Original Opera plan in Limerick had provision for housing

Nick Rabbitts

Reporter:

Nick Rabbitts

No residential units were included in the plans for the new Project Opera development - which has caused concern

No residential units were included in the plans for the new Project Opera development - which has caused concern in some quarters

THE original plans for Project Opera included 161 housing units in the scheme, the Limerick Leader can reveal.

Amid persistent calls for residential units in the €150m project, it has now come to light that days before securing funding to buy the site from Nama in 2011, council bosses outlined plans for 59 units in existing buildings and 102 new homes.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act to the Limerick Leader show the ‘preliminary capacity study’ prepared by the city’s senior executive architect Seamus Hanrahan outlined the proposal, with former city manager Tom Mackey adding the site could “comfortably accommodate” both social and affordable housing.

Plans were also in place for a “large department store” with its main entrance at the Ellen Street-Michael Street junction.

Instead, a fresh blueprint unveiled for the €150m proposal earlier this year by Limerick Twenty Thirty – a public body which has taken over the running of the site from council – showed three towering office blocks, but only limited commercial space.

Crucially, no residential units were included, bringing about opposition from many quarters, including from the Limerick Chamber and homelessness charity Novas.

Councillors were due to debate the future of the site at a meeting on Tuesday morning.

Cllr Cian Prendiville, who has campaigned for housing in the €150m plan says people must “demand” these units are built, adding: “I think people deserve to know when was this U-turn made and who agreed to it?”

Back in 2011, the old City Council was given €12.5m funding from the Department of the Environment to buy the Patrick Street site after plans for a shopping centre fell through due to the economic downturn.

A letter from Mr Mackey – dated October 28, 2011 – seeking funding under the department’s regeneration budget stated he believed the Opera Centre offered opportunities to deliver both social and private housing “which will increase demand in the city centre”, as well as providing “new civic spaces which will entice people back from the suburbs to the city centre.”

“In order to achieve this, in the current economic climate, Limerick City Council must have control of the site to ensure it is developed efficiently and effectively to address the need for social and economic regeneration of Limerick City,” he added.

Reacting, Cllr Prendiville said: “Somewhere between 2011 and today, the council gave up on this plan for the city centre to be a place to work, socialise and live. Precisely at the time when a need for social housing and affordable mortgages was growing, the council turned its backs to provide 160 apartments on the site.”