Monday 19 May 2008

Council members seek meeting over stalled housing projects

FINE GAEL and Sinn Féin members of Dublin City Council have called for an emergency meeting to discuss the apparent collapse of the council's plans to build thousands of housing units in partnership with developer Bernard McNamara, writes Paul Cullen .

Senior council officials continued to insist yesterday that they were still in discussions with Mr McNamara over the fate of six public-private partnership (PPP) projects, worth over €900 million, involving the two parties.

However, senior members of the council told The Irish Times their understanding from senior council officials was that the PPP schemes with Mr McNamara were over, and an announcement to this effect would be made shortly.

Fine Gael group leader Gerry Breen said the breakdown of the projects was a fait accompli because of changed market conditions, and now it was just a matter of timing the announcement. He has proposed an emergency council meeting on the matter and wants Minister for the Environment John Gormley to attend.

Sinn Féin group leader Christy Burke said he was devastated to learn from officials that the projects would not be going ahead. He described the news as a serious blow for thousands of Dubliners who had been living in appalling conditions for the past 10 years.

"Millions of euro have been spent on ground testing, preparatory work and demolition on these sites, and much of the original housing has been knocked. This is going to leave parts of Dublin looking like Beirut."

According to assistant city manager Ciarán McNamara, discussions were continuing with the developer and a statement would be issued on Monday. If the deals with the developer failed to materialise, the council would have to work on an alternative plan, but this would take time.

He denied the council had been foolish to rely on the private sector so heavily to renew its housing stock. He said: "Hindsight is 20/20 vision. In each case, we went through an open, transparent and competitive procurement process in which locals were involved at all stages."

A spokesman for Bernard McNamara said talks were continuing. He said there had been "recurring difficulties" in a number of the PPP processes with a lot of "chopping and changing" by the council. Some of these had been so fundamental as to require revised planning applications.

Community workers in two of the projects yesterday appealed to the developers to continue their involvement.

In a statement issued in the name of Community Technical Aid, the local regeneration workers said that in preparing themselves for redevelopment, communities were in a worse state than before. "Blocks have been knocked down, flats emptied and families moved, with the inevitable result of increased anti-social behaviour. If the redevelopment collapses now, it will be a devastating blow to our already deteriorating communities."

The largest affected project is the €265 million redevelopment of St Michael's Estate in Inchicore, which has been in planning since 2001. Seven of the 11 tower blocks have already been demolished.

The €180 million regeneration of O'Devaney Gardens in Dublin 7, for which contracts had been signed, is also affected.

Irish Times

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