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Fine Gael TD for Cork East Constituency, David Stanton, has called for the appointment of more full-time vacant homes officer positions in Cork County Council to further encourage the refurbishment of vacant and derelict properties in towns and villages across County Cork.

Raising the matter with the Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Kieran O’Donnell TD, during a debate on the uptake of the Croí Cónaithe Vacant Homes Refurbishment Grant, Deputy Stanton proposed that an increase in the numbers of Local Authority Vacant Homes Officers would prompt a greater uptake of the grant and the identification and refurbishment of suitable local properties.

The Vacant Property Refurbishment Grant benefits those who wish to turn a formerly vacant house or building into their principal private residence. The grant is available to eligible vacant properties in rural and urban settings up to a maximum of €30,000 for the refurbishment of vacant properties for occupation as principal private residences, including the conversion of a property that has not previously been used as residential. Where the refurbishment costs are expected to exceed this amount, a maximum top-up grant of €20,000 is available where the property is confirmed to be derelict, bringing the total grant available for a derelict property up to a maximum of €50,000.

David Stanton said: “Has the Minister of State any idea of how many vacant homes there are per county? Some work has been done in this regard in County Cork. Does the Minister of State agree that having one full-time vacant homes officer in each county is a good thing?

“For a county the size of Cork, though, does he also agree with its chief executive’s recent statement that one full-time officer would be needed per town to make the scheme effective? There is one officer in County Louth, another in County Waterford and one in County Cork, yet County Cork is four, five or six times the size of some other counties. Does the Minister of State agree a county like Cork should have many more vacant homes officers to make this scheme work and have an impact? There are many vacant and derelict homes around the country that need to be used”.

Confirming that the initial uptake of the grant had seen 84 applications received from Cork County, Minister O’Donnell said: “Deputy Stanton’s point about vacant homes officers was a good and valid one. We would ask local authorities to apply directly to the Department for additional vacant homes officers. We would look positively on that. We want this scheme to work. We would welcome any suggestion of a positive nature.

“If Cork County, Cork City or any local authority makes a business case – it is about volume and about making a business case to the Department – it would be favourably received. As a Department, we have to look at applications in terms of their credibility but at this stage the Department stands receptive to receive these business cases for additional vacant homes officers, and the case in terms of them being full time.

Speaking after the Minister’s confirmation that requests for the appointment of additional Vacant Homes Officers would be considered, Deputy Stanton concluded: “I thank the Minister of State for his response with respect to the fact that local authorities can apply to the Department for more funding to appoint more full-time vacant homes officers. I stress the word “full-time”, that they do not do any other job but that, and that would be a condition of this. In the past, I was told they had ten other jobs and this was the bottom of the list.

We need these officers to go out there and to tap on the shoulders of people who own houses that are empty and properties that are derelict, and invite them to talk and let us get this up and running”.

David Stanton also suggested that local authorities may need to appoint other associated staff, such as those in legal positions, to further support such a scheme.