Under the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 (“the Act”), all planning authorities are required to introduce and maintain a register of vacant sites (“the Register”) within their boundaries.
The aim of the Act is to reduce the number of properties lying dormant in areas in need of housing or development and, significantly for property owners, vacant sites on the Register are subject to a 3% annual levy based on the market value of the property.
Vacant Sites Register and Criteria for Entry on the Register
In order to determine a site’s eligibility for entry on the Register, a planning authority will first inspect a site, photograph it and prepare a report on the site. In practice, these inspections are not being carried out on notice to the land owners and involve external site inspections. They may inspect the site on more than one occasion.
To be eligible for entry on the Register, sites must be over 0.05 hectares and zoned for either residential purposes or regeneration purposes. If the site is zoned for residential, it must meet the following criteria for inclusion on the Register:
- Situated in an area in need of housing.
- The site is suitable for the provision of housing.
- The site or the majority of the site is vacant or idle.
In the case of regeneration land, the site must meet the following criteria for inclusion on the Register:
- The site, or the majority of the site is vacant or idle and
- The site being vacant has an adverse effect on existing amenities or reduces the amenity provided by existing public infrastructure and facilities
If the current use of the site is unauthorised, then the site will be considered vacant. For example, if you do not have the requisite planning to operate a site as a car park, then for the purposes of the Act, the use as a car park will be disregarded in making an assessment under the above criteria.
If your property is on the Register on 1 January 2018 or 1 January 2019, your property will be liable for the 3% levy for that year, payable in January of the following year. There are reductions available if your site is subject to a loan.
How is a site entered on the Register?
When the planning authority has decided that a site meets the criteria for entry on the Register, they will issue a notification to the landowner. The landowner will have 28 days from the receipt of this notice to make submissions to the planning authority challenging their proposed entry on the Register. Given that inspections can take place without notice to landowners, this notice can come as a surprise and given the short period for submissions to be made and significant levy in place, landowners need to be aware of and prepared for the potential impact of entry on the Register.
If, having considered the submissions, the relevant planning authority is still of the view that the site should be entered on the Register, it will proceed to enter the site on the Register. The owner may within 28 days appeal this decision to An Bord Pleanala (“the Board”) who will determine the appeal strictly on the basis of the criteria for entry and will take no unauthorised use into account in making its determination. If this appeal is unsuccessful, the entry on the Register will take effect and the site will be subject to the annual levy. A landowner who did not make any submissions to the relevant planning authority can also still appeal their entry on the Register to the Board within 28 days of entry. To date only a limited number of appeals have been made to the Board, most of which have not been successful.
All landowners should be aware of the Register and should carry out an assessment as to whether their property may be eligible for entry on the Register. A 3% levy on market value could be a significant financial burden - especially in urban areas. Unpaid levies will become a charge on land which will prevent the onward sale of land until the levy has been paid. Therefore, landowners need to carry out an assessment, prepare and take action as necessary in order to avoid entry on the Register.