Thursday, 23 June 2022
Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
This is an issue I raise regularly. The situation does not seem to be getting any better. If anything, things seem to be getting worse. People living in flat complexes in the inner city are genuinely frustrated in respect of having been forgotten. They feel, and the evidence suggests they are right, that Dublin City Council has neglected them for too long, as has the Government. They are living in conditions that are just not acceptable. These are not all old flat complexes. Many of the newer flat complexes have serious issues as well. Not too far from here, in York Street, is a flat complex that is only 12 years old. Around Christmas time, the residents of an entire block had to be moved out because of a water leak that occurred due to inadequate maintenance. They had to leave that flat complex during Covid-19 and it was traumatic for them. Therefore, there appear to be serious maintenance issues in all the flat complexes across the city. There certainly are in those premises in Dublin Bay South.
The Glovers Court complex is at the other end of the old York Street. An email was recently sent to all the councillors and Deputies in Dublin Bay South. I will refer to it because it expresses how the people living there feel and how the vast majority of people living in flat complexes feel. The email states that the tenants in Glovers Court are tired of the broken promises and regeneration promises that have been made to them for a number of years and are tired of being told it is in progress and the application has been submitted. The email goes on to state that this is not good enough and that the tenants in Glovers Court want to know what local Deputies and councillors are doing for them, other than emailing the council, which then makes promises to the tenants that are broken. The email continues by stating that the residents are tired of carrying their children over human faeces and urine every day; tired of having to constantly to pay €40 to €60 a week for gas to keep their flats warm; tired of constantly bleaching their walls to get rid of the damp and mould; tired of carrying heavy bottles of water up the stairs because they cannot drink their water because it is contaminated; tired of bringing their children to doctors and hospitals because they are constantly sick because it is colder inside the flats than outside; tired of being woken up at night by the antisocial behaviour in the complex; and tired of being woken by fire sirens because someone has set fire to a flat. The email further continues by stating that a couple of weeks ago there was a fire in the complex and Dublin Fire Brigade could not access it because people were parked there like it was a free-for-all.
The Deputy and I have discussed this issue on a number of occasions, as has the Minister, Deputy O'Brien. I thank the Deputy for raising this issue, in particular the European committee ruling and the regeneration of social housing flats in inner city Dublin.
The Government and my Department, in particular, have given careful consideration to the report of the European Committee of Social Rights. My Department is committed to ensuring that tenants in social housing are provided with adequate housing that meets the standards most recently laid down in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2019. To address the issues raised in the report, my Department is actively engaging with the local authority sector to promote the preventative maintenance of local authority housing stock and provide significant funding for stock improvement works. In addition to funding provided by the local authorities in respect of their housing stock, my Department provides funding across a number of programmes to support the local authority work to maintain and improve their social housing stock. In all cases, it is the local authorities that identify the priorities.
My Department issued stage 1 approval on 14 June 2022 for the regeneration of the existing 38-unit flat complex at Glovers Court. Dublin City Council is looking to add additionality to provide housing for up to 49 households at this location. This approval will allow the council to develop a design to best meet the needs of existing and future residents. It has advised me that it has 219 complexes under its remit. Complexes are prioritised for regeneration based on a number of factors, including their age and condition.
Although Glovers Court is one of the newer complexes, built in 1976, its condition meant that it was prioritised for regeneration during this round. As it now has stage 1 approval, it means Dublin City Council can initiate the process of engaging a design team to work on the design proposal for the regeneration of Glovers Court. This will require the development of detailed designs which will be presented to existing tenants as part of the community consultation process. Once planning is approved, the council can move to the next stages of approval and appointment of contractors.
In the meantime, while this project advances and tenant decanting progresses, Dublin City Council will work with the current tenants to ensure that the Glovers Court complex is maintained to the highest standards possible. With regard to water supply and quality issue the council has informed my Department that it has received no reports of contaminated drinking water in Glovers Court. However, I accept the contents of the letter the residents have sent to elected representatives. I await the response of the Deputy.
They are all very fine words and I appreciate the personal commitment of the Minister of State, but the reality is that people living in inner-city flat complexes have to put up with rats, faeces and racism. It is horrendous for residents living in these communities. I do not feel there is any sense of urgency to progress the work.
I met residents from Andrews Court four years ago in respect of a proposal from Dublin City Council. It will be another four years before a small block housing 11 families will be dealt with. None of the flat complexes on Digges Street, Cuffe Street and Mercer House have playgrounds for toddlers or children to play in and entertain themselves. These are not big asks. It is not unreasonable for families to expect their children to have somewhere to play when living in a flat complex. There is nothing.
Resources are not being put into the flat complexes. If Dublin City Council is not going to invest adequately in the maintenance of flat complexes in order to deal with the issues facing residents, the residents will become demoralised and places will become dilapidated. As I have said, many complexes are in serious need of regeneration. I welcome anybody in the House to come and visit some flats. Some are next to derelict and it is demoralising for residents and public representatives, across parties, to have to meet residents and hear their stories. Flat complexes have been neglected for too long and this has to end. They have to be resourced in order to ensure that residents have a decent quality of life.
I agree wholeheartedly with the Deputy. We recognise the need to modernise and bring living conditions up to acceptable standards. All of these developments have the objective of improving the living conditions of residents and to that end Dublin City Council is developing a long-term strategy for the redevelopment and-or refurbishment of many of these complexes.
In addition to Glovers Court, my Department has provided stage 1 approval for phase one of the regeneration of Pearse House , Constitution Hill, Matt Talbot Court, Liberties Cluster and Oliver Bond House and phase 1A of Bluebell, as well as stage 2 approval for St. Mary’s Dorset Street which is currently going through the Part 8 planning process. A large number of these flat complexes will, in effect, be rebuilt, while others will be refurbished and in some cases amalgamated into one due to the unacceptable sizes of some homes.
As I stated, no reports of contaminated or unsafe drinking water have been reported at Glovers Court. The water supply comes from the neighbouring York Street apartments which contain a pump house where water is fed directly from water mains. Dublin City Council committed to my Department today to send its inspectors to the complex this afternoon to ensure all is in order.
In summary, the points the Deputy raised about wider community development supports such as playgrounds and the social cohesion of the community are an important part of such regeneration projects and it is a matter for Dublin City Council to engage proactively with the communities on what they want in their areas and the wider supports they need, as well as the physical regeneration of the houses and apartment complexes.
There is a bigger piece of work around supporting communities to feel proud of and safe where they are living, for young people growing up and the wider community. That is an equally important component part of the physical regeneration of apartment complexes.