25 September 2008 Edition
PPP projects collapse
St Michael’s Estate: Groundhog Day for Dublin tenants?
By Ella O’Dwyer
FOUR months ago, residents of St Michael’s Estate, Inchicore, suffered a huge blow when a regeneration plan was dropped as the contracted construction company pulled out of the deal.
On Monday of last week, residents were told by Dublin City Council that a new bidder has emerged. This has raised expectations but people are naturally nervous, given what has happened in the very recent past. Now the families in St Michael’s are urging people to back their decade-long campaign by signing the St Michael’s Regeneration Team’s online petition (see box).
Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh is on the St Michael’s Regeneration Board, set up in 2001 and made up of local residents and community groups.
Críona Ní Dhálaigh wants the Government and Dublin City Council to ensure there is not another collapse of this long-overdue project. “What we don’t need is another Groundhog Day.”
Natasha Farrell has lived in St Michael’s since she was ten. A mother of three, she is one of many residents who have seen the proposed idea started and stopped and started again over the years. She is concerned at a lack of transparency around the project. She told An Phoblacht last Tuesday:
“The whole thing is unclear and we don’t know yet if the new bidder will go ahead with the development – we could be back to square one. It’s very worrying for us.”
The local community came up with a plan for the development which the then Minister for the Environment rejected in favour of the public-private partnership (PPP) route. PPP is a way of procuring public services and infrastructure by combining the public and private sectors.
Under duress, the local community eventually agreed to the PPP proposal seven years ago because it was to include a social package, including a health centre, youth cafe and other facilities including social housing.
The agreed PPP regeneration plan included the physical and social regeneration of the 14-acre site to include 720 dwellings (165 social, 75 affordable, 480 private), with a civic centre with library, parish centre, three crèches, youth café, family resource centre, healthcare centre, two football pitches, play areas, new urban square, village green and public square.
Críona Ní Dhálaigh said:
“The contract, which was to be finalised by last January, was to go to McNamara Construction Company but McNamara kept dragging his feet, coming up with various excuses relating to inflation and costs for soil reclamation and was gradually undermining the commitment to a social package.
“By May this year it was clear that he would not go through with the deal.
“The community’s worst fears have materialised in relation to the development. Now they are literally living on a derelict site.
“They are calling for the PPP plan to go ahead as agreed. The fear now is that if it is left to the Government to go ahead with a development that the acreage will only be five rather than the proposed 15-acre development, which was to include the social facilities. The human side of the story is stark.”
McNamara has also pulled out of other developments in O’Devaney Gardens, Dominick Street and Seán MacDermott Street.
McNamara has disengaged from the regeneration projects in O’Devaney Gardens, Infirmary Road and the Convent Lands and he is to make a contribution of €1.5 million to the council for costs incurred.
Support St Michael’s – Sign the online petition
“We want An Taoiseach Brian Cowen, Minister John Gormley and Dublin City Council to take action to ensure that the St Michael’s Estate 14 acres site will be physically and socially regenerated as a matter of urgency.
“The PPP regeneration process forced on the people of St Michael’s Estate has taken over seven years and cost the state millions despite that fact that not one brick has been laid to date.
“We want action now!”
It’s back to the drawing board for O’Devaney Gardens
Another area suffering from the Groundhog Day factor is O’Devaney Gardens, located at the end of the North Circular Road in the west of the inner city. A major regeneration project was proposed for the complex in 2006, again to be carried out by McNamara construction company. When he pulled out of the deal last month he left a trail of despair and anxiety amongst the residents.
Ruth Murray has lived in O’ Devaney for the past 12 years:
“It was like a death here in the flats when we got the news that McNamara was pulling out. We were so disappointed. We’ve been told that so far there is no second bidder, though a strategic team has been formed to put together a Plan B. But who’s to say that we won’t be back to square one again. We came this far just to have it all fall apart.”
Residents have been informed by Dublin City Council (DCC) that while a Plan B is being worked on it will be three years before the development gets underway. Ruth likes living in O’Devaney but the dwellings are small and there is a serious problem with anti-social behaviour.
“The kitchens and bathrooms are very small and there’s a serious problem with anti-social behaviour. There was a lot of trouble here in August this year. Gangs come in here from outside the area and they drink openly. It’s a free for all. It’s a big problem.”
Ruth is justifiably frustrated and anxious that the government do something to help the residents.
“There has to be a Plan B. The Government might say that they have no money but they have to come up with a plan, maybe give the money to Dublin City Council to get on with the development.”
Another harsh reality for the residents is that having waited all these years for the development to materialise it is now too late for many of them to find an alternative route to housing.
“We’ve been waiting for years for this development and many of us didn’t try other routes to housing and now we’re too old to get mortgages or the like.”
Another long-term resident of O’Devaney Gardens is Nadine Murphy who has been living there for the past 13 years.
“My grandmother lived here too. I remember that when it was announced the development was to happen telling my son about it. He was only seven then and I told him he’d have a big bedroom, a playground and a lovely community that he cold be very proud of. He’s now 16 and nothing has moved forward. The Regeneration Board for O’Deveany set up what we call a community charter to outline what we wanted in the development and we had great hopes.” Nadine’s disappointment is tangible.
“You can feel the disappointment in the air here. They’re going to do a bit of painting on the outside of the flats but it’s only a face-lift. The halls are filthy, there’s graffiti on the walls and you frequently have to go out and move people off the landings. No matter how often you clean the halls they get dirty again straight away. The kitchens are tiny and you’ve nowhere to put a kitchen table. We hace to eat off our laps. It’s so small that if there’s two people in my kitchen I get claustrophobic.”
Nadine’s remaining hope lies with the strategic team that has been established by Dublin City Council.
“There’s a Strategic team in place which was formed to work out a way forward and that’s our only hope now. We’re hoping to hear something before Christmas.”
Lina Jordan of the O’Devaney Regeneration Board is anxious about the proposed Plan B saying that the residents have no idea what’s involved. “There is a task force working on a Plan B but we don’t know yet what’s involved. In this poor economic climate it’s unlikely that the government will come up with the necessary funds.”
The Deputy City Manager Ciaran McNamara is ruling nothing out in terms of possible routes to funding. He could seek government funding via Dublin City Council or go down the Public Private Partnership route again – a prospect that could leave residents uneasy given that have already been there with McNamara. Lina Jordan says:
“I’ve been living in O’Devaney for 51 years and finally I gave up and left three weeks ago when it was clear that the development had collapsed. The residents are in Limbo – totally devastated. From where I’m sitting things look very uncertain. I blame Dublin City Council for not ensuring that the contract with McNamara was watertight and with no exit clause. By the time this development does materialise it will be too late for another generation of young people.”
While she is also critical of the fact that the residents have no direct input into the negotiations between the council and developers, she says some councillors do keep the residents up to speed on what’s happening. One of those councillors is Sinn Féin’s Christy Burke.
Sinn Féin Councillor Christy Burke has been heavily involved in negotiations to seek a resolution to the debacle in O’Devaney Gardens and remains hopeful that a resolution will be found.
“The next step is for the residents to be notified by newsletter to tell them exactly where things are going from here. Dublin City Council will be responsible for getting that newsletter out. There is a task force set up the DCC to set out a plan B and all we need now is initiative, commitment and the will from all sides involved. Lessons have to be learnt here in relation to mistakes made with developers. We have the land and the sites and I’m very optimistic that the problem will get resolved. The City Council and the government must now come up with plan B and move forward and Sinn Féin will not be found wanting in this.”
Burke has nothing but admiration for the people of O’Devaney Gardens and also for the residents of Dominick Street, which is also affected by McNamara’s pullout.
“I have to congratulate the residents on the effort they have made in terms of protests and lobbying. The tenants co-operated with Dublin City Council and the developer all the way and then McNamara pulled out partially because he saw that his profits would drop because we in the council got the bedrooms upsized. These people have been living in Strumpet City conditions for years. That goes for Dominick Street too. I’m on the regeneration board in Dominick Street and I see first hand the conditions people are living in there. There’s nobody in Dublin City Council or in the Ministerial arena who would live in the conditions that the people of Dominick Street and O’ Devaney are living in and that needs to be driven home. A new residential charter should be written up outlining the rights of the residents to be written up by the main players and DCC would sign off on that. At the end of the day a Plan B must be established and the commitment honoured and fulfiled.”
On the anti-social behaviour which notoriously peaked in the second week of August last with riots, damage to property and attacks on the Gardaí he said:
“There is a serious anti-social problem in O’Devaney and that’s a matter for the Gardaí. It’s for them to address the problem and on a permanent basis. There’s no point in having a fragmented approach. The Guards must have a permanent presence in O’Devaney and now with the new Intoxicating Liquor Act Gardaí are now allowed to confiscate alcohol and act on alcohol related disturbances. They must also act promptly when called to a scene.”
“The people of O’Devaney and Dominick Street have taken a terrible blow. The prospect of getting the development going was like a life support to the residents. The City Council and the government must now come up with plan B, and sooner rather than later.”