*Cllr Johnny Flynn. Photograph: Eamon Ward
Ennis town centre can be “re-energised” if “owners of vacant properties take responsibility,” an elected representative of Clare County Council has said.
Shops and commercial properties left vacant on a long-term basis “lead to dilapidation, dereliction and desertion of the buildings. Such abandoned buildings send a message of disregard for the wider community,” stated Cllr Johnny Flynn (FG). He sought the introduction of penalties to coincide with the Council’s scheme in the Budget to try generate activity from the buildings.
Progress has been made on some sites since a small derelict sites team took over the function last March, Director of Finance and Support Services, Noeleen Fitzgerald responded. Derelict sites “which can yield economic benefits, provide town housing such as living over the shop while improving the visual attractiveness of the town,” will remain a focus. Ownership, title and resources continue to be an issue, she admitted.
More than fifty percent of the commercial properties deemed vacant in the Council’s Budget for 2021 “are in areas where there is no significant commercial demand. Vacancy is not a choice by owners in these scenarios. 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,” Ms Fitzgerald revealed.
Creation of a vibrant town centre is a fundamental aspect of the Ennis 2040 Spatial and Economic Strategy, senior executive officer Carmel Greene stated. To do this, it requires “spatial change, enhanced public realm and improved accessibility, to achieve real economic improvements and attract investment. Linked to this will be a re-invigoration of the town centre and an incentive for property owners in the town to meet the transformational challenge”.
Implementing a strategy can “re-energise the town centre particularly with a focus on owners of vacant properties to take responsibility,” Cllr Flynn said at the most recent sitting of the Ennis Municipal District. He noted the “significant incentives” in the Budget whereby owners are given three years to put their property back into use with a rates reduction offered. He continued, “We need to get the vacant properties occupied”.
Owners have been handed real incentives, Cllr Pat Daly (FF) believed. He calculated that up to 40 properties on the main street of Ennis are “closed and derelict” which prompted him to exclaim, “it is not good enough”. Daly claimed, “There are people just keeping their properties empty because they can afford to do it. They should be liable for rates if they don’t take up the incentive”.
Innovation has been applied by the Council of Executive in trying to tackle the issue, Cllr Clare Colleran Molloy (FF) believed. “We have to try to address these high vacancy rates,” she felt and referred to the frequency to which the matter has been brought before meetings.
“I grew up at a time when there was a lot of people living in Ennis with people living in flats above the shops and it felt very safe. It is so important that the town feels safe and there is ownership of the town,” Cllr Mary Howard (FG) recalled. She suggested a workshop be held with owners to inform them that they don’t have to use their buildings for commercial purposes. “We don’t know what the damage will be of businesses having had to close for so long,” she said.