In accordance with the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 a new vacant site levy was introduced for vacant urban sites not coming forward for development, including a requirement for all planning authorities to establish and maintain a vacant sites register.
The Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018 introduced additional provisions including an increase in the vacant site levy from 3% to 7%.
The purpose of this legislative process is to act as a site activation measure in ensuring that vacant land in urban areas is brought into beneficial use, thereby promoting and implementing the concept of sustainable urban development.
Section 5(1) and 5(2) of the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 as amended by Section 63 of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2018 define the term “Vacant Site” for the purposes of this legislation.
In essence, a vacant site is any land which exceeds 0.05ha in area where:
- In the case of residential land, there is a need for housing in the area, the site is suitable for housing and the majority of the site is vacant or idle, or is not being used primarily for the provision of housing (subject to the most recent purchase of the site occurring after it became residential land)
- In the case of regeneration land, the site, or majority of the site is vacant or idle and has adverse effects on existing amenities or reduces the amenity provided by existing public infrastructure and facilities in the area in which the site is situated or has adverse effects on the character of the area.
An identified vacant site can be entered onto the Register when the local authority is of the opinion that it has been vacant for a minimum of 12 months preceding its entry on the Register.
A vacant site does not include any structure that is a person’s home.
The vacant site levy is a site activation measure for the purpose of promoting and implementing the concept of sustainable urban development, and to ensure that vacant or underutilised land in urban areas is brought into beneficial use. The levy applies to a vacant site entered on the vacant sites register and for which a market value has been ascertained by the planning authority. The levy is payable in arrears each year by the owner of a vacant site that is entered on the register on 1st January of the preceding year.
The levy shall be payable on a demand being made by the planning authority and shall be calculated at 7% of the market value of the site per annum. The levy is payable on demand within 2 months, however arrangements may be made for the payment of the levy by the owner of the site by instalments. Any levy imposed which remains unpaid shall be recoverable as a simple contract debt through the Courts. Further to this, any levy that is due will remain a charge on the land until paid.
A property owner can make a submission to the planning authority within 28 days after the date of the notice of a proposed entry of a site on the vacant sites register.
Where having considered a submission, the planning authority is still of the opinion that the site meets the criteria in identifying such as a vacant site, this site will be entered on the vacant sites register. A written notice must be issued to the owner when the site is entered on the vacant sites register. A site owner can appeal the planning authority’s decision to enter a site on the vacant sites register to An Bord Pleanala within 28 days after the date of the notice of such an entry having been made. The entry of a site on the vacant sites register cannot take effect until the appeal is determined by An Bord Pleanála. If An Bord Pleanála upholds an appeal the entry on the vacant sites register must be cancelled.
As soon as a site is entered on the vacant sites register the planning authority must ascertain its market value and notify the site owner of same. The owner can appeal the market valuation to the Valuation Tribunal within 28 days after the date of the notice.
A site owner who receives a demand for payment of the vacant site levy from the planning authority may appeal against the demand to An Bord Pleanála on the grounds that the site is no longer vacant or the calculation of the levy is incorrect. The appeal must be made within 28 days of the date of the demand for payment of the levy. If An Bord Pleanála upholds the appeal, the entry of the site on the vacant site register shall be removed and the demand cancelled, or the planning authority will be advised to correct the levy calculation and an amended demand shall issue.
As set out within Section 8 of the Urban and Regeneration Housing Act 2015, each vacant site placed on the Register will include the following information:
Additional information in relation to dates and location will also be provided for ease of reference.
The owner of a vacant site can notify the Council if the site is no longer vacant or idle at any time. If the Council is satisfied that the site is no longer a vacant site, it shall cancel the entry on the Register. However, any outstanding levy for the site will remain payable.
In line with the guidance set out in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government Circular Letter PL 7/2016, Westmeath County Council has adopted Variation no. 4 to the County Development Plan 2014-2020, Variation 2 to the Athlone Town Development Plan 2014-2020 and Amendment 2 to the Mullingar Local Area Plan 2014-2020, providing for the implementation of the Vacant Site Levy within the urban areas of County Westmeath.
In response to legislative requirements, a Vacant Site Register was also established for County Westmeath in 2017. Surveying and analysis of sites was undertaken throughout the County and in applying the legislation as set out, a number of sites were entered onto the Vacant Site Register following the issuing of Section 7(3) notices in December 2018.
An opportunity now exists for each respective landowner to appeal the inclusion of a site(s) entered on the register in December 2018 to An Bord Pleanála.
Westmeath County Council is continuing its detailed assessment of all potential vacant sites within the County. This assessment involves correspondence with the relevant landowners at various stages throughout the review process. The register will continue to evolve in the forthcoming months and years, in accordance with the provisions of the Act and will assist in ensuring that identified lands are brought into beneficial use in the interest of sustainable urban growth.
The Vacant Sites Register is available for inspection at Áras an Chontae, Mullingar, Co. Westmeath and at Civic Offices, Athlone, Co. Westmeath during normal opening hours or alternatively online at WCC Vacant Site Register Online Update_V2