Seanad Éireann - Volume 190 - 19 June, 2008

Local Authority Housing.

  Senator Paschal Donohoe: I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this matter. I welcome the Minister of State. I am particularly glad that he is present because he has direct responsibility for the matter in question and I look forward to his reply. I am sure the history of the Liberty House project and the relationship among the people who live there, Dublin City Council and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will be acknowledged in that reply.

[367]I wish to briefly outline the history of the project and my understanding of the facts and explain why it is so important that a resolution be found and the project delivered. Liberty House is a housing project located in a prominent and central part of my constituency. The residents who live there and nearby have worked closely with Dublin City Council for many years to draw up a plan and a proposal they can all support. As a city councillor, I was aware of and involved with many other regeneration and housing projects. It was frequently the case that local communities wished to focus on particular matters but that the city council could not always deliver in respect of them.

Since I became involved with the Liberty House project, I have been struck by the degree of consent and agreement that exists between the community and Dublin City Council in respect of the correct course to take. When they approached the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government some years ago to obtain funding and to have the project greenlighted, support was not forthcoming. The residents and, to a degree, Dublin City Council are now in limbo regarding the status of the project and the question of when people’s housing needs will be met.

I sought to raise this matter for two reasons. As I have become involved with this issue in my community, what has struck me so much is how reasonable the involved residents are. They articulate with such passion the frustration they have and the urgency of their position. They have also said that if they can act to resolve the issue, they will. I met with these people only this week, when they spoke of the number of actions they would like to take in order to bring the issue to resolution.

Another facet that makes such an impression on me in raising this issue is the support and commitment from the city council in making this happen. The constituency I represent has a number of housing projects that are currently in a state of emergency, as the Minister of State already knows. All of them receive support and leadership from the city council but what is missing and what we are now appealing for is for the Department to help us understand where this project stands. We urge the Minister of State to do everything possible to give a green light to the project and allow it to proceed so the reasonable and entirely understandable frustration of local residents in the community can be recognised and tackled.

It is important to underscore this in the environment we are in at the present economic uncertainty. In the neighbourhood I represent there are many projects currently under pressure and I am concerned this project will not gain the prominence and focus it deserves.

I welcome that the Minister of State is here personally. I ask him to update me on the view of the project from his Department and what he can do to deliver a green light to it and make it happen. If there are outstanding issues, I ask that his Department set up a meeting with residents, the city council and local representatives so we can give this important and crucial project the resolution and success it needs.

  Deputy Michael Finneran: I thank the Senator for raising this motion and giving me the opportunity to set out the position on this project.

The remedial works programme for Liberty House, Railway Street, Dublin 1, is being dealt with by Dublin City Council on a phased basis. Liberty House was built in the late 1930s and originally consisted of 181 flats. The first proposals for its redevelopment were received over ten years ago. The windows in the flats had already been renewed in 1994 under the window replacement programme.

The first remedial phase involving blocks A, B and C was completed a number of years ago at a cost of €11.4 million. This involved general upgrading of the complex, internally and externally, the amalgamation of some units, works to internal and external walls, flooring, re-[368]roofing, general works to stairs and circulation areas, the provision of fire doors to create stair lobbies, chimney repairs, facade treatment, together with site development and landscaping works. This first phase of works provided 86 refurbished units.

The present proposal is for the redevelopment of blocks D, E and F and was received in March 2007. It entails the demolition of the three blocks comprising a total of 150 units. The cost of the proposal is estimated at €17 million, excluding site costs, at an estimated cost of almost €390,000 per unit. The initial proposal includes the provision of 44 replacement units in respect of blocks D and E. At present there are no proposals for replacement units for block F. The proposed development, along with the existing refurbished flats in blocks A, B and C, would result in a total of 130 social units on this site.

Whereas my Department accepts there is a need further to revitalise the area and also notes the extensive consultation that has taken place with the residents, a number of issues in connection with the proposal have been raised with Dublin City Council and these must be addressed before the proposal can be further progressed.

Specifically, my Department has raised concerns about the high concentration of social units in the project as a whole and its impact on tenure mix, and also the relatively high unit cost for the works. In addition proposals in respect of block F have not been included in the current Dublin city submission. In my Department’s view, the council should take a holistic approach to the total project and include block F in its proposals so that the cost implications for the entire development can be fully considered.

My Department wrote to the local authority on 4 December 2007 expressing these concerns and highlighting the need for a clear development strategy for the remaining blocks. My Department is now awaiting a response from the authority.

  Senator Paschal Donohoe: I thank the Minister of State for his response, which has been very helpful in illuminating an important point in the issue. Dublin City Council and the local residents currently believe they require a response from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The Minister of State’s response clearly indicates the Department is awaiting response from the other parties.

Will the Minister of State facilitate, through his offices, a meeting with the relevant officials and people on this issue so we can clarify the matter, allow the project move forward and have these points resolved?

  Deputy Michael Finneran: I understand the point made by the Senator. In order to provide all possible information, I will give more information on the letter sent to Dublin City Council on the submission from it to my Department, which might be helpful. If contact on that level is insufficient, I have no problem with some direct link with Dublin City Council.

I should emphasise that we wrote to the council in December 2007. Our position at this time is that we await a response in that regard. If it gave a response, or if the response was that it had a difficulty in addressing the issues we raised, perhaps we could progress.

  Senator Paschal Donohoe: I thank the Minister of State for his response. I fully accept the bona fides and intent of the Department. I hope that as a result of the contribution we will find some way to move this forward to the satisfaction of everybody.

  The Seanad adjourned at 2.40 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 24 June 2008.