Limerick council to face questions on Project Opera housing plan

Nick Rabbitts

Reporter:

Nick Rabbitts

Local authority bosses to face questions on change to plans for Project Opera

Local authority bosses to face questions on change to plans for Project Opera

LIMERICK council bosses are set to face questions over why plans for housing were stripped out of the €150m Project Opera development.

It comes after the Limerick Leader  revealed that there were initial plans for 161 units of accommodation in the initial scheme back in 2011.

The information – uncovered through the Freedom of Information act – brought about fresh questions about why housing was not included in the fresh plans for the office-block development unveiled last year.

Five councillors have now signed a request for a meeting, which Mayor Stephen Keary is legally compelled to act upon.

Solidarity councillor Cian Prendiville, who initiated the request, said: “This meeting will give an opportunity to demand the council change its plan and include social and affordable apartments in the development.”

Separately, the Leader can reveal that when the council was granted €12.5m from government to buy the former Opera Centre site from Nama, it was given a period of seven years to redevelop the area.

“Should the redevelopment not proceed within that timeframe, the council will be required to recoup the purchase price of the site by means of the orderly disposal of the site or from within its own resources,” a letter from the Department of the Environment, released under the Freedom of Information Act, states.

That time is up at the end of this year – although it is unclear as to whether that stipulation remains in place, as responsibility for the project – which it’s hoped will bring 3,000 jobs – has transferred to Limerick Twenty Thirty, a special purpose vehicle dedicated to a number of local schemes.

The same letter also said another key condition of the funding is that any financial return to the council from the site – for example rents – “must be invested in the wider regeneration programme”, which is transforming Moyross, Southill, St Mary’s Park and Weston.

Speaking about the meeting, a date for which must now be set in the next seven days, Cllr Prendiville added: “Multi-storey office blocks, with not a single apartment will drive rents up further, adding to the affordability crisis we are already seeing. Including affordable and social accommodation on the site provides an excellent opportunity not just to help address the housing crisis, but also breathe new life into the city centre.

“The centre should be busy around the clock, not just 9am to 5pm.”

The other members who signed the meeting request were Solidarity’s councillor Paul Keller, Independents John Loftus and John Gilligan, and Sinn Fein’s Séighin Ó Ceallaigh.

Cllr Ó Ceallaigh said: “I feel we are being left out of the loop, and we are seeing this railroaded through.”

“I want to see talking. This hasn’t happened so far, and it’s a big project. A bit of discussion would be beneficial to the project. A lot of people have different opinions, and it would be good to get out there and do what councillors are supposed to do – and not just leave it to council staff,” he added.