Yesterday, Thursday 02/06/2022 Francis spoke on the Urban Regeneration Report which was produced by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, which can be read here: https://data.oireachtas.ie/ie/oireachtas/committee/dail/33/joint_committee_on_housing_local_government_and_heritage/reports/2022/2022-05-24_urban-regeneration_en.pdf
I’d like to congratulate my colleagues for their work in the Housing committee on this report and their commitment to tackling the issue of vacancy, and in particular, my Green Party colleague and chair of the Housing Committee, Deputy Steven Matthews.
Discourse from the housing committee on this report surfaced honest dialogue and debate, and thankfully cross-party agreement, that our vacancy levels are incomprehensible, especially at a time of a chronic housing crisis. It is time for robust policy to be introduced, and a commitment by the Department to implement the 39 recommendations of this report.
As Dr Frank O’Connor said - which is included in the report - “the State is not upholding its side of this foundational social contract by allowing extreme levels of vacancy and dereliction to persist. This is a dereliction of duty”
The Green Party have long campaigned for robust policies around the issue of vacancy, and most recently through the Town Centres First policy and its measures. I am personally very grateful to Miriam Delaney, Orla Murphy and Philip Crowe amongst many other academics who have spent much of their academic careers studying and analysing our towns and villages seeking solutions to how we bring people back to the heart of these cultural centres. Towns Centres First aims to streamline the process of refurbishing derelict properties, particularly over-the-shop and stand alone vacant units, which have the potential to revive our towns and villages, attract employment, while creating healthier and safer communities. The 15min cities and the 10min towns concept comes to mind when thinking about the potential future of our urban communities.
The Green Party’s Bill on Vacancy tabled by Deputy Matthews has a strong proposal on how we should implement the vacant tax, which is based on the Vancouver model. The tax gained over $86.6 million in net revenue which they reinvested into affordable housing programmes in the city, seeing a 26% reduction in vacant homes.
In the context of sustainability and reduced CO2 emissions, the built heritage of our towns, cities and villages provides the opportunity to reuse our existing building stock and therefore reduce embodied carbon and assist in meeting our climate change targets.
Our town centres, where one third of the Irish population lives have been carved out, hollowed, where people do not live in the main. A new paradigm is required to bring communities back to our cultural quarters where vacancy is utilised for living, working and social gatherings.
On foot of this report, I urge the Department of Housing to make the commitment that we no longer should be concerned about our vacancy levels. That Ireland will no longer be ranked tenth highest in the world in terms of the proportion of homes that are vacant, that we will no longer see boarded up homes in our urban centres, and finally, that a robust vacancy tax will assist in alleviating the housing crisis by bringing more homes back into use.
Finally I would like to note that refurbishment of existing buildings in urban centres is not an easy or fast procurement process, they are complicated structures, sometimes with ancient histories that need to be carefully protected, however I believe our towns and villages deserve investment, dare I say TLC, which will only benefit all in our society, visitors and future generations.