There has been a lot of discussion about the ghost estates that haunt many towns and villages across the length and breadth of Ireland. We’ve been trying to find a way to identify them without having to perform an extensive survey. One solution is to use GeoDirectory (the Irish national address database produced by An Post and OSI).

New buildings are eligible to be entered into the database when the initial walls of a property are raised. Data entry is undertaken in a cyclical manner where all rural areas in the country are surveyed once a year and all urban areas are surveyed twice a year. Most new buildings are initially entered as completed but those that are not are classed as ‘under-construction’ and remain flagged as ‘under-construction’ until it is determined that the building is completed through a future survey. Completed buildings that are unoccupied are classed as ‘vacant’. It is therefore possible to determine housing estates where properties have been started but have not been finished, and where finished property remains vacant. (As a test we have carried out a number of site visits in the Dublin and Kildare area and the method seems robust – for example, Hemmingway Park, Clane, Co Kildare, see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Advertised and on-the-ground image of an estate in Clane, Kildare

The map (Figure 2) shows estates that entered the database prior to and including 2007 which still had more than 30 percent of units flagged as ‘under-construction’ or ‘vacant’ in Q3, 2009. The size of the circle represents the total number of units in an estate, and the wedges represent the proportion of property that is ‘under-construction’, ‘vacant’ and ‘occupied’.

Figure 2: Spatial Distribution of under-construction ghost estates

The data reveal that there are 74 estates across the country where over 30 percent of the houses have been under-construction or vacant for over 2 years. These ghost estates comprise 3180 dwellings, 1287 of which are occupied, 1023 under-construction and 870 vacant. The average ‘under-construction/vacant’ rate for these estates is 59.5%. These figures do not include estates with less than 10 properties or estates where all the houses are complete but remain empty.

Given that these estates have remained unfinished for 2 years or longer, and their developers have either gone bust or into hibernation, it seems likely that they will remain incomplete for some time to come. For those people unfortunate enough to have purchased a house on one of these estates, not only will they be coping with few neighbours and negative equity, but also the effects of living on a building site and often without basic amenities such as street lighting and footpaths.

Clearly partially constructed ghost estates are going to be a haunting presence in the Irish landscape for some time to come.

Justin Gleeson, Peter Foley and Rob Kitchin