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Mid and East Antrim Borough Council allows estate agents to resume work at vacant properties

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Call: Art O’Hagan

Call: Art O’Hagan

Call: Art O’Hagan

Mid and East Antrim Borough Council has become the first in Northern Ireland to permit estate agents to conduct viewings of vacant properties in what they say is a bid to support potential investors coming into the area.

The local council informed estate agents by letter on Thursday afternoon, a move which caught agents by surprise.

A spokesperson for Mid and East Antrim Council said: "Council is the enforcement body for regulations three and four (business and closure restrictions), and it is up to councils to assess the risk.

"This has been considered and it was agreed that in order to support potential investors coming into the area that viewings be permitted under very strict guidelines and overseen by council's enforcement officers.

"Such arranged viewings only apply to properties that have been vacant for a period of time and where social distancing and public health guidance can be strictly adhered to. No second viewing would be permitted within 72 hours."

It's understood the measure also relates to homes in new developments.

Mid and East Antrim is the only council to have made the decision, with other councils indicating they would be relying on guidance from the NI Executive and the Public Health Authority.

The Department of Health confirmed councils are now in a position to make decisions on businesses reopening.

"The councils are now designated as an additional enforcement body in respect of Regulations 3 & 4 (business closures and restrictions). The PSNI can also enforce these provisions," a spokesperson confirmed.

"Councils should seek their own legal advice on this if they haven't already done so."

While estate agents have welcomed the move they say greater clarity is needed, with a lead on the matter needed from the NI Executive.

Art O'Hagan, managing director of CPS Property, said the policy should be united between all council areas as larger agents operate in several boroughs.

"The ability to manage viewings in this pandemic needs to be very protective of viewers and staff," he said.

"We in CPS have a health questionnaire and stringent policy in place to protect all viewers, but we also feel the property market needs to be proactive in a safe manner as it's a significant part of the construction industry and employment sector.

"Stormont needs to be clear and supportive and details must be manageable with health and safety to the fore."

Belfast City Council said it is continuing to follow public health advice and guidance from the NI Executive.

"Council will continue to work with key partners in relation to mapping out the Executive's five step plan," a spokesperson said:

Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council said: "The council has no plans at present to permit house viewings for vacant properties'.

And in Antrim and Newtownabbey a council spokesperson added: "Businesses and associated commercial activity should be mindful of the Executive's phased programme for lifting those restrictions in place to protect people.

"On the specific issue of house viewings, the council has yet to consider the matter."

Newry, Mourne and Down District Council said that as far as they were aware council "has no authority to permit or prevent Estate Agents to commence vacant house viewings".

Belfast Telegraph