The acquisition by Tuath Housing, of 32 properties for social housing purposes within The Orchard residential estate in Cornamaddy, was the focus of detailed discussion at the monthly meeting of Athlone Moate Municipal District.
Raising the pertinent motion, Town Mayor, Frankie Keena, made reference to the Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme (SHCEP ), which supports the delivery of social housing by providing financial support to local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies (AHB ) for the long term leasing and purchasing of dwellings from private owners and developers.
“The positive aspect of such an initiative is a reduction of the social housing waiting list. However, the numerous negative connotations far outweigh positives, one of which is the covert secretive manner in which a social housing scheme can be introduced into a mainly private housing scheme, as is now the case in The Orchard.
“The elected members of Westmeath County Council were informed of such an occurrence in a one line reference in the monthly management report during the April meeting of the local authority. These houses are now presently under construction,” Cllr. Keena commented.
The Town Mayor stated that the decision taken in this regard was done in haste with a lack of communication to the elected members and general public must notable.
“Where is the transparency, disclosure and discussion? The provision of housing to the public should be a joyous event. This is anything but for those concerned.
“A lot of questions must be answered in relation to this matter as the public perception of this Council presently is one of being deceptive, secretive, disrespectful, not trustworthy and colluding and we must take immediate action to rectify this,” Cllr. Keena continued.
Cllr. Keena noted that the planning department granted permission for a 32 house private development in November 2018, intended to be a continuation of The Orchard estate. The Council was to receive ten percent of such a development.
“I fear now that the decision to allow 100 percent social housing to replace the private housing in this case has compromised the planning process. This approach to social housing provision shows a complete lack of respect to neighbouring communities and indeed, to those on the housing list. Where is the opportunity for consultation and engagement,” Cllr. Keena queried.
Cllr. Keena did reiterate that the present residents within The Orchard estate were in no way prejudiced against social housing.
“The residents have embraced the idea of social housing presently in their estate. But they are rightly concerned as to how this new housing development has been shoehorned into a mainly private estate without proper dialogue and consultation. This cannot constitute proper planning.
“The CALF agreement which is part of the SHCEP refers to the Council’s obligation to assess the site under the sustainable communities guidelines and also to ensure there is not an over density of social housing in the area. This has not been considered in addition to ignoring the rights of the residents,” Cllr. Keena emphasised.
Continuing, Cllr. Keena highlighted the need for a mix of social, affordable and private housing is prevalent within local communities.
“The Orchard is a good example of a functioning integrated estate. The new development as being proposed for full social housing offers no possibility of integration.
“It is important to note that what is being proposed in The Orchard can happen throughout the town and district, eroding the confidence and trust of the electorate in their elected representatives,” Cllr. Keena added.
In conclusion, the Town Mayor called upon the local authority housing section to stall the signing of future contracts to allow an opportunity for relevant dialogue and consultation with all stakeholders to take place.
“”Further to this, if there is no consensus reached, the SHCEP for The Orchard should be rescinded,” Cllr. Keena stated.