Councillors debate contentious issue of unfinished housing estates

A suggestion by a number of county councillors that a special €100,000 fund, which has been made available by Galway County Council to fund badly needed repair works in unfinished estates across the county, be used to solely provide public lighting, was rejected by councillors at this week’s local authority meeting.

The proposal had come from councillors in the Loughrea Electoral area and Fine Gael’s Jimmy McClearn outlined the thinking behind it. “One hundred thousand will most likely be only enough to sort out one estate. However if we spend the €100,000 on lighting only, many estates can benefit from the safety and security that offers.”

It was outlined that between 10 and 15 estates have been taken in charge by the council annually. A number of representatives spoke about the council’s successful record in this area and their hopes that this work will continue at a faster pace in future. Tuam based Independent Shaun Cunniffe said more council employees needed to be seconded into this section as the current staff were over-run with work.

Councillor Tim Broderick called for an audit on the number of estates around the county which are unfinished and those with potential to be taken in charge.

Councillor Peter Feeney said it was very unfair on residents who were living in unfinished estates and paying property tax, water charges, and management fees, and seeing little or no return for this money. He said it was imperative the €100,000 fund was spent in the best way possible.

Independent representative Jim Cuddy felt the crux of the issue was using the developers bond - which is lodged with the council prior to construction work taking place, to fund work on unfinished estates. “It would be a great service to the public if the bond was retrieved by the council and used for repair works. There is no point having a bond there, going nowhere, if residents are in need of repairs carried out.”

Connemara councillor Seán Ó Tuairisg agreed with this sentiment regarding the developers bond. “There should be a definite timescale for using the bond to fund the works. There must be a strategy for these estates - the same place names are coming up year after year.”

In relation to the use of the bond to fund repair works, Council CEO Kevin Kelly said there was a legal aspect to taking control of the bond, and in certain instances it had been drawn down and used to fund repair works. “There is no lack of information in relation to unfinished housing estates across the county. The team working in this section is very limited but they have done very good work and have great knowledge as to where the priorities lie. They would liaise with the various developers in question and if they are dissatisfied with the reply or if there is no communication, action would be taken to go after the bond.”

Holding ‘rogue’ developers to account

Tuam based Karey McHugh said there were worse issues facing residents than a lack of lighting. The independent councillor told an anecdote about a woman living in an unfinished estate whose child was badly injured in an unfortunate accident. “The child fell into an open manhole while out playing. The injuries were so serious the doctor asked the woman if the child was being abused. The developer would not take responsibility. I was in tears after hearing this story.”

Kinvara representative Joe Byrne welcomed the debate on what he described as a huge issue on the doorsteps. He said planning conditions should be in place to ensure estates are left in a fit state before the council moves in to take them in charge. Councillor Dermot Connolly said it was imperative that so-called rogue developers should not be allowed replicate the situation in other estates. “Homeowners are the losers and the council has to come along and pick up the pieces.”

Fine Gael’s Aidan Donohue inquired if there was anything the council could legally do to curtail rogue developers getting planning permission for future developments.

CEO Kevin Kelly replied saying there was a provision in place to allow local authorities consider a developer’s past performance when assessing a planning application, but it requires a High Court application and to his knowledge, no local authority in the country had ever pursued this path.

Mr Kelly said rather than splitting the €100,000 fund into the five different municipal districts, a countywide approach must be taken to address issues in unfinished estates, as they arise - regardless of location. “The fund was put in place to deal with scenarios which are a little bit peculiar, this could be a man-hole, a footpath, lighting issues, etc, - to ensure in some small way, an issue affecting residents could be addressed. Our team is currently working on a plan as to how best to spend the money.’’

The motion that the fund be spent on lighting only was put to a vote and was comprehensively rejected.

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