JUST a week after Finance Minister Michael Noonan said he expected 250 jobs to be created in the Hanging Gardens development in Limerick city, Cllr Cian Prendiville has instead called for it to be turned into housing.
At budget time in January, the metropolitan district councillor requested that local authority staff consider the derelict site for social housing to ease the pressure on the waiting list, which is close to 4,000.
“Limerick is in the midst of a housing crisis, with thousands on the waiting list, and thousands more struggling to pay the rent. Now the council has a budget of €11m to spend developing this city centre property into plush office space,” he said.
On the subject of jobs, he said converting the site into housing would create roles in the construction sector, and at the same time, bring spending power into the city centre.
“At the same time, it would take people off the housing waiting list who have been left hanging for over 10 years in some cases. The building is there, the budget is there, it is simply a matter of priorities, and for me housing has to be the number one priority,” he said.
But metropolitan mayor, Cllr Jerry O’Dea disagreed, saying that while cutting the housing waiting list was important, “modular office space” is what is important at the Hanging Gardens site.
“The City and County Council is working very hard to address the housing situation and are having success in many areas. It will take a long time, but it is very much a focus of the council, and probably one of the most important aspects of our work. But I don’t think the Hanging Gardens would be a viable site.”
Although there is a shortage of social housing in the city, Mayor O’Dea said there was also “a serious deficit” in terms of office space.
“While housing is critical, I feel there are more appropriate areas for this. We have been following up on these areas and will continue to do so,” the Fianna Fail councillor said.
The council has completed the purchase of the Hanging Gardens site at 16-18 Henry Street.
The site has lain idle since 2008, and is considered by many to be an eyesore, with the shell of the building open to the elements.
Original plans for the site by developer Robert Butler would have seen retail space at ground level, with flour floors of office accommodation over basement parking.
It would have seen the restoration and integration of two protected structures – the 1903 Mercantile Building and the 1808 Hanging Gardens Building. The Hanging Gardens got its name from the fact its first owner, local banker William Roche, was known to have grown exotic fruits in the courtyard.