A new vacant site levy on vacant urban sites, not coming forward for development, was established under the Urban Regeneration & Housing Act 2015. This levy is a site activation measure, to ensure that vacant or underutilised land in urban areas is brought into beneficial use. At the passing of this Act, the Minister stated that this is a "visible demonstration of the Government's commitment to tackle reasons why so many key sites that are suitable for development are not coming forward at a time of such a major need for housing".
What is a Vacant Site?
A vacant site is set out in Section 5 of the Act, and is defined as any land (exceeding 0.05 hectares) where:
- in the case of residential land: there is a need for housing in the area, the site is suitable for housing and the site, or majority of the site, is vacant or idle; and
- in the case of regeneration land: the majority of the site is vacant or idle and is having a negative impact on the character of the area.
On January 1st 2017, Kilkenny County Council established a Vacant Sites Register. An identified vacant site can be entered on the register when the Council is of the opinion that it has been vacant for a minimum of 12 months preceding its entry on the register.
Note that according to Section 5b of the Act, residential sites depending on investment in public infrastructure and facilities (e.g. road infrastructure and/or water services) to facilitate development do not qualify as Vacant sites (e.g. in the case of Kilkenny City, sites in the Western Environs and at Loughmacask when initially examined did not fulfil the criteria for inclusion on the register at that time). However, as circumstances change in relation to access to the necessary infrastructure, sites will be re-examined against the criteria outlined in the Vacant Site levy legislation.
The Vacant Sites Register is available here.
What has been the process to date in County Kilkenny?
In line with the approach outlined in the Department's Circular Letter PL7/2016 "Re: Implementation of the Vacant Site Levy", in the first instance the Council provided for the development of vacant sites in designated areas as an objective in the Development Plans. The designated areas correspond to the County Core Strategy (and settlement hierarchy) with Kilkenny City and Ferrybank as the largest urban centres, and the next tier in the hierarchy being the District Towns of Callan, Castlecomer, Graiguenamanagh and Thomastown.
Variation 2 to the County Development Plan, and Variation 4 to the City and Environs Development Plan, which established the policy context for the implementation of the levy, were adopted by the Council on Monday the 23rd October 2017. Provision for the application of the levy was also included in the Local Area Plan review process for Ferrybank and Castlecomer. In line with this, a targeted approach has been taken in Co. Kilkenny and sites in Kilkenny City, Castlecomer and Ferrybank were selected to begin with, as the relevant Development/Local Area plan policy context would be in place in these urban locations by the end of 2018, when the levy is payable.
Kilkenny County Council notified the property owners of 35 vacant sites in these 3 targeted locations by way of letter in November, 2017, which outlined for what reasons their sites were considered vacant under the legislation. The identification of these sites did not require entry onto the lands.
Property owners had the right to make a submission and 24 submissions were received. All submissions were considered. Following this consideration, a total of 30 sites were then entered on the vacant site register in December 2017. The Council served a second notice to the owners of these 30 sites in December, stating that their sites were now entered on the Register, and giving them information on how to appeal.
The vacant site register went live on the Council's website on 21st December, 2017.
It is important to note that this is the starting point of an ongoing programme of identifying and registering vacant sites, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. The next phase of additions to the Register will be for Callan, Graiguenamanagh and Thomastown. Following that, the only other areas that can be targeted for the levy are the remaining settlements with zoning (i.e. Bennettsbridge, New Ross Environs and Kilmacow). Kilkenny County Council welcomes suggestions for sites in any of the designated areas to be included at any stage.
What are the next steps?
Kilkenny County Council must determine the market value of a vacant site as soon as practicable after it is entered on the Vacant Sites Register and owners must be notified of same. In this regard, the Council are currently preparing a tender brief for preparation of valuations of the sites on the Register. It is anticipated that market valuations will be completed by the end of March 2018. The Council must notify property owners of the valuation and inform them of their right of appeal. The owner can appeal the valuation to the Valuation Tribunal within 28 days of the notice. Subject to the right of appeal on a point of law, the decision of the Tribunal is final.
Before 1st June 2018 the Council must give a written notice to the owner of any vacant site on the Register stating that the site is on the register, giving the detail of the information contained on the register, giving notice of the levy, and informing the owner of their right to make submissions within 28 days of the date of the notice.
The Council will consider any submissions received and if it is satisfied that the site is no longer vacant, it shall cancel the entry on the Register. Where the Council does not cancel the entry, the Council shall give written notice to the owner and the owner may appeal that decision to the Board within 28 days.
From 2019, the owner of a vacant site who receives a demand for payment of the levy may appeal against same to ABP within 28 days of the date of the demand on grounds that the site is no longer vacant or that the calculation of the levy is incorrect. If ABP upholds the appeal, then either the entry shall be removed from the register and the demand cancelled or it will advise the Council of the correct amount of the levy and an amended demand shall issue.
What information will be found on the Vacant Sites Register?
Each vacant site placed on the register will include the following information:
- Where the site comprises registered land, the folio details
- The name and address of the owner
- Particulars of the market value of the site; and
- Such other information referred to in the Act that the Minister may prescribe.
Additional information in relation to dates and location may also be provided for ease of reference.
What will the amount of the levy be?
A site entered on the register is subject to the vacant site levy, payable in arrears each year beginning in 2019. For 2018, the levy is 3% of the site's market value. (Under Budget 2018, the levy will be increased to 7% for 2019). The levy is payable on demand within 2 months, though arrangements may be made for the payment of the levy by the owner of the site by instalments. If not paid, the levy shall be recoverable as a simple contract debt through the Courts. Any levy due will remain to be a charge on the land until paid. Section 16 of the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act sets out that the amount of the levy varies depending on the relationship between the amount of the site loan and the market value (e.g. if the outstanding amount of the loan is greater than the market value of the vacant site, the levy in respect of that site is 0%).
How can a site be removed from the Register?
At any point, the owner of a vacant site can notify the Council if the site is no longer vacant or idle. If the Council is satisfied that the site is no longer a vacant site, it shall cancel the entry on the Register.
What is the Appeal Process?
Property owners can appeal their inclusion on the vacant sites register to An Bord Pleanála (ABP) within 28 days of receipt of the second notice. In the case of those that have appealed, entry on the register shall not take effect until the appeal is finally determined by ABP.
What if the land is being used for Agricultural purposes?
In accordance with the Department's Circular Letter to local authorities, where sites have an agricultural use, but are zoned for a particular purpose, e.g. residential, it is considered that the site concerned is not being used for the purpose for which it is zoned. The purpose of the levy is primarily to facilitate the provision of housing, and in this context therefore the guidance given to local authorities is that the levy should be applied including in cases where the land is being put to agricultural use.
What is the difference between Vacant sites and Derelict Sites?
A vacant site differs from a derelict site in that under the Derelict Sites Act, a derelict site is any land that "detracts, or is likely to detract, to a material degree from the amenity, character or appearance of land in the neighbourhood .... because of: Structures which are in a ruinous, derelict or dangerous condition, or the neglected, unsightly or objectionable condition of the land or of structures on it, or the presence, deposit or collection of litter, rubbish, debris or waste." The vacant site levy is an activation measure aimed at encouraging landowners in urban areas to develop residential or regeneration land primarily for the purposes of housing, whereas the derelict site levy is aimed at improving the character of an area, through for example addressing eyesores and sites that are a source of anti-social behaviour.
Where can I find out more?
You can contact the Planning Department on (056) 7794010 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
This website will be updated as the process progresses.
Urban Regeneration & Housing Act 2015
Vacant Sites Register
Small Business Vacant Premises Scheme
Repair and Leasing Scheme for Vacant Houses