Guerrilla gardeners take on Irish ghost estates

Wed Mar 28, 2012 11:58am EDT
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By Lorraine Turner

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Sneaking onto derelict housing estates to plant trees and commit other crimes of beauty may sound a little odd, but mounting frustration with the eyesores left over from Ireland's construction boom has finally reached a tipping point.

Ireland's "ghost estates" -- empty shopping malls, abandoned hotels, unfinished housing projects, skeletal office buildings and half-completed golf courses -- are a vivid reminder of the profligacy of an Irish property rush which imploded more than four years ago, bringing down the rest of the economy.

Guerrilla gardening, a phenomenon born in the United States which involves planting trees, flowers and other forms of beautification on public or private land without permission, is part of the next wave of community-led initiatives seeking to tidy up Ireland's blighted landscape.

Armed with spades, gloves and tree saplings, volunteers planted over 1,000 willow, alder, birch and ash trees in a bid to reclaim land at a site which has been a blot on the village vista of Keshcarrigan in western Ireland for years.

The group named "NAMA to Nature" -- in reference to the state-run agency that was created to purge Irish banks of risky land development loans and is now the country's largest property group -- has plans for more raids and is calling on other community groups to take matters into their own hands.

"People are having to sit with it (ghost estates) on their back doors, it's a really nasty symbol of what's been left behind," said Serena Brabazon, one of the organizers.

"It hasn't been dealt with. That's the real frustration for everybody," she said, as the group makes plans to tackle a second ghost-estate.

Ireland's state-run National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), which has been accused by the opposition of being too soft on the country's property developers and for not doing enough to help taxpayers, said recently it had invested 500 million euros ($666.30 million) on completing unfinished projects.   Continued...

A view of Lake View, an empty and unsold housing development, in the village of Keshcarrigan, County Leitrim in this January 28, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton