New levy could spur action on Galway’s derelict sites

The former Corrib Great Southern Hotel in Galway.

Last week’s Budget hike in the vacant and derelict sites levy from 3% to 7% could help to get the city over the line in terms of ‘putting cranes back in the sky and boots on the ground’, according to a former Mayor of Galway.

Cllr Pádraig Conneely told the Galway City Tribune that while the new 7% levy wouldn’t be clicking into place until 2019, it could still help to ‘concentrate minds’ and to get work started in moving the city along in terms of getting major projects started.

“Maybe, the new levy could be brought in a bit sooner, but at least it’s on the way, and it has to be a help in terms of developers and site owners getting moving on a series of new projects.

“We need to get the cranes in the sky in the city and boots on the ground. It’s happening in Dublin, Cork and Limerick but we seem to be left behind here in the city.

“What we all want to see is the new levies prompting these site owners to inject a sense of urgency into their future projects. Derelict and vacant sites around the city do no good for anyone,” said Cllr. Conneely.

He also said that the City Council and planners ‘should not be afraid of heights’ in terms of allowing projects more leeway to expand upwards if that what was needed to ensure their viability.

“I would also say that the City Council Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, is very much ‘hands-on’ in terms of trying to get those derelict and vacant sites moving as regards development,” said Cllr. Conneely.

A spokesman for Galway City Council told the Galway City Tribune said that there was an ongoing process in terms of both derelict properties and vacant sites in the city area.

He said that in Quarter One of next year, the City Council would have in place a comprehensive register of all vacant sites for potential development in addition to their register of derelict properties.

“There is an ongoing process in terms of these designations which does take time. In cases for example, there can be legal disputes over the ownership of properties that are not easily resolvable, but the aim is to get those sites back into viable usage,” said the spokesman.

Over the past year or so, ongoing concerns have been raised over the conditions of a number of high profile derelicts sites/buildings around the city, most notably the former Corrib Great Southern Hotel.

At a City Council meeting earlier this year, there was a call for the local authority ‘to stop pandering to the billionaire owners’ of some of the sites around the city.

Another former Mayor of the City, Cllr. Michael Crowe, called at that meeting for the City Council to get tough with the owners of the Corrib Great Southern site [the Comer Property Group].

Later at that meeting, the City Council Chief Executive, Brendan McGrath, rejected any allegations of the local authority ‘pandering’ to anyone, and said that a process was in place as regards this building.

He added that the value of the building would be established and from January, 2018, the 3% levy would be started.

It is understood that at the tail-end of the property crash in 2013, around 30 properties in the city area had been bought up by a partnership involving the Comer brothers from Glenamaddy and the McHale brothers in Ballinrobe for around one seventh of their original €100 million purchase price at the height of the boom.

According to Finance Minister, Paschal Donohoe, the vacant site levy will increase from 3% to 7% from January, 2019, ‘resulting in an effective site levy of 10% over a two-year period’.