| 11°C Belfast

Republic of Ireland auctions off ‘ghost’

The Republic’s Planning Minister Ciaran Cuffe has blamed city and county managers for approving plans that have left hundreds of ‘ghost' estates dotted around the country.

In his first public speech since being appointed to office last month, Mr Cuffe also confirmed the Republic’s ‘bad bank’ NAMA would demolish unfinished homes in exceptional circumstances — but that the bill would be picked up by the developer.

Speaking at the Irish Planning Institute's (IPI) national conference in Tullamore, Co Waterford, the junior minister said the Department of the Environment would complete a count of vacant properties by the end of the summer, which would show the extent of the problem.

Estimates of the number of empty houses and apartments range from 301,682 to 352,414.

But the responsibility for the planning mess rested with local authority managers, the minister said. “The decision to grant or refuse permission comes down to the manager. They have to sign off on the developments and I intend to meet with the City and County Managers Association to discuss this issue.

“There will be isolated cases where there are health and safety issues, where there's inappropriate development in absolutely the wrong areas. The best way to deal with it may be to get rid of it.

“Fundamentally, it will be the responsibility of those who own the properties, many of which will come into the possession of NAMA.”

Councils have also zoned too much development land. Last October, it emerged that there was enough land zoned to build more than a million homes.

IPI president Gerry Sheeran said the advice of local-authority planners was “often ignored” and the “victims” of such decisions were the people “living in unfinished housing estates or on land zoned on flood plains”.

Such is the excess of supply that receivers are selling homes at fire-sale prices, notably in Longford and Mullingar. But Leitrim County Council's planning officer, Ciaran Tracey, said the 1,000 vacant units in the county could be assets to help attract inward investment. He said: “In Leitrim, we look at houses as an asset which will help us to attract jobs.”