Sinn Féin Councillor Pearse McGeough has welcomed the decision for two estates in Castlebellingham to be ‘taken in charge’.
At last week’s Ardee Municipal Meeting it was agreed that Bellingham Green and Bellingham Close would be taken over by the local authority.
Cllr McGeough said “Now that Louth County Council have taken the estates in charge, home owners and residents can now access all the services and protections that their taxes pay for. I know of one estate that in 2014 had its street lights turned off because the developer in cahrge of the estate hadn’t paid its electricity bills. Having your estate ‘taken in charge’ is advantageous to the home-owner.”
At this month’s Ardee Municipal Council meeting Councillor Tom Cunningham raised questions on the allocation of amenity grants in the County.
The Sinn Féin Councillor said “The Amenity Grants were up for approval again. Last year I had asked for a review into how this money is allocated as there did not appear to be any structure or guidelines on the amount a housing association or estate could claim.”
Cllr Cunningham said “In previous years some estates were getting €2,000 while other estates of a similar size in a different part of the county may have only got €100. It just didn’t make sense so I asked that this be reviewed.”
At this month’s meeting Cllr Cunningham was told the review had been carried out.
“I welcome the outcome of the review, there is now a template in place which is fair and just. In light of this I have now called for a further review, this time into how the Amerntity Grants are allocated to Tidy Towns Groups and Development Groups. I want to see a fair and just template in place for this funding as well.”
“These are public funds and they should be divided in a fair manner county wide.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Kenneth Flood has said “it beggars belief that Louth County Council have not referred several estates, numbering hundreds of homes, to Irish Water to progress the ‘taking in charge’ process, despite repeated assurances throughout the year that they have done so.”
In December 2015 Cllr Flood gave a report to Louth County Council on the ‘taking in charge’ of Aston Village and Termon Abbey. Cllr Flood was told that “the developments would be referred to Irish Water to assess and report on their water services prior to commencing the statutory process of taking in charge. During the year I contacted more than one council official on more than one occasion asking for an update on the ‘taking in charge’ process relating to these developments, only to be told that the matter was with Irish Water and no further information could be given.”
Cllr Flood also contacted the Council on behalf of Forest Park and Beaulieu View regarding their taking in charge status only to be given a similar answer.
Cllr Flood said “When no updates were forthcoming I contacted Irish Water directly who informed me that they had received no notification from Louth County Council regarding taking in charge any of these developments.”
“Because this information contradicted that we had been told in the council chamber, via email and over the phone, I put a question to the meeting of the Borough District of Drogheda where LCC confirmed they hadn’t in fact referred the developments to Irish Water, stating that outstanding clarifications were needed before referral. No specific details were given and still have not been given.”
Cllr Flood explained “The home-owners in these developments are obliged by the government to pay local property tax, but because the developments are not ‘taken in charge’ they cannot access all the services and protections that these taxes pay for. In 2014 the Liscorrie estate in Drogheda had all of its street lights turned off for several weeks by the ESB because the developer had not paid its electricity bills. This would not have happened if the estate was ‘taken in charge’ by the council”.
“Last month council officials stated that these matters would be dealt with and an update was expected at yesterday’s Municipal District Meeting. Those clarifications were not forthcoming and we are none the wiser as to when the ‘taking in charge’ process, and the protections and services that tax payers are already paying for that comes with it, will be finalised.”
Cllr Flood said “This is an unacceptable situation and I will be following up on these matters until they are fully and finally resolved”.
There are 29 housing estates classified as ‘unfinished’ in the National Survey of Unfinished Housing Developments (December 2014 update) in County Louth. However, this list does not include estates or developments that have been completed but have not been ‘taken in charge’ which means they are being forced to pay the Local Property Tax but are unable to access services for the development.
Sinn Féin Councillor Kenneth Flood explained what this meant. “Take for example Beaulieu View which was built as far back as 1992. The Council have confirmed to me that an application was never received by the developer to have the estate ‘taken in charge’. What this means is if for example a street light goes out it’s usually a very simple process of ringing ESB and giving them the pole number, they come out and fix it. But for an estate that has not been taken in charge, it is the responsibility of the residents albeit through a management company paid for by the residents to foot the bill before it can be fixed.”
Kenneth Flood explained how, in the case of Beaulieu View all efforts to track down the developer have been fruitless. “After the so-called Celtic Tiger era we were told many of the developers went bust so we have a generation of home-owners who are paying this tax on their home but are unable to access basic maintenance services”.
Cllr Imelda Munster, who is a candidate in the upcoming election and is a member of the Corporate Policy Group on Louth County Council brought forward a motion that all developments like Beaulieu View across the county of Louth should be categorised and listed. Cllr Munster also asked the Council to commit to a plebiscite schedule for all these developments to ensure they have an opportunity to be taken in charge.
Cllr Flood said “I am delighted to say the council have agreed the motion and the required report will be included under planning in the Chief Executives Report to the March monthly meeting of the Council. There are developments in this county going back 40 years that were never taken in charge. For decades tax payers were paying for services they could not access. But now we have the commitment for the plebiscite schedule for all of these developments to ensure they have an opportunity to be taken in charge, we can get to work bringing all of these housing developments finally under the care of the council”.
In correspondence with Irish Water Sinn Féin Councillor Kenneth Flood has questioned their contractors’ methods of installing water meters.
Councillor Flood asks “Although the Water Services Act allows Irish Water to meter all properties, I haven’t found the Article or Provision in the Act where it says they can dig up or cut into footpaths in estates that have not been taken in charge by the local authority or do any works without the permission of the company responsible for the area until such times as it is taken in charge.”
The Drogheda Councillor said “I don’t understand it, up to now any other Company who wanted to do work in an estate before it is taken in charge, has had to have permission from the Company responsible for the estate. How is Irish Water different from those Companies?”
Councillor Flood has asked Irish Water to provide him with the specific part of the legislation which covers this area.
Kenneth Flood has been inundated with citizens complaining about burst water mains and water disruption during the installation process and Louth County Council has had to step in to repair the damage after the contractors have left the area. As a result the Councillor has asked a series of questions from Irish Water:
“If IW contractors are working in an Estate that has not been taken in charge, will Louth County Council repair the damage in an estate not taken in charge, regardless of the scale?
“Is there legislation that covers who is obligated to repair any damage done in estates not yet taken in charge? If so, can you quote me the specific part that explains what will happen in the above scenario?
“I believe that Irish Water or any other Company for that matter, needs to have a permit to dig below 150mm and they also need to have a safe work plan in place before they carry out any work. Can you confirm if that is correct and these rules are being adhered to?”
Councillor Kenneth Flood has vowed to continue to oppose the water tax until such times as it is abolished. “Water is a human right and we already pay for it. We refuse to pay twice.”