The Galway City Council has deferred a decision to grant a Part 8 application for a proposed development of 58 residential units at Ballybaan More, on the east side of the city, until May.
The decision comes after some councillors voiced residents' concerns over the social housing nature of the development and said residents wanted a 75/25 per cent mix of affordable and social housing in an attempt to limit anti-social behavioural issues.
The development which received Stage 1 approval from the Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government in January 2018, is estimated to cost €11.9 million, which will be covered by the social housing investing programme (SHIP ) from the Department and is expected to be completed in April 2021.
Fine Gael councillor Pearce Flannery said the vote was "a classic case of Nero fiddling while Rome burns" and argued it was "gross hypocrisy" of council members not to vote for the development after passing a motion a week before calling on the Government to declare a national emergency over homelessness.
According to the Galway City Council figures, there are currently 4,169 households on the housing waiting list, 2,658 of which had expressed a preference for housing on the east side of the city. Although acknowledging the need for housing some councillors argued that a development that was only social housing would not work for new tenants and surrounding residents, and that management needed to engage more with councillors and residents over the issue.
Fianna Fáil councillor Mike Crowe said that residents needed to be listened to and building housing should be more than just about hitting targets. "To build a further social scheme in the area is not in the best interest of the area or tenants moving themselves," he said. "We are acutely aware of housing issues in city and county, but regard must be given to a mix in an area and to the people living in the area.
"We have to be fair to people. We have to have a mix of affordable, private, and social in the area. We have attended meetings with community and residents of the view that 75 per cent of this should be put into a affordable scheme. There is no point putting in all social housing in one area. I ask the executive take on these concerns. This is more than hitting targets. There is no point solving one problem and creating another."
Independent councillor Noel Larkin said there was unease among residents on the east side of the city about "more social housing". Cllr Larkin said; "The residents are not against housing. They are against high density of social housing in the area. I know it is the only show in town but it is unfair that all this social housing is lumped into the east side of the city. There is considerable anxiety [among residents] about putting in 58 more social housing where there is already plenty of social housing but only three wardens to look after the area. We need to make sure there is not an oversaturation of social housing in the area."
However, Galway city east councillor John Walsh asked his councillors to support the Part 8 application so that 58 families have the opportunity to get off the housing list. "Every person [in the chamber] was critical of the Government and city for lack of build," he said. "Here we have something that can help. It might cost me votes and my seat but I will be voting for this. We have to make the best interests for the city, not for political gain. My decision to support this will probably not go down well, but it is the right thing to do. I call on all councillors to support this. This is a new development and to give 58 families a chance in life and we should support it."
Director of services, Dermot Mahon, told councillors at City Hall on Monday the development would constitute part of the social housing target set for the Galway City Council under the Rebuilding Ireland scheme and that the SHIP funding "cannot be diluted".
Mr Mahon informed councillors; "If you vote this [Part 8 application] down nothing happens on site because I can’t do anything without a Part 8. You have to partly approve the Part 8. I cannot provide guarantee for affordable housing on site. The Department has said the optimum proposal is social housing. If [the scheme] is diluted in any way, it is my belief the Department will not fund any part of it."
Mr Mahon did say the council would pursue an affordable mix of housing in the future when such a scheme had commenced. The vote to defer passed by nine votes to eight with one absent.