Tuesday, 5 April 2022
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Burke, for coming to the House. It seems he is permanently here. He is always welcome. It is great he takes the time and trouble to be here with us. We all appreciate it. I want to put that on the record. I call on Senator O'Loughlin.
I thank the Minister of State for being here to take this Commencement matter. I invite him to come to Rathangan, which is not so far away and only about an hour from Mullingar, to see our lovely town and have a look at what is happening in St. Patrick's Park. There is a wonderful community living in Rathangan and a great community in St. Patrick's Park, but that has not always been the case. Some 15 to 20 years ago, there was some awful antisocial behaviour in the area that was only being perpetrated by two or three families. The majority of people who lived, and continue to live, in St. Patrick's Park are decent, law-abiding people who contribute to the whole social fabric of the area. Neighbouring fields were set alight and cars were set on fire and abandoned. Indeed, it got to the stage where the area featured on RTÉ's "Dirty Old Towns". The Minister of State may remember that. There was a sense among the people living there that they were being abandoned by the local authority, the local community and the national Government to endure what these two or three families were doing.
In 2011, it was decided that there would be a regeneration project for the area. It was a very big project. The area was one of the only ones chosen for such a project in the country, alongside an area in County Limerick. Plans were put in place. The reason the regeneration was sanctioned was because it was based on a design analysis of the estate that demonstrated issues were caused by the layout of the estate, including the lack of passive surveillance and insecure back garden walls with unsupervised rear access. There was a proposal to put a new build in place to deliver an estate that would be a pleasure to live in and that was clean, safe and secure for all residents, yet here we are 11 years later. Phase 1 of the project considered the refurbishment of 37 existing houses that did not need to come down. That was completed in 2019. That was a good news story. Unfortunately, at this time, a number of houses on the estate have been left derelict. It is very difficult for people to live beside them. A number of residents left their houses and were housed elsewhere. They did not want to leave their community, but they left on the understanding St. Patrick's Park was going to be a better place and this was what was necessitated.
It is an urgent issue. I have raised the matter as a councillor, as a Deputy and as a Senator. Local councillor, Anne Connolly, has been raising the issue on a consistent basis with Kildare County Council. I know that by raising this matter today, I will be subjected to a lot of negative and bad social media abuse by one particular resident. He is going to start the same rumour and innuendo as he did previously. My message to him is that I will report it to the Garda, as I have done with every other threat that has been made against me by this individual. There will be 15 new houses added to the estate. What I am saying to the Minister of State is that while I acknowledge we are in a very difficult housing situation, I cannot understand how it is taking so long to get to the point where we can complete the St. Patrick's Park project and have a lovely, viable place for the residents living there and the new residents who will come to live there.
I thank the Senator for raising this important matter and for the opportunity to provide an update on behalf of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.The Department provides funding to local authorities to support a broad range of housing programmes, including the delivery of new social homes through build, acquisition and leasing of new social housing, remediation of existing social housing stock and the regeneration of other areas of disadvantage.
Through the significant funding made available under Housing for All, we are supporting Kildare County Council in the major refurbishment and new build social housing scheme at St. Patrick's Park, Rathangan, through capital funding provided for under the remedial works scheme. This funding is focused on full estate remediation works, rather than individual houses.
In St. Patrick's Park, phase 1 was completed in October 2019, as the Senator referenced, under the management of the council and saw the refurbishment of 34 homes. Since then, the council, following public consultation workshops with the residents, has developed phases 2 and 3. I understand that this involves the demolition of 15 existing homes, construction of seven new homes, refurbishment of 25 and a range of site and landscaping works. This part of the works has recently received pre-planning funding approval from our Department.
A design team has been appointed and is progressing the scheme with the intention, as I understand from the council, to consult the residents further and seek Part 8 planning approval in mid-2022. This should enable Kildare County Council to complete the tendering process in 2022 if approved by the councillors, with the potential for the works to begin subsequently. I understand the council plans to carry out the works on a phased basis to minimise disruption to existing residents. If this progress can be maintained, it could see final completion of the redevelopment of St. Patrick's Park for mid-2025. A regeneration project moves through a number of phases throughout its life: the initial master-planning stage; demolition works; enabling works; refurbishment and consolidation works; and construction. The need for planning approval by councillors and for consultation with residents is important in such projects and this is led by the county council.
Projects involving the improvement of existing housing and the addition of high-quality new replacement housing constitute a valuable part of what we are supporting for the local authorities under Housing for All. Local authorities have scope to use capital funding to deliver new social homes in town centres through projects focused on vacancy and renewal. This commitment to using all opportunities, including social housing budgets, as part of tackling vacancy, is a critical part of Housing for All. Addressing vacancy and maximising the use of existing housing stock is a key concern of this Government.
While the redevelopment of St. Patrick's Park is a complex project, it is being advanced by Kildare County Council so that improved conditions are delivered for the residents. Further information can be obtained directly from the county council in terms of its implementation and management of the programme. I have absolutely assured it of our full support in this regard.
I thank the Minister of State for the update. I appreciate that a regeneration project has to move through a number of phases. However, it certainly should not take 11 years just to have completed phase 1. Many of the gaps were when Kildare County Council would come back to the Department in terms of plans, drawings, etc., and the Department would then take an inordinately huge amount of time and would come back and look for more changes.
I appreciate the Department is under much pressure, but there has to be a better way. From what the Minister of State said, it seems like in three years’ time we should be close to having the regeneration completed, which is good. However, there are families living there. There were children who were born 15 years ago who will be moving out by the time the regeneration is complete. They have spent all of their lives, basically, living beside houses that are derelict, etc. We need to have a better system. I appreciate the update and I sincerely hope that I will not have to raise this again.
I thank the Senator for her query on this very important project. I will raise it with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, as well to ensure it gets maximum attention in the Department. As the Senator pointed out, a decade is a long timescale for any project. However, we are assured the Part 8 portion will be ready midway through this year and the timescale for the completion of the project is mid-2025. We reaffirmed those deadlines with the Department. If there is any delay on the projections given, we will revert back to the Senator.