Monday, 10 May 2010

Speech Proposing Review of Derelict Sites Legislation

Here is the speech I gave on my motion on Derelict Sites at today's Council meeting. The motion was unanimously agreed by the members of the Council. I'll be sure to update this blog with any reply from Minister Gormley.

Motion 4: Cllr Dermot Looney
"That this Council, in light of existing derelict sites in the county, including the McHugh's Site in Greenhills, and the likelihood of further sites in the coming months and years, notes that existing legislation, including the 1990 Derelict Sites Act, fails to empower local authorities and communities in appropriately resolving the dereliction and neglect caused by these eyesores. This Council calls on the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government to conduct a review of the relevant legislation and practice in the area and, on the basis of such a review, to introduce changes to redress the balance between the interest of developers and those of local communities."

The purpose of this motion is to set in place an historic review of the legislation governing derelict sites in this county and across Ireland. It is timely given the likely onset of dereliction across the grey swathes of NAMAland. But it is equally relevant to the extant eyesores which already pollute our area.

The citizens we represent are entitled to have their communities protected within, by and through the public sphere. That notion of a public sphere was under constant attack throughout the so-called boom. Developers and their developments, no matter how unsuitable or impracticable, were lauded in the name of progress.

Those of us who dared to question the landgrabs, the gazumpers, the get-rich-quick overdevelopment and the greedy hanging on to sites in the hope of further price inflation, were accused of begrudgery and drudgery. Now, as the bubble lies burst on so many of their properties, they’re the ones being bailed out by their Government friends, and as those developers retreat into comfortable obscurity, or scarper out of Ireland altogether, the ghost estates and other kips left behind continue to haunt our communities.

The existing legislation and practice have failed, and failed miserably, to protect the communities we represent. The legislation is out-of-date – as well as the 20 year old Derelict Sites Act, much of the role of our councils relies on a Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act from 1964. The legislation is overly-complicated – the myriad processes remain a mystery to communities after years of involvement in seeking cleanups and repairs. And the legislation is clearly pro-developer and anti-community.

The 1990 Derelict Sites Act tells us that “It shall be the duty of a local authority to take all reasonable steps (including the exercise of any appropriate statutory powers) to ensure that any land situate in their functional area does not become or continue to be a derelict site.”

Regarding the McHugh’s site in Greenhills I refer to in the motion, many of these steps and powers have been taken. But rather than a neighbourhood centre providing services to our community, or even a cleaned-up patch of open space, we are left with the neglect, the eyesore, the dumping and the rats. Up ‘til recently we also suffered vast scrawls of graffiti, an unsecured entrance, so-called antisocial behaviour within the site and the danger of bonfires at Hallowe’en. This Council called, as part of the statutory powers spoken of, for the provision of a brick wall at the site. Instead, the developer threw up a few sheets of MDF hoarding in a job that would make a cowboy builder blush.

The long, drawn-out process taken against McHughs and its sister derelict site less than a mile away at the Burmah Garage in Wellington, and the drip-drip of action and inaction, have led to almost 20 years of dereliction on these sites alone. There is no more damning evidence of the failure of derelict sites legislation than the failure to deal with those who own those sites. As Seán McHugh sits in the Spanish sun, the communities left without a neighbourhood centre, a Post Office for old age pensions or a pharmacy for medicines stay behind as victims of pro-developer legislation.