Sinn Féin Cllr Joanna Byrne and Chairperson of Louth’s Housing Strategic Policy Committee is pleased that a controversial housing development on the site of the former Fire Station on Scarlet Street has got the green light from council members.
While some local residents are opposed to the development of 15 units, at a special meeting of the Borough District of Drogheda held yesterday afternoon following the County’s full council meeting they were told that a number of modifications were being made to help alleviate local residents concerns.
The building is being moved by half a metre further away from properties in Sienna and officials also said they can accommodate the boundary changes requested.
Cllr Byrne said: “I feel the right decision has been made to proceed with this project and was happy to push it forward. Whereas I have met with the residents in question and do recognise their concerns , the town of Drogheda is at an all time high with the level of applicants on the social housing list sitting today at 2215. We are the only district in the county with an increasing amount of applicants with mid-Louth and Dundalk both reducing in numbers. With only five live projects currently planned for construction within the town, one of them being this development in Scarlet Street the onus was on us as councillors to give this the green light and support the building of badly needed Social Housing.”
Sinn Féin Councillor Imelda Munster has described the government’s new “Urban Regeneration Bill” as shocking and as having a Thatcherite approach which will bring an end to direct council social housing provision.
Cllr Munster said “It is in effect a wholesale privatisation of social housing. At a recent meeting members of the CPG (Corporate Policy Group) in Louth were told local authorities will not be given any more funding to build social housing. Instead, housing delivery and sourcing will be through private developers through leasing and voluntary housing bodies from 2017 onwards.”
Cllr Munster continued “this new bill clearly shows that the government parties are backing the ‘boom and bust’ policies that led to the crisis by enticing private developers by giving them concessions and allowing them to forgo obligations under Part 5. This bill has halved to 10% the amount of land zoned for residential use that must be set aside for social and affordable housing.”
“It also states that affordable housing schemes shall not be agreed to by planning authorities and also allows developers to opt out of their obligation to transfer 10% (reduced from 20% in the bill)of any development to the ownership of local authorities. They would instead lease the proportion of any development to councils. This will result in an end to direct council house provision and cost the taxpayers hundreds of millions of Euro every year in paying developers and private landlords taxpayers money to lease houses. Outsourcing to private developers and landlords will mean families will never get a home they can call their own and they will be easy prey to unscrupulous landlords and further compound the housing crisis we are currently in and the huge distress it is causing thousands of families in Louth alone.”
Cllr Munster said “if this is the government’s response to the housing crisis then it will serve to increase homelessness and only benefit developers and landlords who are set to make millions on the backs of the taxpayer and every individual forced into private rented accommodation.”
Imelda on the unused land
Councillor Imelda Munster has called on the Government and Alan Kelly, Minister For Environment, Community and Local Government, to immediately roll out a social housing building programme for Drogheda and Louth.
Speaking today, the Sinn Féin councillor said “We have a land bank in Drogheda reserved for social housing and we have 1812 applicants in Drogheda alone with a total of 4525 applicants throughout the county, some of them waiting up to seven years for housing. This land bank was purchased as part of the Northern Environs Plan to ensure we had land reserved to build social housing on and we are currently forced to pay €2 million of tax payer’s money every year in interest only on this land.”
Cllr Imelda Munster is Chair of the Housing SPC and has twice requested that Louth County Council write to the Minister inviting him to meet with the Council to address the issue but to date, the Minister has not responded.
Cllr Munster continued “This is a crisis situation as the money has to be taken out of our council budget and will have to be paid each year for the next twenty five years. Yet the government are refusing to build houses on the land while the numbers on the housing list increase on a weekly basis.”
The Drogheda Councillor wants to ask the Minister if he will address “the ludicrous situation of Louth County Council being forced to pay upwards on €3 million a year in interest only payments from our own budget on a government loan which we were given to purchase the land specifically for social housing and at the same time they are refusing to build houses on the land. This just isn’t good enough. The people of Louth deserve accountability as to how their budgets are being used and to have nearly €3 million taken out of it before you start yet have nothing to show for it needs to be addressed.”