Tom Gilligan, director of services, Mayo County Council.

Mayo wants to be 'an exemplar' in giving fresh life to vacant buildings

A MAYO council official wants the county to be 'an exemplar' in relation to bringing vacant and derelict buildings back into use as houses.

Tom Gilligan, director of services, said there are opportunities available now that weren't there before, especially in terms of bringing vacant and derelict buildings back into use.

A scheme that could be especially helpful in this regard is Croí Cónaithe, about which vacant homes officer Deirdre Swords made a presentation.

“It's a really important scheme for our communities to deal with vacancy and dereliction,” she said.

This is a home ownership scheme that comes with certain criteria but offers up to €30,000 for vacant units and €50,000 for derelict units.

So far, there have been 47 applications under this scheme in the county, nine of them in the Ballina MD area. Of those, 23 are in progress.

Ms. Swords also outlined details of other schemes, including Repair & Leasing (for someone who owns a vacant property and does not want to sell it but also does not want to be a landlord.

The council offers an interest-free loan of up to €60,000 to bring the property back into use in return for the property being made available for social housing for a period of between five and 25 years), Ready to Build (in which a person can buy a serviced site from a local authority at a below-market price to build their own home on), and Buy and Renew (which supports local authorities in purchasing and renewing housing units in need of repair and makes them available for social housing use).

A public information event on the various schemes available will be held in Ballina Civic Offices on February 15, Ms. Swords outlined.

While Councillor Seamus Weir welcomed the schemes, he made the point that for people to take interest in doing up vacant or derelict properties, the simpler the process the better – give them straightforward grants and get on with it.

Councillor John O'Hara said he was probably correct but they weren't going to get schemes like that, and these offer opportunities to people.

His Fine Gael colleague Councillor Jarlath Munnelly pointed out that there is nearly something for everyone now through the various schemes.

The schemes were also welcomed by Councillors Michael Loftus, Annie May Reape and Mark Duffy, cathaoirleach.

Councillor Duffy did say, however, that the level of dereliction across the country is a poor reflection on society.

The schemes could be considered the carrot but there needed to be a stick as well for people who have vacant or derelict properties and leave them on the long finger.

“It's something we have to eradicate because it's impacting on society,” Mr. Gilligan agreed, adding that Croí Cónaithe is especially relevant and focused on getting buildings back into use.

The environment benefits too, as there is a lower impact in terms of emissions when bringing a building back into use compared to constructing a new one.