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abandoned sites Thousands of homeowners in fight to get ghost estates completed

It is known there are 123 estates still unfinished, with 58 completely unoccupied

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Councillor Jerome Scanlon pictured at an unfinished housing development in Ardagh, County Limerick. Photo: Don Moloney

Councillor Jerome Scanlon pictured at an unfinished housing development in Ardagh, County Limerick. Photo: Don Moloney

Councillor Jerome Scanlon pictured at an unfinished housing development in Ardagh, County Limerick. Photo: Don Moloney

Horses picking their way over discarded breeze blocks, sheep grazing where gardens where meant to be, roads to nowhere with only faded drawings on dilapidated billboards to show what was supposed to lie ahead.

Scenes from a countryside littered with ghost estates haunted the nation following the financial crash of 2007.

When the government of the day ordered an inventory in 2010, the figures that came back were alarming.

There were 2,846 unfinished estates with more than 78,000 households living among the chaos of abandoned developments and more than 100,000 partially-built homes.

A plan was devised in 2011 to find solutions and the result has been impressive, but not a complete success.

Ten years on, thousands of homeowners are still battling to get their estates finished and up to 2,000 potential homes remain in limbo.

Exact figures are elusive. The Department of Housing asked councils for an update last year and the results are being collated.

It is known there are 123 estates still unfinished, with 58 completely unoccupied.

The department is reluctant to put a number on potential homes as some are only at foundation level and others may be beyond potential after years of exposure, but a figure of 1,500 to 2000 is likely.

Quantity does not always convey impact. In Broadford village in Co Limerick, a ghost estate of 14 houses is enough to cast a shadow over the tiny community.

“They’re fed up looking at it,” said Jerome Scanlan, a county councillor for the area.

“It’s an eyesore, it’s a danger if children get into it, it costs money to be kept fenced off and maintained. There was a problem with knotweed that had to be sorted. After 14 years, something needs to be done.”

What particularly bothers locals is that the council is planning a social housing development beside it.

“That makes no sense,” said Mr Scanlan. “There’s a site already opened and foundations laid and some houses nearly finished. We need to be using what’s already there.”

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Limerick City and County Council said: “The site, which is secured, is on the market.

“The council has made contact with the agent for the owner who advised that there was no progression in the sales process from any interested party.”

It said it would now take a derelict site case. If successful, it would allow the council to take over the site or order works to be carried out on it.

Some counties were affected far more than others, with the north-west and border areas falling particularly heavily for the promise of property gold.

Land was cheap and the tax breaks generous. The combination left sparsely-populated Cavan, Donegal and Leitrim with 147, 133 and 96 unfinished estates respectively.

In Donegal, 21 remain, with plans in place for 14.

Cavan has six, with negotiations under way on four.

Leitrim has 12, but some are entirely unoccupied, so the council says the number of households significantly affected is just 24.

The south-west was left with a hefty legacy too. Cork county had 284 unfinished estates in 2010 and still has 22, but 16 are active, meaning works are planned or under way.

Kerry had 152 but was down to 18 at the end of last year with around 250 unfinished homes, of which 190 were on their way to completion.

The reasons some estates are difficult to resolve vary.

A development may have gone through the hands of numerous buyers, banks, lawyers, planning processes and/or Nama over the past decade, leaving local authorities trying to negotiate a solution in ever-changing circumstances.

Finance can be an issue,
for while developers are required to provide sureties – so there is money to complete the work if they depart the scene – these can be hard to unlock.

The original developer may also refuse to give up.

In Limerick, the council last month secured a compulsory purchase order over an empty estate of 33 sites and half-built homes in Rathkeale, but only after eight years of opposition from the owners, who insisted they would complete the work.

It can also be hard to find the right developers to take on an unfinished estate.

Donegal estate agent Eamon Barrett works with a company finishing Doran Close, a 70-dwelling estate in Bundoran that was left with a substantial section incomplete.

He said the task was not for faint hearts or shallow pockets.

“You go into an estate that’s been vandalised and water-damaged and stripped of anything valuable and you have to rip everything out that’s of no use first before you can even begin to talk about finishing it,” he said.

“And you’ve everyone in the estate looking to you to fix everything. So even if you’ve only bought over so many houses, you have to go round the whole place sorting it out – sewage, drainage, roads.

“In fairness, you have to do that so you can sell your own, but that’s not a bargain buy.

“The fact that there’s still empty estates speaks for that because it’s a not a lack of demand that’s stopping them being completed.

“There isn’t a house to be had for rent in Bundoran, for example, and there’s plenty looking to buy.”

The Department of Housing said it would publish a revised list of unfinished developments in the coming weeks.

It said the focus of local authorities was 65 developments partially or mostly occupied but where residents were living in unfinished surroundings. It said a €5m public safety fund was available to local authorities to deal with any safety issues around unfinished developments.

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