stages from inspections to re-inspections, engagement with owners, and seeking planning permission.
“Out of these, there are 110 sites currently on the derelict sites register, 69 more are being actively investigated and another 45 are being monitored.
“It’s still painfully slow going. Officials emphasise that this is because many of the sites in question are ‘distressed’ in one way or another, meaning there may be legal or other difficulties involved.
“There were seven sites brought back from dereliction in 2022 as well as two cases of the city taking ownership of groups of properties and selling them on for redevelopment. Those were on Cornmarket St and Barrack St. When that happens, it comes with conditions to the sale that the properties must be brought back from dereliction within a set period.”
During the period of 2020-2022, Cork County Council was reviewing and finalising its 2022-2028 County Development Plan. This included a review of zonings and infrastructural capacities, said a spokesperson.
A number of existing entries on the council’s Vacant Sites Register were removed during this period for numerous reasons including the commencement of housing developments, residential zoning objectives being removed from land on the register, and infrastructural capacity no longer being available to serve certain lands on the register.
“Provision is also made in the legislation for levy demands to be paused or reduced under certain circumstances,” said the spokesperson. “As per the legislative requirements, land may be on a Local Authority Register, but may not be liable for a levy demand for that year.”
The annual levy demand is different from the land valuation. Local authorities are required to establish a market value for each entry on its register, with the annual levy representing 7% of the market value of the site.
“The council has provided landowners who are the subject of this 2022 levy demand until the end of January 2023 to complete payment,” said the council spokesperson. “One of the four levy demands issued has been appealed to An Bord Pleanála.
“Since January 2018, Cork County Council has maintained one of the largest vacant site registers nationally.”
Of the 32 original land parcels included in its Vacant Sites Register in 2018, about half of the sites have either been activated for housing or their residential zoning objective has been removed from the council’s County Development Plan.