Vacant Sites Register hopes to fast track building of houses

By Mary Dennehy

WHILE hoping to fast track the building of housing, the creation of a Vacant Sites Register will not be a “hark back” to the times when houses were thrown-up without services, a senior county planner has told The Echo.

The Dublin Vacant Sites Register came into force on January 1, with each local authority obliged to compile a register of lands in its area that are suitable for housing but are not being brought forward for development.

Aerial shot 1 05 January 2017

The legislation, which comes under the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act, will see land, vacant for 12 or more months, examined by each local authority – with the land identified zoned for residential or regeneration purposes.

Nicola Conlon, Executive Planner with South Dublin County Council, told The Echo that, after a site is identified, it will go through a number of levels of assessment before the landowner is contacted and informed that their site is a potential for the register – with all land placed on the register eligible for a land-hoarding levy from 2019.

While South Dublin County Council has been working on its register for a number of months, no sites have yet been listed.

Ms Conlon said: “While officially established this week, the register has been an ongoing process for the last few months.

“There’s a number of factors for each site identified so far and the land must then go through a process of elimination before we will advise the landowner that we believe their site has met all the criteria for the register.”

Landowners have a four-week window to inform the council of why they may believe their land should not be placed on the register after which, the council will adjudicate and make a decision on whether to place the site on the register or not.

If the land is included, the landowner can appeal the decision to An Bord Plenala.

“There is currently no site listed on the register, but we hope to start contacting landowners in the first quarter of this year”, Ms Conlon said.

“The purpose of the legislation is to not have people holding onto land for financial gain… and ultimately we want more housing developments brought forward.

“The register will allow the local authority to ask why people aren’t building? Is there a certain reason? A stumbling block?

“The register will allow us to engage with landowners and get the conversation started…and hopefully bring housing land forward, both private land and land owned by the council.

“We can’t support landowners financially or with the banks but we can ensure that the council is not that ‘stumbling’ block and offer advice and support.”

She added: “[The register] is definitely positive. Traditionally local authorities didn’t have a role in housing provision, unless it was local authority housing.

“While there is lots of privately zoned land across the county, we never had a role in it.

“Now, we will know more about the county… and we’ll have both [private landowners and local authorities] coming to the table with the same goal.”

When asked if the register could potentially lead to mass, unsustainable building, Ms Conlon said: “At the end of the day, no changes are being made to the planning process.

“All proper planning will still be adhered to.

“While the register is a way to fast track housing it’s not a way to deliver houses and not deliver services. 

“It’s not a hark back to the days when houses were built [unsustainably], we’re not going backwards.

“It’s about getting the conversation started and engaging with landowners to deliver housing.”

For further details on the register visit www.sdcc.ie.

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