Cllrs up in arms at ‘appalling’ penalties levied on derelict buildings

The former Corrib Great Southern Hotel in Galway.

The amount of money collected by Galway City Council from the owners of derelict sites has been blasted as “appalling” – as anger mounts over the number of dilapidated buildings blighting the city’s image.

Members of the Council’s Strategic Policy Committee on Environment, Recreation and Amenity were informed at their last meeting that, since 2010, a total of €51,038 had been levied on the owners of the 20 derelict sites listed on the local authority’s register.

To their chagrin, it was revealed that only €31,450 of that had been collected while the balance has been written off – having been deemed “uncollectable”.

Fianna Fáil councillor, Peter Keane, lambasted members of the Council Executive for failing to collect more, given that some of the sites on the register are above seven figures in value.

“I am appalled that this local authority has only levied €51,000 with regard to derelict sites – when is this local authority going to get serious about derelict sites?

“To suggest that is acceptable at any level, in this day and age, is appalling and we should be ashamed of ourselves,” exclaimed Cllr Keane.

Sites are placed on the Derelict Sites Register following a process which involves engaging with the property owner in an effort to remove the dereliction.

Once the site has been entered on the register, the local authority can implement a three per cent levy based on the market value of the property.

More focus should be placed on collecting what is owed rather than assisting the owners of these properties, said Cllr Keane adding, “that €50,000 would become €500,000 or €5 million very quickly”.

Local Councillor, Pádraig Conneely, was aghast that while the Council has carried out 46 inspections of properties, many of which are not on the register, it cannot reveal those properties as a result of Data Protection legislation.

“It is the same derelict sites time and time again. I note from the report that since 2010, a total of €51,000 was fined but you wrote off €20,000 of that – it seems very little to me and it would cost nearly as much in legal fees and inspections.

“You have here, ‘I am unable to issue a list of sites inspected’, under data protection – does that mean we are not allowed to know what you are doing,” queried the Fine Gael councillor.

Community representatives on the SPC expressed disappointment at the slow pace of action on derelict properties with Brendan Smith calling them a “cancer on the city”.

Caroline Stanley made reference to the Corrib Great Southern which appears on the register as having had the “majority of works completed”.

“Does that mean that it can stay there for another 10 years the way it is, because it is boarded up,” asked Ms Stanley.

Independent Councillor, Colette Connolly, said Galway should be following Louth’s lead in acquiring derelict sites by Compulsory Purchasing Order (CPO) to add to their housing stock.

“Louth County Council managed to do this with 50 properties and they tell me that if they cannot get the details of the owners from the land register, they hire a private company to do it for them.

“I cannot understand why we can’t do the same – if there is a staffing issue, let the CEO [Brendan McGrath] and the Director of Services inform us today,” said Cllr Connolly.

Newly appointed Acting Director of Services for the Environment, Gary McMahon, said that while he understood the frustration of members, the Council’s aim with this legislation was to remove the dereliction rather than generate income.

“The purpose of this is to remove dereliction or to mitigate it – it is not a revenue-raising function. Similarly, this is not an adjunct to our housing purposes.

“The €20,000 was written off because they were statute barred [passed the period of limitations],” he said.

Mr McMahon said that the council had bought two properties by CPO but there were few opportunities to add to the housing stock from those properties on the register.

“We cannot give names of the 46 properties for data protection reasons – I am not using it as a cloak of invisibility. If you can identify the property, you can identify the owners and may be subject to future litigation,” he explained.

Accepting some of the criticisms from Cllr Keane, Mr McMahon said that a different approach may be needed in the future which could involve cross-departmental co-operation.