HALF a billion euro has been earmarked to radically transform one of Ireland's most notorious crime-ridden estates into a modern tourist hub with luxury housing.
St Mary's Park in the heart of Limerick city has suffered from a range of social problems in recent years and is the stronghold of both the Keane and Collopy criminal gangs.
Known locally as the Island Field, the estate fell outside the remit of the John Fitzgerald report which has targeted the regeneration in two socially deprived suburbs.
However, Limerick City Council has ambitious plans for the area and recently contracted Erinaceous consultants to establish the feasibility of a massive facelift for the area.
All homes in the area received a questionnaire and 150 responses were returned from the residents.
Interested stake-holders including potential investors, community groups and local councillors, were consulted and planning experts based their draft proposals on the feedback they received.
At a public meeting Limerick architect, Hugh Murray presented illustrations and photographs of other waterfront regeneration projects to the local community.
It was proposed that the two kilometre riverfront around the estate (which is surrounded by water on three sides) will encompass a 90 acre urban quarter including residential and affordable housing along with shopping districts and sports facilities.
It is hoped to utilise land under conservation and put in 2,500 housing units in high rise buildings along with associated amenities.
However, the planning process will be a difficult one.
Local councillor, John Gilligan said all ideas were fine but the anti-social behaviour in the estate would initially have to be tackled before any future plans could be made.
"That's all well and good, but you have to tackle the more serious problems first. What's the point in building a lovely bungalow when crime continues in the area? I've never seen a bungalow shoot someone," said Mr Gilligan.
Mr Gilligan said there was an estimated 2,000 people living in the Island Field.
"This place was built in 1935 and the population is elderly, but 70pc said they want to come back here if the place is redeveloped. What chance do these people have of getting a mortgage? Where do people go in the meantime if there house is demolished".
Planners and architects will not begin the design process until an extensive consultation process has taken place.
The estimated cost of redeveloping St Mary's Park to its full potential with a tourist and residential hub is more than €500m.
Director of Service at Limerick City Council, Kieran Lehane moved to dispel families' fears for the future of their homes saying that each household will be looked at on a case by case basis.
However, one of the biggest obstacles facing planners is the estate's criminal gangs who bought up to 30 houses in the area and leased them back to locals.
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