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Strategic plan for St George includes taxing vacant buildings

Feedback: St George mayor George Dowling III addresses last night’s meeting

The Corporation of St George is considering imposing an “empty building tax” in a bid to prevent properties becoming derelict.

The town’s mayor, George Dowling III, made the revelation at a public meeting last night on the corporation’s Strategic Town Plan.

Close to 100 residents packed into Penno’s Wharf to hear Mr Dowling and other members of the corporation’s steering committee outline the aims of the plan.

The draft plan has been more than three years in the making, and last night’s town hall meeting was an opportunity for the corporation to answer questions from the public.

The plan, put together with the assistance of a professional town planner after extensive research and resident feedback over their concerns, has been divided into four categories — residential, community, business and infrastructure.

Resident surveys showed that primary concerns among residents were poor transport links, the lack of a police station in the town, and buildings falling into neglect. Poor standards of accommodation and a lack of apartment-style properties were also a concern.

Last night, Mr Dowling said that the committee had compiled a list of “key actions”, include improving and maintaining the town’s appearance, enhancing public safety, carrying out a transportation study and protecting the natural environment.

But he said community involvement and collaboration, with improved networking, were essential if the plan’s goals were to become a reality.

In a Q&A session after the presentation, Mr Dowling was asked if the corporation was addressing the issue of vacant buildings that had become a blot on the landscape.

He said: “The problem with vacant buildings is that they’re privately owned.

“We have been talking about implementing a vacant building tax to encourage people to rent out their properties, and that would flow down to everything else around it.

Describing the lack of a ferry service as “ridiculous“, Mr Dowling said that the issue was out of the corporation’s control.

He said: “St George is the only place that has a ferry stop that doesn’t have a dedicated service.”

He added that the corporation will keep up the pressure on the Government to improve bus and ferry routes, and also increase a police presence in the town.

Several attendees said that, although the plan was impressive, they had concerns about how and when it would get implemented.

“It seems to be more of a wish list,” one audience member said.

Another added: “There are a lot of issues here that have been issues for 20-plus years.

“I see a lot of old and familiar faces here, but some young ones, too. The younger generation isn’t going to do it our way — they want results quick and fast.”

Renée Ming, the town’s MP, said that few of the recommended actions would go ahead without funding.

She said: “We can have as much planning as we want, but until we come up with a revenue plan we’re not gong to be able to accomplish what we put in the plan.

“The corporation has to stand on its own two feet. Otherwise, we’re going to be holding out our hands to the Government and praying.

“We need to get aggressive with investors and have an aggressive but realistic revenue plan.

“I’ll stick my neck out for our town, but we don’t have any money unless the Government gives us money.“

Mr Dowling pointed out that some projects, such as minor renovation works, had started and that momentum will build with community participation.

“We have to all work together to make it happen,” he said.

“But a lot of what we’re trying to do is going to be determined by finance.”

The steering committee next plans to form smaller, stakeholder subgroups, that will meet either monthly or quarterly to move the plan forward.

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Published April 21, 2023 at 7:45 am (Updated April 21, 2023 at 1:43 pm)

Strategic plan for St George includes taxing vacant buildings

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