County Council to enlist agents to identify retail-unit apartment conversions

10/03/2020 - 01:50

By Sean O'Riordan

Cork County Council looks set to enlist the help of estate agents to better promote a scheme aimed at encouraging more people to live over shops in towns and villages.

The move comes after a young councillor got unanimous backing from colleagues when he said many businesses have vacant upstairs space above their ground floor retail areas, which would be appropriate to convert into one-bed apartments.

Cllr Ben D’Alton-O’Sullivan said that in order to address the significant shortage in housing supply facing the county, he is urging the council to introduce a scheme whereby upstairs space would be assessed by a housing officer to see if it’’s appropriate to be used for those on the housing waiting list.

He was told that the council is trying to use a scheme which allows for property owners to get a maximum €40,000 grant to do up such spaces in return for leasing them back to the local authority for a certain period of time to people on the waiting list.

However, the uptake hasn’t been what councillors hoped for. Mr D’Alton-O’Sullivan said this is because the grant wasn’t large enough in many cases to make it attractive to property owners. He maintains that the council should also provide businesses with initial 10% rebate on commercial rates, payable for the year in which the agreement is entered into.

“It’’s extremely difficult for single people to get housing. We’’re in biggest housing crisis we have ever faced,” he said.

Cllr Pat Hayes said what his younger colleague is proposing is “a very worthwhile exercise” and also suggested that the maximum €40,000 grant is too small as a lot of the buildings are old and need extensive renovations.

Cllr Danny Collins suggested that many people don’’t know a scheme exists and it should be advertised more. He and other councillors, including Mr D’Alton-O’Sullivan, said they should contact estate agents to identify suitable properties.

“Our towns and villages dying because people aren’t living in them,” Mr Collins said.

Cllr Marcia D’Alton maintained there is merit in Mr D’Alton-O’Sullivan’s proposal and it should be looked at by the council’’s Housing Special Purposes Committee (SPC).

“We should pick a designated town or large village in each municipal district and put (council) people out there knocking on the doors,” Cllr Frank O’’Flynn said.

“Louth County Council brought in compulsory acquisition of buildings and it worked very well. In Skibbereen there are many closed shops on the streets with no life after dark,” Cllr Joe Carroll said.

Cllr Sean O’’Donovan said that the combination of the grant and rent rebate might tempt more businesspeople to sign up to the scheme.

The council’’s deputy chief executive officer, James Fogarty, suggested that councillors write to the department to get the grant increased. He said more advertising of the scheme is warranted, as was the suggestion that they should enlist the help of estate agents.

But he isn’t in favour of a rates rebate as this would reduce council income.

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