2-Year-Old's Death Draws Attention to Ireland's 'Ghost' Housing Developments
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DUBLIN -- The death of a toddler in one of Ireland's unfinished housing developments, known as ghost estates, has reignited a national debate about what to do about the thousands of such housing developments strewn across the country.
The boy, 2-year-old Liam Keogh, seems to have followed his dog through a gap in a mesh fence last Thursday into one of these unfinished developments in Athlone, a Midlands town. He was found face down in a puddle near an open drain and died a few hours later in the hospital, apparently from drowning.
"The tears came to my eyes last night when I heard," a junior minister, Michael Ring, told the national Newstalk radio station on Friday. "It's tragic, it's terrible, and I have to say the government has no choice now but to tackle ghost estates. It's a national scandal."
Marketed by estate agents as "exclusive," the Glenatore development where the toddler died is typical of many ghost estates, which were often built on the outskirts of towns where there is now little demand, given the economic downturn. Glenatore was supposed to contain 66 houses and apartments. In the end, only 18 were built, of which 13 remain unoccupied, and parts of it resemble a building site.
Ghost estates are defined as developments of 10 dwellings or more where at least half are unoccupied. A Department of Environment report in 2010 estimated that more than 2,800 such developments existed in the country. These estates contained 33,000 complete or almost complete units that were empty. An additional 10,000 houses were still under construction.
According to subsequent, albeit less comprehensive, surveys, this figure is actually rising, and there are now 180,000 units unoccupied, many of them in rural towns and villages. A dearth of banking credit means even willing developers do not have the capital to complete the housing tracts they started and would-be homeowners cannot obtain financing to buy the houses.
Last year, the National Asset Management Agency, which has taken over a number of developments from developers who have gone bust, agreed to pay $4 million to deal with safety issues like open manholes and incomplete sewerage systems. The government agreed to establish a separate $6.7 million fund for local authorities to carry out similar repairs. But it emerged after a number of months that only a fraction of this was actually spent, leading to accusations that the problems were not being taken seriously.
Some experts believe there is no option but to demolish at least some of the developments, asserting that they will never have any economic value and would be inappropriate even for public housing.
The proliferation of ghost estates "shows up a number of issues that emerged during the boom, where there was poor planning, the building of large tracts where there was no infrastructure, no transport links and other links, which have probably diminished in the meantime as a result of the retraction of services," Aine Myler, then president of the Irish Auctioneers & Valuers Institute, told the Irish Independent newspaper in 2010.
She added, "I haven't heard any viable proposals about what to do other than to potentially knock down some of these developments."
First Published February 29, 2012 12:01 am