Wexford Fianna Fáil Councillors fight social housing plans
``It's a typical example of the inertia of local councils. Never mind about meeting local housing needs, the councillors have failed to maintain the housing stock they already have, even when the local authority didn't have to pay for the repairs,'' says John Dwyer of New Ross, County Wexford.
In 1997, New Ross Urban District Council undertook the refurbishment of about 40 houses in the town's Barrack Lane estate. The refurbishment was carried out under the Remedial Work Scheme, which is 100% financed by Department of the Environment funds.
The Department of the Environment (DoE) sets technical standards for local authority housing. These stipulate that there must be adequate means of heating, safety standards on fire and electrical wiring. None of these standards were met, despite the fact that the costs did not fall on the local authority budget.
There is no adequate means of heating the flats, the old wiring is still in use. There are no ELC switchboards. There is no apparent means of escape in case of a fire. ``They even put in new window frames, in wood, and painted them up to look like aluminium frames,'' says John Dwyer. ``Of course they've started to rot already. It's a yellow pack remedial scheme, for people the councillors don't consider worth more.''
John Dwyer is the local Sinn Féin Councillor in New Ross. He raised the appalling condition of the flats at the council. He was looking for the DoE to come in again and do the work properly. The Department of the Environment replied that the remedial scheme had been completed some three years ago and that maintenance of local authority rented dwellings, including the installation of central heating, was the responsibility of the local authority, to be defrayed from their own resources.
The DoE makes available £10,000 for estate management where there are less than 20 houses, and £20,000 where there are more than 20 houses. The Barrack Lane estate has no facilities for the 15 to 20 kids on the estate to play. There is no landscaping. The green areas are simply waste areas, for rubbish. The council never bothered to look for funding for this work.
``Why did the previous council allow this situation to arise?'' asks Dwyer. ``I think it is just because the councillors really didn't care about this estate at all.'' Meanwhile, the people living in these houses, not only are cold but they are in danger if there is a fire.
d then a new estate started down at the Maudlins, a private housing scheme for 70 houses. The acting town clerk, David Minogue, secured 27 of these houses at a price of £85,000 each. ``It is a remarkably good deal,'' says Dwyer, ``when you consider the going price of houses now and the long housing list in New Ross. It would mean 27 families off the housing list in 6 months.''
When the town clerk put this to the council, Fianna Fáil councillors objected. ``We'll have the tinkers in, and the residents won't put up with that.'' So much for Fianna Fáil's commitment to social housing.
There is a Fianna Fáil majority on the council. They decided to take the question to the General Purposes Committee, which does not include the Sinn Féin councillor and which meets in private.
The committee reported back on their meeting with the residents' committee, and said that they would need time for consultation. John Dwyer proposed that the town clerk proceed immediately to sign contracts with the builders, but his resolution was amended, instructing the town clerk to wait until the chairperson of the council returned from her trip to Australia.
``The only conclusion you can reach is that Fianna Fáil is just not serious about tackling the housing crisis in this country through the provision for social housing in the new Planning Bill,'' says a frustrated Dwyer. ``It's a farce. The politics of housing seems to be geared totally towards looking after builders' interests.''