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964 commercial properties are deemed to be vacant in Co Clare.

Approximately 64 percent of the vacant properties (621) of the vacant properties in the county have a valuation of less than €2,500.

Head of Finance with Clare County Council, Noeleen Fitzgerald confirmed that over half of the properties are in areas “where there is no significant commercial demand. Vacancy is not a choice by owners in these scenarios”.

Under legislation dating back to 1946, an owner or occupier of a vacant property could “claim a refund of the commercial rates paid where the premises meets specific criteria”. Refunds in Dublin, Limerick, Cork and Galway varied at 50 percent with all other local authority areas at 100 percent. “The main purpose of the legislation was to prevent distortion of the rental market for commercial lettings,” Fitzgerald explained.

An update to the legislation five years ago provided a reserved function to local authority members to make a decision at the statutory budget meeting to specify a local electoral area or local electoral areas that the relief would apply for the whole of the financial year and to determine the proportion of the refund / relief that shall apply in each case. To date members of Clare County Council have adopted the rate of 100% at each budget meeting.

Coupled with this, a rates vacancy credit is applied by Clare County Council. Certain criteria must be met to qualify for this including being vacant on the date rates become payable, becoming vacant for letting or sale, repairs or alterations or if it is pending demolition, redevelopment or de-listing as a commercial property. “In the current year Clare County Council estimates over €4.6m in vacant properties across all electoral areas,” the Head of Finance stated.

Cllr Cillian Murphy (FF) proposed at a recent local authority meeting that the vacant rates credit be reduced from the current rate of 100 percent to 0 percent on a three year tiered basis. He believed such a move would assist in reducing “the long term dereliction rate in our towns and villages and to encourage the regeneration of same”. His motion was seconded by Cllr Bill Chambers (FF).

In response, Ms Fitzgerald outlined, “Implementing a rates charge on some electoral area vacant properties where there is no commercial demand will not provide an income stream to this council as there will be an a level of uncollectable debt”. A scheme is to come before councillors before the draft Budget 2021 aimed at providing a motivation to convert long-term vacant commercial properties.

Future schemes should focus “on regenerative capacity and not just financial,” Murphy maintained. “We should be looking at how we can promote the carrot and stick,” he felt.

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