Council could tackle derelict property ‘blight’

 By Julie Waters

 

PLANS are in the pipeline to tackle the borough’s derelict property ‘blight’ with a new pilot scheme being considered for Bangor and Newtownards.

Bangor city and its neighbouring town of Newtownards currently ’have the largest share’ of vacancy and dereliction in the borough.

Following a notice of motion brought forward by Newtownards councillor Richard Smart, Ards and North Down Council is to take steps to encourage the reuse or redevelopment of derelict buildings to provide new business opportunities or homes.

According to a report brought before the council’s Place and Prosperity Committee, Bangor city centre currently has the lowest number of vacant non-domestic premises since April 2016.

The Department for Communities vacancy survey states there are 138 vacant non-domestic premises in the city centre which is 20.6% of the 669 total non-domestic premises.

In comparison, Newtownards has its highest number of vacant non-domestic properties since April 2016, with 108 or 20% of its 539 non-domestic properties now vacant.

Comber, Donaghadee and Holywood were recorded as having vacancy rates of 12.6%, 14.3% and 10.6% respectively.

In his notice of motion councillor Smart called on the council to review its current powers and implement a pilot scheme to tackle derelict properties.

He stated the working group could consider ‘what incentives could be provided through the Department for Communities who hold regeneration powers, the planning system and building control’.

Mr Smart also said the review should consider what ‘limitations can be placed on public and private property owners who are not willing to work in partnership for regeneration and the public good’.

The committee heard the pilot scheme was in the early planning stages and given the wide remit of the notice of motion, a full report is expected to be prepared by the autumn.

Council officers have contacted a number of other local authorities about their dereliction schemes; each scheme saw the relevant council provide grant aid to commercial property owners to ‘bring them back to vibrant use’.

Councillor Naomi Armstrong-Cotter described the vacant properties as a ‘blight’ and said she looked forward to the next report that would further detail the pilot project.

Councillor Chris McCracken called for ‘strategic thinking’ that required partnership working.

“The reality for Ards and Bangor city is that retail and hospitality will not return in the same way, we do need to have strategic thinking,” he said.

“It requires public and private partnership. We need to bring housing into the towns and cities as we have spent the last 40 to 50 years forgetting these are places where people live.

“These housing units will support the existing retail and hospitality, people can walk to them and engage in a more meaningful way.”

A council officer said the initial report before the council was a ‘starting point’ and the local authority would need both the powers and funding to implement the scheme.

The council agreed to note the report. Each committee decision must be ratified at a full council meeting.

Cap: Newtownards councillor Richard Smart.