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

I thank the Minister of State. It is interesting there are probably more mentions of the Department of housing in the reply than the Department of enterprise, which was responding today. In any event, why should we be concerned about commercial vacancy? I refer to our national development plan and Project Ireland 2040. The plan runs from 2021 to 2030. Contained in this plan is a commitment that Galway, as our city in the western region and our regional economic driver, would grow at twice the pace of Dublin through sustained investment. It also outlines an ambition for Galway to significantly grow its population and jobs by 50% to 60% and become a city of greater scale. With the commercial vacancy rates we are seeing I question our ability to achieve these worthy and ambitious targets. This planned growth is vital to the economic growth of our western region. I ask again that the Department of enterprise urgently review the report I have mentioned and prepare a plan to address commercial vacancy in Galway city and in the west.

I will deal with some of the points the Minister of State raised in the reply she delivered on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Coveney. While I accept vacancy does not represent a productive use of commercial infrastructure, we must acknowledge that if we walk down, say, Shop Street in Galway and there are buildings empty it is not a good look for our city and is bad for other businesses around there that are trying to survive. We need to increase footfall. According to the Minster, Deputy Coveney, vacancy levels can rise and fall. However, figures will show they are only rising. If we look at the programme for Government, we are committed to examining ways to ensure unused buildings come back into circulation. We are four years in now and we are still waiting on a plan to be published on that. I ask again a sense of urgency be applied to this. While I appreciate there have been Government initiatives like the vacant property refurbishment grant and the town centre first policy, these initiatives are from the Department of housing rather than the Department of enterprise. The increased cost of business grant has been welcomed, but the €250-odd million put into that grant is looking like about €5,000 per business. It is not going to be enough to offset the increased costs to business. I urge the Minister, Deputy Coveney, to really take a look at the commercial rates situation. We need to make it affordable and viable for businesses to rent physical premises, especially with the increased use of online shopping. We have to think outside the box for Galway and the entire western region.


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