THE top public official who heads up the State's biggest ever regeneration project last night refused to accept responsibility for a massive half-billion euro overspend.
The cost of the project in Ballymun has doubled to €942m and it is now set to be delivered six years late.
But Ciaran Murray, the head of Ballymun Regeneration Limited, said the project had been "very difficult to quantify", while the minister in charge at the time the "masterplan" was approved, Noel Dempsey, also defended the scheme.
The regeneration of Ballymun, the most socially deprived area in Dublin, was supposed to have its demolition and rebuilding work completed in 2006 -- but the new target date is 2012, with less than half of the planned housing delivered.
The report by the State's own spending watchdog found that the regeneration project has had a "somewhat limited" effect on local employment.
And the cost has spiralled way beyond the original €442 estimate, sparking comparisons with other government "white elephant" schemes.
But last night, Mr Murray said: "We had to do it with the existing population in situ and it made it very difficult to quantify what was needed. And there's no suggestion that money was wasted."
The original €442m estimate for the project was contained in a "masterplan" which was drawn up in 1999 by ten firms of consultants. But Comptroller and Auditor General John Purcell's report found the final cost of the project has now spiralled to €942, due to extra infrastructure costs, construction inflation and a failure to provide for €86m of administrative costs.
Fine Gael finance spokesman Richard Bruton said it was another example of taxpayers being left with the bill for budget over-runs.
But Noel Dempsey, who was Minister for Environment when the "masterplan" was approved, argued that the project should not be measured in financial terms alone.
"I am proud of what this programme has done to help free Ballymun of social stigma and misery. It is important to know the difference between the value and the cost of projects of this nature," he said.
The masterplan said that building new homes for the 16,500 people in Ballymun would be the "relatively easy and predictable part". But the report published yesterday found that just 52pc of the planned public housing and 39pc of private housing had been completed by December 2006.
Other difficulties also emerged due to, what the report described as, a "range of complex and interconnected reasons". No detailed surveys of Ballymun's famous tower blocks were carried out, so builders were unaware that 50pc of them contained asbestos.
There were also no detailed surveys of the gas pipes, water pipes, electricity lines and phone lines which lay like a "spider's web" underneath the ground of Ballymun.
The project was also held back by several High Court challenges and by the problem of moving residents from their tower blocks when their new houses were not ready.
Labour TD Roisin Shorthall said the most disappointing aspect of the Ballymun project was the long delay.
"The project should have been completed this year, but it is now projected to take at least another four years. This will be a cause of disappointment for many families who are still waiting for new housing," she said.
The Minister of State for Housing Batt O'Keeffe said lessons learned from the project would be taken on board for the current regeneration of the Moyross and Southill estates in Limerick.
"But I'm pretty confident that when the Public Accounts Committee examine the report on Ballymun, the outcome will not be as negative as some people seem to be suggesting," he said.
A long history of massive budget overspends
PPARS - The payment system - which was originally costed at just €8.8m and was supposed to cater for payroll for all health staff - has now cost almost €190m and is still climbing.
Decentralisation - Four years after it was announced, just one fifth of 10,000 Government staff have actually moved out of Dublin. Cost so far? €186.5m.
E-voting - The Government spent €52m on e-voting machines which were first used for just three constituencies in the general election in 2002 and in the second Nice Treaty. But they are currently being stored in an aircraft hangar in Co Meath while someone decides what to do with them.
Broker - A computer system designed to integrate public services. Estimated cost €14m; actual cost €37m. Costs €15m a year to run.
Michael Brennan Political Correspondent