Mayor Aengus O’Rourke has expressed his anger and frustration following news that the 33-unit social housing development earmarked for Arcadia has fallen through.
The development, which has been in the planning since 2015 and received the green light in February last year, was set to cost €6 million.
Planned for the site next to Athlone Mixed National School, the units were intended to cater for a variety of housing needs, including for families, older people and those with disabilities.
In October 2017, a new Sectoral Employment Order came into effect, instructing contractors to increase the rates of their workers, which resulted in a significant jump in costs for the preferred bidder of the Arcadia development. As a result, the project is no longer economically viable and the contract has been cancelled.
Mayor O’Rourke said the news has come as a bombshell to all associated with the council.
“We have a county housing list of around 2,000 people, and in Athlone of about 700,” he said. “Arcadia was mooted as the first meaningful move by the local authority back into building social housing in the town. We felt that this was the start of progress. We are now looking at a situation, potentially, where there won’t be a key turned in a hall door until 2021. So, we have gone from 2015 to 2021, six years to build 33 houses, it is infuriating.”
Mayor O’Rourke added that successive housing ministers have talked about streamlining the planning process to give local authorities more power to build homes, but have yet to deliver.
“We have heard minister after minister talk about plans to expedite the process, to make it more user friendly, to remove the requirement of having to go back to the department for approval after approval, to give the council more power around the delivery of social housing, so to be where we are now is just a joke,” he said.
“The government needs to follow through on its commitment to engage with local authorities to find mechanisms to fast-track the delivery of social housing.”