The Green Party is proposing practical measures to bring vacant and derelict buildings back into use.

The Dereliction and Building Regeneration Bill 2022 was introduced by Steven Matthews TD, Green Party spokesperson for planning and local government.

Deputy Matthews explained the importance of his proposed legislation: “To tackle the housing crisis and reduce the carbon impact of construction, we need to take decisive measures to speed up refurbishment of older buildings for housing.

“It is unacceptable that many people cannot find accommodation yet there are vacant houses and buildings in our towns and villages throughout the country.

“My Bill will assist owners to take these empty buildings and above shop units and create homes. Too many of our towns are blighted by neglected and derelict buildings, it is time we refocused on converting them to homes within our town centres.”

Derelict buildings

According to the Green Party, while legislation for derelict sites has been in place since the 1990s, it is no longer fit for purpose.

The party said that this Bill proposes simple and practical changes to modernise the approach, e.g., the current definition of derelict is too limited and allows owners to avoid the derelict sites register with superficial actions like boarding up the windows.

Deputy Matthews has also proposed giving the Minister for Housing powers to direct local authorities to commence compulsorily purchasing sites that are long term-vacant.

Deputy Matthews continued: “The Green Party is committed to bringing life and living back into our towns, villages and cities and ensuring they are fit for purpose for people and families to live, work and for recreation.

“Our town centres should not be left to decline, they have enormous potential and are the core of many communities. This Bill will make it easier to bring life back into these heartlands of local life.”

Rural communities

According to the Green Party, currently there are many towns and villages where derelict properties cannot even be recorded due to the need for the minister to prescribe which towns are considered ‘urban’ for the purposes of the Derelict Sites Act.

To solve this issue, the Green Party’s Bill expands the definition of urban land to cover all land in towns, villages and cities, removing the requirement for the minister to have to make regulations to define where is classified as urban.

A new application process suggested by the Greens called a ‘Towns Centres First application’ aims to make it faster and more streamlined for consenting building upgrades in older buildings for fire safety and accessibility, while maintaining high standards and requiring independent inspection.

“These older buildings are often at the centre of a town and well serviced but require nuanced consideration by planners and regulators,” Deputy Matthews added.

“This will give certainty to owners, architects and builders who want to renovate, upgrade or convert many vacant units across our towns and villages, particularly those ‘over the shop’ units.”