O’Devaney Gardens must not be left behind again!

30th October, 2008

Paschal raised the need for urgent action with the Minister for Environment in Seanad Eireann on  the O’Devaney Gardens Regeneration Project. He pointed to how this local community had been let down in the past and said the same cannot happen again. Paschal will continue to raise this with the Minister and the Government until a clear plan is delivered for the local community.

Paschal addressing the Seanad
Paschal addressing the Seanad

Please see the below debate with Paschal and the Minister for Housing.

Senator Paschal Donohoe:

I thank the Cathaoirleach for the opportunity to speak on this motion. I welcome the Minister of State to the House, particularly in light of the fact that this matter is his ministerial responsibility. Earlier this year, many people took the news that the public private partnership projects for, among other areas, O’Devaney Gardens and Dominick Street had collapsed as an omen that the environment in which Ireland had been operating and prospering was beginning to change. For a long time we were able to rely on a booming construction industry, not only to deliver the tax revenues necessary to fund public services, but to deliver specific social and affordable housing projects. The model of using private industry to meet social needs was often used well and effectively in recent years, but the challenge we now face is our reliance on the industry to meet particular housing needs when the industry is no longer capable of delivering them.

The news has caused considerable misery and fear among the communities dependent on the housing projects. The two projects to which I refer are, unfortunately, two fine examples of the concern that arises when public private partnership projects collapse. The Minister of State and the Department are familiar with the cases to which I refer. Given that he has visited some of the sites and, from a previous life, is familiar with them, I will not outline the background to the projects. Rather, I will provide an update on the current situation.

There is widespread concern that the private industries upon which we have been relying will not be able to deliver the regeneration and social housing projects necessary in Dominick Street and O’Devaney Gardens. Alongside this fear is an even greater concern that Dublin City Council, given the funding it is receiving and the many other services that it must provide, might not be in a position to provide the projects and to ensure their completion within a reasonable timeframe.

I attended a public meeting on one of these projects at which a resident made the point that many of the promises regarding services and improvements were made in 1999. Nine years later the model for the delivery of the services has collapsed. Dublin City Council is doing much work in this regard because it is the council’s responsibility to provide leadership to local communities. However, given the scale of these housing projects, it is difficult to see how they can proceed without direct support from the Government.

I understand the capital programme for social housing for next year, as announced in the budget, is €1.4 billion. Will the Minister of State provide an update on the status of both these projects and indicate whether the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is willing to come to the aid of these communities, if necessary, to ensure the funding is in place to secure the provision of decent housing as soon as possible?

Deputy Michael Finneran:

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. Following the announcement by Dublin City Council that the particular public private partnership project envisaged for O’Devaney Gardens would not proceed, my Department has engaged closely with the council to identify the next steps for residents and for the project itself. As part of this process, I have met representatives of the O’Devaney Gardens community and heard their concerns at first hand.

The council is committed to working with its tenants at O’Devaney Gardens to explore options for the regeneration. However, given the economic challenges we now face and the particular difficulties being experienced by the construction sector, progress may not be made quickly enough to meet the reasonable housing requirements of the complex’s remaining residents. I continue to emphasise to the council the need to acquire suitable alternative accommodation in the area for those tenants who are anxious to move. I am assured by the council that households in O’Devaney Gardens are being prioritised for transfer under the normal allocations procedures. To support the council in its efforts to make further progress on this, I am taking into account in future funding allocations the rehousing implications arising from regeneration projects such as O’Devaney Gardens.

To date, 110 of the original 280 households at O’Devaney Gardens have moved out of the estate, with more than 30 moving in the past three months. I understand this approach may present a difficult choice for the community. However, in the current climate, it offers the best and most immediate option for providing better and safer accommodation. Every household that chooses to move from O’Devaney Gardens will be given the opportunity to return to the estate once the regeneration has taken place.

From a policy perspective, the impact of the changed economic climate and residential housing sector, which were cited as factors influencing the developers’ decision, are being carefully considered by my Department. While public investment will continue to be used in delivering the regeneration at O’Devaney Gardens, the path to securing the private investment needed to build a sustainable, mixed-tenure community is not yet clear. What is certain, however, is that I will not allow a return to sprawling, mono-tenure social housing estates, the make-up of which contributes in no small part to the economic and social deprivation we see in areas such as O’Devaney Gardens.

Building sustainable communities is at the heart of our housing policy approach. These are communities of mixed-income households supported by a business and social infrastructure that provides a wide range of services, including training and employment opportunities, within a well-designed physical environment. It is not possible for the public sector alone to deliver this vision. If we are to work towards building sustainable communities, we will continue to need the involvement of private enterprise in whatever form that takes. The current form of public private partnership is just one option my Department and Dublin City Council are examining.

The council also has established a dedicated task force to identify the next steps for O’Devaney Gardens, both in terms of options available immediately and a longer-term strategy for delivering on the regeneration. In the short term, consideration is being given to strategic demolition and site clearance to address some of the issues of anti-social behaviour and to facilitate the eventual construction works.

My Department remains committed to the regeneration at O’Devaney Gardens. In the short term, every effort is being made to move households with an expressed desire to move into better accommodation in the surrounding area. The longer-term strategy is more challenging given the current economic climate. However, our response to this challenge must not mean a return to the days of deprived local authority estates. It is incumbent on us to explore all options to ensure we achieve our objective of building sustainable communities with the necessary income and tenure mix and with a focus on underpinning social and economic opportunities for all.

Senator Paschal Donohoe:

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I appreciate his involvement in this issue within the Department. The community under discussion was abandoned in the past and we must ensure that does not happen again. As the city council puts together its plans, I hope to raise the matter again with the Minister to ensure this community is looked after.