Seanad debates

Wednesday, 6 March 2024

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Vacant Properties

10:30 am

Photo of Lisa ChambersLisa Chambers (Fianna Fail) | Oireachtas source

According to a new report from GeoDirectory and EY Economic Advisory Services, one in five commercial premises in Galway city is lying empty. The report was published yesterday and reported by Enda Cunningham, the editor of The Connacht Tribune. The report detailed vacancy rates across the country with some very stark percentages, particularly for the west of Ireland.

Nationally, the average vacancy rate is standing at 14.3%. This is the highest it has been since GeoDirectory began its services in 2013. At the beginning of 2013, the vacancy rate for County Galway was 12.8%. Commercial vacancy is on the rise nationally and is worrying but the numbers in the west of Ireland are even more concerning. Galway now has the second highest number of empty premises in the country behind Sligo and the commercial vacancy rate in Sligo stands at 20.5%. In Galway, it is 18.5%; in Donegal, it is 18.2%; and in Mayo and Roscommon, it is 17.4%. They comprise the top five counties, all of which are in the west of Ireland and far above the national average of 14.3%.

By comparison, the lowest rates in the country were in Meath at 10%, in Wexford at 10.5% and in Cork at 12.2% so this paints a very clear picture of an economic imbalance between the west of Ireland and the rest of the country. I believe the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment should urgently review this report and the data contained in it and come up with a properly resourced plan to address commercial vacancy in the west of Ireland.

A breakdown of the figures at the end of 2023 shows that for Galway city, the rate was higher than the rate in County Galway at 20.1%. Tuam recorded the largest vacancy rate in County Galway at 26.1%. That was the sixth highest placed town in the country. It comes in behind Longford at 30.2%, Shannon, County Clare, at 29.8%, Ballybofey, County Donegal, at 29.4%, Boyle, County Roscommon at 27.6% and Sligo town at 26.2%. Not one of those towns is in the east of the country. Apart from Longford, they are all in the west of Ireland. Something must be done about this because they are all west of the Shannon. Why is that?

Dara Keogh, the chief executive of GeoDirectory, has said the rate of commercial vacancies in Ireland has hit a new high of 14.3%. This trend can be attributed to a number of factors such as the rising cost of doing business, changing consumer habits and hybrid working. She says that consideration must now be given to how some of these vacant properties can be repurposed and reused to avoid long-term vacancy and potential dereliction. This must really stand as a stark warning because dereliction is already a problem in the west of Ireland so we do not want to add to it. Annette Hughes, the director of EY Economic Advisory Services, said that businesses have been affected by a series of factors in recent years that have led to challenging trading conditions for many so this increase is not unexpected.

Nothing every stands still, hybrid working has been fantastic for workers and changing consumer habits are part of life so there is little a Government can do about these issues. Moreover, businesses will respond to those consumer changes. However, we can address the rising cost of doing business and this has been highlighted by every business representative organisation, particularly in the past couple of years. A lot has been asked of business this year. We have had auto-enrolment, an increase in the minimum wage, the introduction of statutory sick leave and the VAT rate went back up to 13%. Apart from the increase in the VAT rate, these are all changes that are supported by businesses but they are having an impact on costs.

The elephant in the room is commercial rates. It is simply too expensive to set up a physical business with a shopfront as overheads are so high and businesses are competing with very sophisticated online retailers that do not have the same overheads. We need to think outside the box and evaluate the position of physical shopfronts. We have to encourage businesses to rent premises and to make it affordable for them to do so as otherwise, our city and town centres will be hollowed out and we will have long-term vacancy and dereliction. There is therefore a public interest argument for really addressing the cost of physical businesses on the ground. If we want people to set up businesses, we have to make it affordable. At the end of the day, businesses have to make a profit.


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