Monday, 16 August 2010

Housing Nightmare...

'The estate is shabby now. I don't know how they'll sell anything'

Unfinished roads, stalled sewerage systems and dangerous empty houses: welcome to a housing nightmare...

CIARÁN DOYLE lives in a well-designed, highly insulated, nicely finished three-bed house which he describes as “perfect”, yet everyone in town refers to where he lives as “the building site”.

Rinuccini, incongruously named after a 17th-century Italian cardinal, is just one of several unfinished estates which encircle Portlaoise town but, on first sight, it’s the worst. Four storeys of bare grey concrete criss-crossed with rusting scaffolding, intended to house up to 70 apartments, fronts straight onto the Dublin Road.

“The apartments are a holy show. Because we’re on the Dublin Road, it’s one of the first things that hits you coming in and it looks shocking bad for the town. I’ll never understand why they didn’t start building at the road first and work in.”

Ciarán has plenty of opportunity to ponder the question, as he has to pass the strip of unfinished apartments to get to his house near the back of the estate. His house is fully finished inside, with a high standard of workmanship. Outside, however, there are problems.

“The house is perfect. It’s an awful shame they didn’t do the same with the rest of the place. There is no lighting anywhere in the estate. They put up the posts, but they’re not wired in. There’s no green space, absolutely nowhere for kids to play, so they go climbing the scaffolding.”

The unfinished apartments and houses are an obvious safety risk. Ladders have been left leaning against the scaffolding, making it even easier for small children to climb up to the higher floors where there are unboarded window spaces and unrailed balcony platforms.

“There were security guards on it, but they’re gone more than a year now. I’ve called the gardaí a couple of times. There’s not much they can do, but I don’t know who else to call.”

Not knowing who to call in relation to problems in the estate is a persistent problem. Ciarán’s house is ringed by finished but vacant properties that are beginning to manifest the problems of unlived-in houses – peeling paint, burst pipes in winter, overgrown gardens – but no one seems to be in charge.

“Event Horizon, the developers, they’re gone. So who is responsible for the place now? Is it the banks, is it the council? I would like to know if someone is going to make a decision about what to do here.”

His own preference would be for the unfinished blocks to be levelled and turned into a recreational space. “If houses are not completed, the developers or the council or whoever it is should come to an agreement to cut their losses and knock them. The blocks and the timber, if it’s not rotted at this stage, could be reused, and then it could be turned into a green area. I’m not looking for miracles, I know things will never be 100 per cent, I just want the place to stop looking like a building site.”

The Commercial Court in July 2009 ordered that Bank of Ireland was entitled to proceeds of the sale or rental of houses in Rinuccini to cover debts of €22 million owed by Event Horizon Ltd.

On the other side of town on the Mountrath Road is Maryborough Village. It’s less than a mile from the town centre and, on first inspection, is an attractive estate, but move further in and plots of rubble-filled waste ground surrounded by wire fencing begin to appear. The building site atmosphere isn’t helped by the road surface.

“They never put the top surface on the road, so the ramps are too high and, when there’s a heavy spell of rain, the potholes are unmerciful. It’s particularly bad coming out of the estate, the back of the car is creaking at this stage,” a resident who did not wish to be named said.

A mother of two young children, she said she asked the foreman several months ago what they were going to do about the road surface. The answer was nothing. “They said they’re not going to put on the road surface until they’ve built the houses at the end, because the building equipment would damage the new surface, but they’re never going to build them.”

Having paid full price for her house in 2008, it galls her she is living in an unfinished estate waiting for houses that will be sold for a lot less to be built.

“We were sold this house on a false promise of a finished landscaped estate. That’s not what we’ve been living in for the past two years. The estate is gone shabby now, so I don’t know how they think they’re going to sell anything.”

With children aged three and six, she is becoming increasingly concerned about safety. “The barriers to the sites are connected with twisty ties, they get blown over easily. There are pipes sticking up out of the ground. Rusty nails. I wouldn’t even think about letting them out there.”

Developers Graham Builders Ltd in 2008 accounts – the most recent filed with the Companies Registration Office – said there would be no new development work at Maryborough Village until demand for houses returned.

Back on the Dublin Road, a little further out than Rinuccini, in the townland of Rathbrennan is a development without a name. It is unlikely to ever get one. The houses and apartments are just shells, the site frequently floods and structures are already starting to crumble.

There has been no construction onsite in 18 months, and no one will ever live here, Sinn Féin county councillor Brian Stanley said.

“This site in my opinion has to be levelled. I don’t say that lightly. I don’t go in for knocking down things for the sake of it but in this case there is no hope of it being finished. The developer is gone and the council has no means to finish it.”

This is in contrast to Triogue Manor, near the Mountmellick Road. The houses in this estate were completed when the developer folded, but there was no road surface and water, and sewerage infrastructure had yet to be completed.

“The council used the development bond, but also leveraged parts of the site that hadn’t been built on to finish the estate.

“There can be creative solutions to these problems.”

Report by OLIVIA KELLY - Irish Times

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