There’s been a fair bit of discussion in the media as to whether unfinished developments will be demolished.  The Mullingar Advertiser is reporting that a six acre site in village of Ballynagore, Westmeath is being returned to greenfield status by the local authority at a cost of 40,000 euro after local residents pressed for action.  The site presently comprises three almost complete bungalows that were erected in 2009 (I’ve had a look on Google Street View and I think the photo is the site as of May 2010) and was due to double the size of the village if completed.  The site has been described as dangerous posing health and safety concerns, with several large holes and an absence of secure fencing preventing access.  There have been reports of anti-social behavior, with the houses badly vandalised.  It was also unsightly, with several graffiti tags.

Unfinished estate, Ballynagore

There seems to be some confusion as to who owns the site and the person believed to be the developer is refusing to engage with the Westmeath County Council.  Given the lack of cooperation the Council is using the Derelict Sites Act to take action, including knocking down the three bungalows.  At present, the Mullingar Advertiser is reporting that it seems unlikely that the Council will be able to recover the costs of demolition.

Whilst it is good to see Westmeath County Council being proactive in tackling the site, it also raises a couple of questions including:  Why is there confusion over who is the owner/developer? Why can’t the bond be drawn to down to contribute/cover costs?  If the developer has defaulted, why can’t the bank be called on to cover costs?  Is there any possibility of the site transferring to local authority ownership in lieu of costs?  It seems a shame to knock three almost complete bungalows, six kilometres from the M6 at Kilbeggan, but clearly they are in a poor state of repair and the local authority feel they and the site are past saving at this point without the developer’s input.

What the story does make clear is that some unfinished estates are now starting to be levelled and returned to greenfield status.  It’ll be interesting to see the extent to which other sites follow suit.

Rob Kitchin

Brendan McDonagh of NAMA was before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Finance and Public Service today answering questions about how the agency will function.  He reiterated a previous statement detailed in the Independent a few weeks ago (which reported that there are €21b of work-in-progress assets), that NAMA will almost certainly knock down developments that stand little chance of providing a return on the investment of completion, stating, ‘the agency would take a ‘strictly commercial view’ of unfinished building projects, and would not give funding to complete them for the sake of it.’

The agency is almost certainly talking about under-construction projects, in the first instance, where entropy has already gone too far (e.g., unsealed woodframe dwellings) or where the estates or other infrastructure, such as shopping centres or industrial units, are in marginal locations in which there is already large oversupply and shrinking/limited demand.  For projects that are complete and sealed, one presumes that NAMA is going to sit on the properties, provide basic maintenance, and see what happens with the market.  If after 6 or 7 years from completion the market is flat, and there is little prospect of selling on, or the properties have deteriorated to such an extent that they would require major restoration work, they might be knocked.  More likely perhaps is the firesale route as the costs of demolition and reverting land back to agricultural use are not trivial.

Of course, McDonagh is talking about assets heading to NAMA.  What will happen with abandoned, under-construction estates not destined for NAMA or one-off housing, is not clear; but one presumes that, if they are not sold, they will be abandoned to become the next generation of such properties that already litter the Irish landscape as no-one will want to foot the bill for their demolition.  The Irish landscape has often been described as a pamilpsest, with layers of culture and meaning inscribed on it which can be read to provide an interpretation of the life and times of a place.  One gets the distinct impression that the recent follies of Irish housing development and banking will be long visible in the landscape for future generations, who will no doubt still be paying for it (financially, socially and environmentally).

For a longer, more detailed post on what was said at the Oireachtas hearing, see Namawinelake’s analysis.

Rob Kitchin