Tuesday 30 September 2008

Council in talks over housing schemes

DUBLIN CITY Council has entered into negotiations with Boston firm Corcoran Jennison in relation to two of the five major social housing projects which were to have been built by Bernard McNamara.

Councillors were yesterday told that there was no potential developer in relation to the other three regeneration projects that collapsed earlier this year and that the council was facing a €20 million drop in its social housing budget for 2009.

Corcoran Jennison had bid for the public private partnership (PPP) contracts to redevelop the dilapidated flat complexes at Dominick Street, O'Devaney Gardens and St Michael's Estate.

However, the contracts for these and two other smaller regeneration projects at Infirmary Road and Seán McDermott Street were awarded to Mr McNamara.

The contracts with Mr McNamara collapsed earlier this year after it emerged that the developer could not get planning permission for the number of units he wanted, following a change in regulation on apartment size.

In his first report to the council's housing committee since the contracts with Mr McNamara were dissolved, assistant city manager Ciarán McNamara said that discussions were ongoing with Corcoran Jennison in relation to Dominick Street and St Michael's Estate.

The Infirmary Road project would be integrated with the neighbouring O'Devaney Gardens site and a taskforce was examining the options for these sites and the "convent lands" on Seán McDermott Street, he said.

He also told the council that because of public spending restrictions, there would be €20 million less in the social housing budget for 2009 than 2008 and a further €20 million of the 2009 budget would have to be set aside for the PPPs. The social housing budget for 2008 was €150 million.

"We are not going to get any additional monies," he warned.

Lord Mayor Eibhlin Byrne said she felt "deeply let down" by the council management. Following a severe spate of violence and vandalism in O'Devaney Gardens last summer, she had assured residents that the council was dealing with their estate as a matter of urgency.

"I can't go back and look those women in the eye and tell them that any progress at all has been made. I can offer no civic leadership to the people of O'Devaney Gardens."

Labour councillor Kevin Humphreys said there had been no progress on the PPP schemes for nine to 12 months. There were already 5,300 people on the housing waiting list and a €20 million shortfall would be a "disaster for the city".

Sinn Féin's Christy Burke said the Department of the Environment needed to be approached for additional money.

Mr McNamara said he understood there was frustration over the progress of the PPPs. "If there was a way we could speed it up, we would speed it up, but there isn't any pot of gold there."

The council formally terminated its contracts with Mr McNamara in relation to St Michael's Estate in Inchicore and Dominick Street in the north inner city last July. Agreement was reached that he would go ahead with the development on Seán McDermott Street in the city centre. The council entered into mediation with him on the projects at Infirmary Road and O'Devaney Gardens in Dublin 7.

The council last month issued a statement saying that following mediation, its relationship with Mr McNamara was now at an end in relation to all five projects, including the convent lands.

Under the mediation agreement, Mr McNamara undertook to hand over drawings and plans for the developments, give up claims to the land and pay the council €1.5 million in compensation. The council in return agreed not to take legal action against him.

The Irish Times


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