Council Briefs: Setting the Local Property Tax, Tackling Dereliction and What to Do with O’Connell Street

Dealing with Dereliction

Dublin City Council has compulsorily purchased 35 derelict sites and homes since 2017, 11 of them this year.

Where possible the council renovates the home to use for social housing, said Nial Dully, an administrative officer with the council, in a presentation to councillors on the planning committee on Tuesday 27 September.

“Our purpose is the eradication of dereliction and if we can bolster the number of housing units we will do that,” he said.

There are 77 sites on the derelict sites register at the moment and council staff are working on around 400 more cases, he said.

The derelict sites register can fine the owner up to of 7 percent of the market value of the site each year and the council also charges interest of 1.25 percent per month if the levy isn’t paid.

A derelict site is “any land which detracts or is likely to detract to a material degree, from the amenity, character or appearance” of the neighbourhood, he said.

“The public’s view of what constitutes a derelict site can be different from what is in the legislation,” said Dully. “It is a cause of public disquiet.”

Since 2017 the council has inspected 2,384 sites, sent out 591 warning letters and issued 72 notices of entry, says the report.

There are complex reasons for dereliction, said Dully. “Dereliction arises in the majority of cases in our experience where there are title difficulties, probate issues, owners with personal difficulties, lack of finances, companies in liquidation etc,” says a report to councillors.

The council works with owners and that often produces results and avoids the need for the property to go on the register, said Dully.

Acquisition of derelict sites is more straightforward than other compulsory purchases, he said.

Labour Councillor Declan Meenagh asked about derelict homes on Connaught Street that the council own and which were at one stage removed from the derelict sites register and then re-entered again. “This kind of Lannigan’s Ball approach,” he said.

“It’s a fair point,” says Dully. “We invested a lot of time in those properties.”

Independent Councillor John Lyons said that addressing dereliction is one of the most important issues in the city. “Anywhere where we can turn around vacant sites and structures is crucial.”

Dully said that if councillors are aware of any vacant properties in their areas that appear derelict they should report them. “Just send a quick picture to us and we will quickly assess it.”

Setting the Local Property Tax

Councillors voted at their October monthly meeting on Monday night to keep the local property tax as low as they are allowed to again, as they have in previous years.

This was despite a warning from council managers that the move would leave the council short of €46 million to €50 million that it needs to fund services.

Every year, Dublin city councillors vote to set the local property tax level, choosing whether to leave it at the basic rate, or to vary it up or down by 15 percent. For each of the past several years, they have voted to vary it down by the maximum amount.

A report to councillors recommended that this year, they instead raise the tax by the maximum 15 percent above the basic rate, to plug the gap. The money is needed to meet inflation costs, said the council finance manager, Kathy Quinn.

Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, People Before Profit, Sinn Féin and the independent group voted in favour of the cut, while the Green Party, Labour and the Social Democrats opposed it.

The equalisation fund, which had meant that some of the money collected in Dublin went to other local authorities – and which councillors had cited in the past for voting to keep the tax as low as possible – has been scrapped for 2023.

So all the money raised through the local property tax in Dublin City Council area would stay there, the report says.

But Fianna Faíl Councillor Deirdre Heney said it “still remains a very unfair tax”.

The Department of Housing wrote to the councilto say that it was expected to have a surplus of local property tax this year and that it would have to use that money “to self-fund services in the Housing and Roads areas.”

It was disappointing that the central government had cut funding to the council, she said. “The government and the minister is giving in one hand and taking with the other which means we are just as badly off, in fact, worse off,” she said.

“It’s a tax on the family home and it’s a regressive tax” because it doesn’t take into account the household’s ability to pay, said independent Councillor Cieran Perry. (How much people pay does vary based on a property’s value.)

Perry would support a real wealth tax, he said.

“We all know this is going to be a very difficult winter ahead,” said Green Party councillor Janet Horner, who opposed the cut. “It is those who are vulnerable who rely most on our services and it is those services that are on the line.”

Renewing O’Connell Street

Dublin City Council renewed long-standing plans to revitalise O’Connell Street by restricting the businesses allowed to open there – but at their October monthly meeting on Monday, councillors said that the approach doesn’t appear to be working.

The council carried out a public consultation on its plans to extend a special planning scheme on O’Connell Street, says a report issued to councillors on Monday.

Several building owners made submissions looking for a bit more leeway on what type of businesses can occupy their premises, without applying for planning permission.

Savills, for example, made such a request on behalf of the owners of 2–4 O’Connell Street Lower, which is currently a branch of Ulster Bank – which is closing down all its branches.

The owners of the building want to be able to potentially rent to businesses selling “Cosmetics/beauty products; hairdressers; health food shops; launderette or dry cleaners; mobile phone shop and related goods; wine shops; personal care and grooming services; pharmacy; supermarket,” says the report.

The council’s chief executive, Owen Keegan, said he didn’t think that was a good idea. “The requirement that applicants seek planning permission for certain uses aligns with the overall vision and objectives of the SSPC [Special Scheme of Planning Control],” he said.

The planners can then decide whether to allow the use and if it constitutes an over-proliferation of that type of business.

At the meeting Monday, councillors said they would continue to support the scheme, but many also said that they don’t think it is working.

They called on council management to try to rejuvenate O’Connell Street.

Green Party Councillor Donna Cooney said the council needs to be more ambitious and she would like new features added, like the new fountain, near the Rotunda.

“We need more greenery and we need some of the traffic off that road,” she said. “Maybe we should be looking at diverting the buses off that street.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha said he would support the continuation of the scheme. But “I want to question the efficacy of it,” he said. “What practical effect does it have?”

Most councillors lamented the overall state of O’Connell Street. “Whatever we do with the street, we need to bring life to it,” said independent Councillor Vincent Jackson.

“It’s not just for tourists it’s for everyone, it’s the main street of our capital city,” said Social Democrats Councillor Patricia Roe. “I would stress the need for urgency.”

 

Author:

Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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