Republican News · Thursday 03 August 2000

[An Phoblacht]

Sinn Féin shakes up New Ross Council

Dwyer shows way forward on `social housing'

The Supreme Court is currently considering the constitutionality of Part Five of the new Planning Bill, which carries the Departmentof the Environment's proposed `solution' to the housing crisis that exists throughout the 26 Counties. Meanwhile, however, some quite startling developments in how to deal with the housing shortage have been taking place in New Ross, County Wexford.

Despite considerable opposition from fellow councillors over the last four months, Sinn Féin Councillor John Dwyer has finally secured the agreement of New Ross UDC to sanction the purchase of 21 houses in a local development, at 85,000 each, for social housing. The council will also purchase a further six houses, all of which will be resold at reduced prices of between 60,000 and 65,000, subsidised by the Department of the Environment.

Furthermore, the council has agreed to buy the remaining five-acre site from the developer, at a price of 275,000, which will be resold back to people in need of housing at 100 per serviced site.

Local building costs for a three-bedroom house, on a serviced site, average 40,000 to 45,000, for a house built to personal specifications. This makes housing available and affordable to the young people in the town. It is a significant breakthrough.

What is Social Housing?

John Dwyer puts the development in context:

``There are over 300 people on a declared housing list in New Ross. Although I have often asked for the full application list, the council has not made this available. But there is a severe housing crisis in the town, which is fast becoming a satellite for commuters to Waterford, Wexford and even Dublin.

``And it has to be remembered that what this term `social housing' refers to is not, as the Department might have you believe, the homeless people, or the unemployed. It refers to the broad mass of young people, often two-income families, who are unable to afford, even on substantial double incomes, to buy a house. `Social housing' is for everyone, except the very rich.

``The cost of building a three-bedroom bungalow here, or anywhere else in Ireland, on a serviced site, is between 40,000 and 45,000. What young people can't afford is the cut which goes for the price of the site and the exorbitant profit margins, maintained by developers and builders, who are holding the country to ransom through a contrived shortage of building land and houses.

``The Department of the Environment has powers to facilitate local authorities to buy land and houses to relieve the housing shortage.''

When asked why other councils have not used the same strategy, Dwyer replies: ``Perhaps because the councillors are happy in their cosy consensus with developers and builders, or maybe there is just a lack of will to deal with the housing shortage? Perhaps it is because there aren't Sinn Féin councillors there to push things forward?

``What is really positive in this plan to provide social housing is that housing is not ghetto-type housing which council estate housing tended to be, with as many units crushed into as small a space as possible. It is the ghetto aspect of so many estates which has been a major contributory factor to the marginalisation of people and all the social problems which this brings.

``The houses that our UDC is buying are nice, low density, well built houses with garages and space for gardens. They were built, after all, for private sale. This is housing for people for the 21st century. It represents a radical solution to the gross inequality in housing which undoubtedly has led, especially in the bigger cities, to the problems of disadvantaged communities. It is no good trying to eliminate disadvantage, ploughing money into dealing with drugs, delinquent youth, educational disadvantage, and endemic unemployment, while you create substandard, ghettoised, second rate housing for a section, always the poorer section, of society.''

Derelict Sites Act 1990

But John Dwyer, through the council, has gone further. ``In every town in the country there are derelict sites, often in highly desirable spots, which are left derelict, often with the intent of realising a higher sale price for their current owners on the eventual sale of the property,'' he points out. ``These sites are not just eyesores. They hold back the development of the town.''

Under the Derelict Sites Act of 1990, local authorities are required to keep a register of these sites, and if they remain derelict for a year, after notification that they are listed as derelict, then the Local Authority has the power to tax the owner of the site at the rate of 3% per annum on the current value of the site.

New Ross UDC kept no such register until, at Councillor John Dwyer's recommendation, they began to register them. Since last October, some 60 site have been registered as derelict in the town.

``A typical example is the old grain stores, right on the quays,'' says Dwyer. ``It is a prime site in the town, reaching back from the quays almost to the main street, which runs through the centre of the town. It has been left derelict for years, with grass growing out of windows. We can't develop the quays and the huge tourist potential of the town while such an eyesore remains.''

The site, at a conservative estimate, is valued at 2.5 million. Three percent of this value, 75,000, accruing to the UDC, represents one fifth (20%) of the total government subvention to New Ross, which is only 365,000 a year. ``Taxing these derelict sites could make a great difference to what our council is able to do in the town,'' says John Dwyer.

``There is a great deal that can be done for social development on the equality agenda through local government,'' Dwyer avows, ``if councillors have the will.

``And at the end of the day, whether other councillors like it or not, they will have to go along with these policies, because otherwise they know that the people will reject them at the next election.''

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