Concern over cost of social housing in Abbeyfeale

Norma Prendiville

Reporter:

Norma Prendiville

'Very expensive': Cllr Jerome Scanlan
A HOUSING development in Abbeyfeale has been described as a mistake and an unholy mess by local councillors who are now deeply concerned that the houses will cost €219,000 each and possibly more.

A HOUSING development in Abbeyfeale has been described as a mistake and an unholy mess by local councillors who are now deeply concerned that the houses will cost €219,000 each and possibly more.

“These are 12 very expensive units of accomodation,” Cllr Jerome Scanlan said, when the issue was discussed at a special meeting of Newcastle West Municipal District this Tuesday.

The Cois na Féile estate was granted planning permission in 2006 but the private estate of 24 houses was never completed. Twelve of these houses have since been bought and transferred to the housing agency Clúid under the Government’s voluntary social housing scheme.

The project was originally estimated to cost €2.37m or €180,000 per unit and the money was borrowed from the Housing Finance Agency by Limerick City and County Council, with the expectation that this money would be re-imbursed by the Department of the Environment.

But the final cost per unit is now expecteed to be €219,000, Caroline Curley, the council’s director of housing told councillors this Tuesday. And she warned them that the council needed to borrow a further €256,000 to complete the project.

This would put the cost of the completed project at €2.631m, she said, but also pointed out that when loan charges etc were taken into account, the final cost would be €3.144m.

Abbeyfeale councillor Liam Galvin, who has been raising concerns about this development for several years, complained on Tuesday that Cois na Feile had caused endless problems for residents nearby as well as for councillors.

Councillors had thought at the time that sanctioning the purchase of the 12 houses by Cluid, was “a good thing to do”.

“With hindsight, it was a mistake. It has been nothing but a disaster,” he said.

There were now problems with encroachment and a shortfall in the money to pay for footpaths, lights and a sewage connection, he said, and without these the houses could not be allocated.

“We are not getting value for money,” Cllr Galvin said, a point which was also echoed by Cllr Seamus Browne who said that house prices in Abbeyfeale were only a fraction of what the unit cost in Cois na Feile would be. “Even at €180,000 I think that is too high,” he told Ms Curley. “It is taxpayers’ money at the end of the day.”

“It was a disaster from day one,” Cllr Francis Foley said, pointing out that the original planning permission was for private housing, not social housing.

And all three councillors expressed concern about what was, or was not, going to happen on the other half of the estate which is, they say, a mess.

€1.44m of the original loan had already been drawn down and spent, Ms Curley said. “The choice is we pay an extra €256,000 or we pay back €1.44m for nothing. We don’t get the money recouped from the Department unless the houses are occupied.”

“This is akin to being out in the middle of the Atlantic in a leaking rubber dinghy and the choice is to drive on to New York or turn back,” Cllr Jerome Scanalan said.

“It is an unholy mess,” Cllr John Sheahan agreed. But abandoning the scheme now was not a runner. However, he argued: “I propose we go back to old basics and take full control. Any new builds we do ourselves.” And he wanted that message to go back the council’s CEO and to the Department. “There is a loss to the taxpayer if not necessarily to Limerick City and County Council. The State and the taxpayers are definitely out of money here. “

He also proposed the council should have their own clerk or works and/or engineer on site.

A spokesman for Cluid said they could not comment as they were not at the meeting but were looking forward to completing the project. The houses are now expected to be ready next March.

Councillors are to take up issue of enforcement, regarding the remainder of the site and intend to return to the issue at another meeting.