Owners of vacant lots and derelict buildings should be charged a higher property tax or Government should negotiate to take over ownership, Opposition Leader Bishop Joseph Atherley has suggested.
But he has also cited the Government itself as a major landlord of rundown properties he wants see put to productive use.
Raising concerns in Parliament on Friday about empty lots and dilapidated buildings across the island, Atherley said while he was aware some attempts have been made in the past to address the problem “it has not diminished by any significant extent”.
“ [In] some instances, higher taxes are used and applied to these vacant lots. So you have a vacant lot and it is not being used you pay a higher level of taxation. It is a penalty [or] it is an incentive, if you want to call it that, to put that property into positive use and to help us to deal with the negatives associated with that,” he suggested.
The St Michael West MP argued that the vacant lots and unused properties were posing “all kinds of threats – health threats, social behavioral threats, and they are presenting opportunities for crime and other misdeeds”.
Atherley, the lone voice opposite Government on a Green Paper to reform the country’s development planning legislation, complained that there were simply too many old properties being left to “rot” while “we have people struggling for land and struggling for access to housing”.
“It must be in the capacity of Government to negotiate for ownership of some of these vacant properties so that we may treat to the dynamics relative to the aesthetics, the environment. It must be that we can bring enforcement to bear to a greater extent than we now do in circumstances like this where these properties exist in growing numbers at a time when people are struggling and Government is challenged to find the capacity to help to transfer land and to give people at the bottom access to houses,” said Atherley.
But the problem of vacant lots and rundown buildings was quickly becoming more associated with Government, he said while calling for serious efforts to be made to put them to good use.
Some of these buildings could be transformed and be used for community-related programmes, said the Opposition Leader.
“More and more we are seeing properties formerly used by Government for public service delivery being abandoned,” he said, highlighting the old National Insurance Building on Fairchild Street, the City, and the training division building in the Pine, St Michael.
“The Louise Lynch School has been sitting there for years. These are abandoned properties. Whatever the cause of the abandonment they sit there, they are empty properties, and I believe that some serious and sturdy effort must be done to see if proper use, effective use can be made of these properties,” said Atherley.