Thousands of unoccupied homes suggest rural migration


IT HAS been revealed that there are a shocking number of vacant properties across Fermanagh, prompting calls for legislation to be enacted to save our struggling rural communities.
At Stormont last week, in answer to a question by MLA Mark Durkan, Minister for Communities Paul Givan provided figures from the Land and Property Services (LPS) which showed there were a total 20,629 empty properties across the North.
Shockingly, however, the second highest number of total empty properties of any district area was in Fermanagh and Omagh. Belfast was at the top of the list with 3,745 empty properties, with Fermanagh and Omagh – despite having a relatively small population – coming in second with 2,602. The next highest on the list was Newry, Mourne and Down district, with 2,332.
The figure for Fermanagh, and overall, could be even higher too, rates applying to empty properties and only those applying for the many exemptions likely counted in the list.
The LPS warned: “These figures should be treated with caution as there is no requirement for ratepayers to inform LPS that their property is vacant.”
Fermangh MLA Richie McPhillips said while he found the fact Fermanagh was so high on the list “a bit surprising and strange”, it could be easily understood following a visit to the countryside.
“If you go into rural parts you can be surprised how many houses are lying idle,” he said, adding this was due to “housing policy over the last number of years” that focused on moving people out of rural areas.
“Quite a lot of houses that had been occupied by families 20 or 30 years ago are now lying idle.”
Mr McPhillips added: “The figures show the scale of empty houses in Fermanagh which is worrying especially when you consider that these figures include the homes of people who go into care, people who have filed for bankruptcy and people whose business has gone into administration. This is the sad and harsh reality facing many families.
“The figures also include derelict houses where no owner of family member can be found.”
Mr McPhillips called for a programme, which could include grant aid, to be drawn up by Stormont to “repatriate people back into the countryside”. He said this could not only provide a boost to the local building industry, with homes needing to be brought back to liveable condition, but could also help stem “the tremendous neglect of rural areas in the west.”
“Considering the great need for social housing in the area, I will be writing to the Minister of Communities and the Housing Executive to urge consideration of derelict housing and their sites for new build projects,” Mr McPhillips said. “Social housing schemes using derelict houses has proven to be a success elsewhere.”

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