*Update*   For details on the county breakdown of estates and units as documented in the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government’s ‘unfinished estates’ survey, published 19th Oct 2010, see here and here.  For an overview of key statistics on housing vacancy, oversupply, unfinished and ghost estates see here.

** To view an interactive map of all 2846 estates in the DEHLG survey and their characteristics see our mapping module.


On Monday we posted an analysis that revealed that there are 621 ghost estates across the country (where a ghost estate consisted of an estate of ten houses or more house built post-2005 where more than 50 percent of units are either vacant or under-construction). What the analysis reveals is that the phenomenon of ghost estates is endemic to every county in Ireland. Simply detailing the number of estates per county, however, can give a false impression of the issue because it takes no account of the size of the overall population. Whilst Cork County (not including the Cork City area) has 90 ghost estates, it had a population of 361,788 in 2006. Leitrim has 21 estates but a population of 28,950. We have therefore standardised the number of estates by per 1000 head of population.

The data reveals is that counties Leitrim (21 estates), Longford (19) and Roscommon (35) have a particularly high ratio of estates per head of population, suggesting that these estates constitute an oversupply in the market. These are followed by Sligo (24), Cavan (21), Monaghan (18), Carlow (15), Cork County (90), Tipperary North (16), Kilkenny (21), Westmeath (18), and Laois (15) (full list below). Whilst some of these estates are vacant holiday home developments, they nevertheless are presently surplus to demand and are unlikely to be purchased in the short term whilst the market is still trying to find its bottom.

Ghost estates for each county per 1000 population

The presence of these estates in the Irish landscape raises some difficult questions concerning what to do about them. Whilst demand might return relatively quickly in urban areas when the economy picks up, and such estates might be used to deal with the social housing waiting list, it is likely that demand driven by demographic change will be weak in rural counties given that recessions generally lead to rural out-migration. It therefore seems likely that many properties in rural areas will remain empty for quite some time before the market picks back up again. Demographic forecasts would suggest population growth will occur over the long term in Ireland, and one would anticipate population levels to rise in the future in both rural and urban areas. There are questions as to whether the houses built in rural areas, in particular, will be fit for purpose by the time the market returns. Unless a strategy is put in place to maintain them, they will be left to the elements and quickly deteriorate.

For those living on such estates there are clearly social concerns about living with few neighbours and/or on estates that are abandoned construction sites with no street-lighting, pavements, or finished green areas, and in locations that lack amenities, services and public transport. Again, a strategy needs to be put in place for dealing with such estates with respect to making them fit to live in and turning them into thriving communities.

Ghost estates are clearly one of the markers of the present recession and it is now time to start to put in place policies that will start to deal with the phenomena, not least for those people who live on them.

The number of post-2005 ghost estates of 10 or more houses with a vacancy/under-construction rate of 50% or more for each county is as follows: Carlow (15), Cavan (21), Clare (9), Cork City (6), County Cork (90), Donegal (22), Dublin City (24), Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown (10), Fingal (17), Galway City (6), Galway County (20), Kerry (21), Kildare (25), Kilkenny (21), Laoighis (15), Leitrim (21), Limerick City (0), Limerick County (11), Longford (19), Louth (17), Mayo (21), Meath (19), Monaghan (18), Offaly (6), Roscommon (35), Sligo (24), South Dublin (7), Tipperary North (16), Tipperary South (17), Waterford City (6), Waterford County (9), Westmeath (18), Wexford (24), Wicklow (11).

Justin Gleeson and Rob Kitchin

We’ve been working to try and identify the location of ghost estate developments around the country. To do this we have been using a script to mine an address database that records details on 1.98m residential units in the state to identify all properties built post-2005 where 10 or more units share the same estate/street address and more than 50 percent are coded as either vacant or under-construction. We have then been through the resulting data to clean it with respect to multiple entries relating to the same estate and undertaken some preliminary cross-checking with house sale websites. (more…)

Since our post on ghost estates a couple of weeks ago I’ve been starting to think a bit about these estates and NAMA.  Any estate where the developer has a loan of over €5m will be taken into NAMA.  This raises a number of questions for those people living in such estates, because NAMA, in conjunction with the developer, has six options as to what it’ll do with vacant and under-construction housing stock in such estates (which will often be deployed in combination).  Each of these options has different consequences for residents. (more…)

We’ve been asked a few questions with regards to our estimates for vacant property (see post here).

1) What do we mean by vacant houses?

The 302,625 housing units we identified as vacant are properties that do not have anybody living in them as their principal residence for the majority of the year.  They are principally vacant, but not necessarily available for the market and include vacant houses available for sale, vacant houses available for rent, vacant houses that are not on the market, under-counted second and holiday homes, and abandoned properties

2) How did you determine that 50 percent of the 215,451 houses built between April 2006 and end of 2009 are vacant? (more…)

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. (more…)

Ireland has never known what to do with the sustainable communities agenda. Whilst concepts such as ‘sustainable communities’, ‘social capital’, ‘community cohesion’, and ‘civic pride’ emerged in the United Kingdom and the United States firmly against the backdrop of Blair and Clinton’s commitment to building a new Third Way, in Ireland these ideas were largely imported, taken to be important, but rarely thought through and certainly not underpinned by a coherent political philosophy.

In Ireland, sustaining communities has been variously taken to mean anything from regenerating deprived inner city neighbourhoods, protecting traditional Irish towns against the tidal forces of development and counter urbanisation, experimenting with new towns (most recently the Special Development Zones symbolised by Adamstown),  manicuring gentrified inner city zones through cosmopolitan dressage and boho-chic imagery, reducing tensions in neighbourhoods between low wage migrant groups and combating Irish racism, forging new links between Irish and British villages and towns along the Northern Irish border, and cultivating new networks and connections between the Irish diaspora and Ireland.

It is generally assumed that the sustainable communities agenda might have been dealt a fatal blow this past year – the crash will finish off any community building activity which may have lingered. And of course one of the most significant secretions of the crash has been the soulless and half filled ghost town. At night residents of these estates light up their patch as a pitiful, broken, and intermittent lantern – a metaphor for disconnection and community degeneration and fragmentation. It is assumed that families living in these estates simply cannot plant roots and germinate into a complex mosaic of community relations.

Surely the ghost estate is evidence writ large that it makes no sense literally to speak of vibrant and sustainable communities in Ireland after Nama? But for a moment, and as a thought experiment, let us hypothesise that it might just be the crash of the Irish economy and the spectacular demise of the Irish property sector in particular that will serve to galvanise a stronger and more coherent political and conceptual foundation for the sustainable communities agenda.

Let us consider the community building which is currently taking place in the ghost estates in more detail. The following negative, damaging, and wounding processes are certainly at work:

a)    Residents living cheek by jowl who have paid significantly different amounts for their homes depending upon when they bought, with some residents living in five bedroom detached houses who last week paid significantly less than their neighbour who is living in a three bedroom semi-detached or terrace house bought at the peak.
b)    Residents struggling to source members and resources for weakened, lethargic, and inept Residents Committees.
c)    Local fees for estate management and lighting are now excessive as they have to be distributed among fewer than expected residents. The aesthetic quality of estates, not least their public spaces, suffer as developers struggle to keep the annual residents fees down.
d)    Estates ostensibly set up for private sale are now offering a quantity of housing for rent and indeed are allocating proportions to the social rented sector. A more transient and complex socio-economically mixed population is resulting.
e)    Speculators who bought housing as investments are now forced to turn housing into alternative functions with at least some potential for return, for instance a local crèche.
f)    Residents are now earning less than they expected at the time of purchase and are living in significant negative equity. They are trapped in the ghost town but have no opportunity of escaping, even for a job opportunity elsewhere. Moreover, it could be 30 years before their property will return to the value it reached when they bought at the peak.

These are processes which have the potential to destroy and undermine communities.

But dare we speculate further?  These processes may also have the potential of forcing people to rethink the meaning of their home as:

– a place to raise families and to socialise with friends rather than to gather equity;
– as a place where necessity is indeed the mother of invention and where exciting innovations in the structures and strategies of resident groups are occurring;
– as a foundation for a new sense of civic pride and proactive involvement in the carte and maintenance of ones ecumene;
– as a site for innovative sorts of social and cultural mixing that would never have taken place during the boom;
– as a place where new services are emerging which may serve socially useful functions;
– as an antidote to the nihilistic nomadism fostered by global mobility.

These estates are places where developers have been stripped to the bone of their pride and arrogance and where customer (after) care and the needs of potentially new residents enjoys a new authority.

Does such thinking betray a desperate search for consolation and redemption in an emerging series of empty, alienating and barren housing landscapes? Probably. But it does suggest that at the very least the ghost estates now dogging the Irish landscape might provide fascinating insights into how novel and unexpected communities might come into existence by a historically unique thrown-togetherness of people, buildings, money, and land. These estates beget longitudinal research from here on in, tracking the ways in which communities are forming, dissolving, battling, agitating, and occasionally winning out despite the odds.

Critical human geographers influenced by traditions of scholarship within Western Marxism have long been concerned the march of commodified, and bureaucratised space and its existential, emotional, and humanistic implications. Indeed in Geographical Imaginations Derek Gregory identifies this concern as potentially significant enough to constitute a framework for the entire tradition of critical human geography. The colonisation of everyday life by the empires of abstract space has become a rallying cry for a new endeavour to peel back the layers of capitalist spatiality to reclaim a less alienated and more authentic set of relations between people and space.

But where are the imperial pretensions of abstract space amidst the broken landscapes of  the ghost estates? Perhaps the veneer of the invincibility of this march has been temporarily halted and abstract space has been shamed into confessing what many critical human geographers know – we are not condemned to live in one dimensional and serialised landscapes! It might be in the ghost towns that place snatches a surprising if likely temporary victory over space. Newness has to enter the world somewhere. Expect the unexpected!

Mark Boyle

According to the 2006 Census the housing vacancy rate in Ireland was at 15%. Rates varied throughout the country with Dublin at 9.7% and rural counties such as Leitrim at 29%!

This is the first look at the spatial distribution of the now vacant properties that have been developed in Ireland since 2006.

This analysis is based on the latest GeoDirectory release (April 2009).

Additional work is underway on a more detailed look at various geographical areas -the Dublin region, commuter towns in the Mid-East and a rural county in the Border region.

Justin Gleeson