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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 2 May 1989

Vol. 389 No. 4

Adjournment Debate. - Dublin Refurbishment Schemes.

Deputy Flaherty gave me notice of her intention to raise on the Adjournment the subject matter of the inadequacy of funds provided by the Minister for the Environment to Dublin refurbishment schemes, particularly at Ballymun.

I should like to thank the Chair for giving me the opportunity to raise this matter on the adjournment. My main concern in raising this issue is to highlight how grossly inadequate is the allocation made available this year to Dublin Corporation bearing in mind the number of projects that are in progress and those that have been identified as necessary. I accept that the Minister cannot do anything about this matter this year but very soon he will be considering estimates for next year. I should like to point out to him the need there is for an expansion of the refurbishing programme next year. I welcomed the allocation of £4.4 million by the Minister for refurbishment earlier this year. I was worried that such a programme would not continue under the Minister in the same way that it had under his predecessor. I welcomed the fact that the Minister had decided to continue with this relatively new development programme.

I also welcomed the Minister's decision because for the first time Ballymun had been included. In doing that the Minister was honouring a commitment he had made to the people of Ballymun. However, when the corporation considered how they should allocate that £4.4 million they discovered that £3.6 million had been committed to schemes which commenced the previous years. That left a tiny amount of money available for any new projects, one of which was Ballymun. It was estimated that phase 1 of the Ballymun project would cost £4.4 million. I am not suggesting that we should have spent that amount of money this year. In regard to that I should like to ask the Minister if he has released the plans to Dublin Corporation so that they can commence with some of the work on that project this year. The bulk of that money will be required for Ballymun next year.

A number of other projects were scheduled for implementation with Ballymun. Phase 2 of the Darndale project requires £1 million this year and the other phases would cost £7 million. The Fatima Mansions project requires £500,000; St. Mary's requires the best part of £1 million; Cherry Orchard requires £200,000 and the Oliver Bond project requires £500,000. Most of those projects will require substantial funds next year. Limited structural work will be carried out in Ballymun this year but it will not have the type of environmental impact we are looking forward to. The Cherry Orchard project will require several million pounds more and the Fatima Mansions project will require a further £1 million. We have not estimated the cost of refurbishing pre-war schemes such as St. Joseph's Mansions or Marrowbone Lane flats where the windows are falling out of the houses. It is not hard to picture the condition of houses and flats that were built more than 50 years ago and have not been refurbished since. It stands to reason that a lot of work will need to be done on those buildings.

Dublin Corporation engaged consultants to carry out a study of the maintenance needs of their housing stock and they identified 5,750 units as requiring refurbishment at an estimated cost of £90 million. We do not expect funds of that scale to be provided in one year but when one considers that the allocation this year was £4.4 million one will understand what a drop in the ocean it is in relation to our needs. I should like to point out that three years ago the National Coalition were committing up to £80 million annually to Dublin Corporation for housing but the Government have reduced that figure to £4.4 million. That represents an outrageous cut in investment in housing in the city.

I accept that due to our building programme, and our successful loans and grants schemes, we have vacant dwellings in the city and that that should not be allowed to continue. I accept that it took Dublin Corporation some time to change their policies and prepare plans for refurbishment which is the clearly identifiable need and is in line with programmes in cities throughout Europe. However, the Minister did not provide sufficient funds to permit us to carry out a refurbishment programme. The need for such work exists. The inner city is full of pre-war houses and flats blocks which are in a dreadful condition. We have post-war creations like Ballymun, Cherry Orchard and Finglas south — it has not been listed on any programmes — in need of substantial refurbishment.

There are problems in regard to the inner city flats blocks because they were built in the post-war period at a time when materials were scarce and the quality of the buildings was inadequate. There are 700 houses that are without bathrooms. A bath had been provided in the kitchen of many of those flats or houses. It amounted to a tub with a top on it but it proved impossible for people to have a bath in privacy and it is not surprising that many people removed them. Dublin Corporation are endeavouring to install showers in those units but, because of the limited amount of funds available, progress is painfully slow. It is planned to install 59 showers this year but we should do something to speed up the provision of a basic human entitlement which gives a person an opportunity to keep himself or herself clean.

Last year Cork Corporation, who have 7,000 housing units received £3 million while Dublin Corporation, with 38,000 units, received £4.4 million. I had an opportunity of attending a housing conference in Glasgow last year and I discovered that Margaret Thatcher had provided £300 million to the local authority there for refurbishment in that year. The British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, with her image of a hard heart, contributed substantially to the attempts of the people of Glasgow to revive, revitalise and refurbish that city.

Apart from that £4.4 million, I gather only 18 houses are being built this year in Buckingham Street in the inner city of Dublin whereas three years ago we would have invested £80 million in our housing stock, largely in new buildings. As a result of the deterioration in our housing stock there are huge levels of vacancies in many flat blocks, for example, but in Ballymun I think the vacancy level is of the order of 500 to 600 flats. These flats require substantial maintenance and refurbishment and a total commitment otherwise they will only be vandalised again.

With the co-operation of the community in Ballymun something very special has developed in that area similar to what developed so successfully in Darndale. An active community group interested in seeing their area revitalised and in creating an attractive environment have come together with the corporation and worked out a plan. Based on European experience, this is one of the vital ingredients for successful refurbishment. None of us wants to throw money into refurbishing buildings only to find at the end of it all that we are back to the same old cycle of vandalism and destruction. We want to be sure that the money spent will yield a permanent and healthy product.

Based on experience across the water and because we are late in carrying out refurbishment, we have had time to learn from the experience of many of our British and European counterparts in the larger cities. They have learned that the key issues to refurbishment are local involvement, consultation with local people with regard to design and giving maximum responsibility to local people to maintain estates once the investment is made. There have been many great successes and I have no doubt that we could change the face of Dublin. It is absolutely essential that we set about changing the face of Dublin because of the conditions in which many people live.

My colleague, Deputy Mitchell, the Fine Gael spokesperson on urban affairs, produced a document last year which he launched in one of the flat blocks in the city of Dublin. This drew attention to conditions in which thousands of Dubliners live, conditions which none of us would be happy to live in. As a corporation official said, the windows and doors were literally falling off many dwellings and there were no sanitary facilities. While the basic units of accommodation in Ballymun are attractive, the general environment is so badly planned, so inhuman and so large that people cannot make an impact on it and major investment is needed to make the area more people orientated.

The Minister knows what we are proposing and I know that he supports it but his support will be little more than words if substantial funds are not made available for this area next year. I acknowledge the fact that the Minister has given money and shown an interest in the refurbishment of Ballymun, but that interest will be nothing more than a token gesture if it is not backed up by significant funds. As I said 5,750 units are in need of refurbishment at a cost of £90 million, and obviously that figure will increase each year. It is essential that these improvements are carried out.

People should not have to live in that kind of environment when we are not spending money building new houses. This refurbishment would cost £10,000 to £15,000 per unit, which is the current scale of spending on refurbishment schemes. For this sum we could provide a unit of accomodation for a family but if we allow these units to run down to the extent that they will be irretrievable, in the long term we will have to build new units of accommodation at a cost of £25,000 to £30,000 each. Therefore, these improvements are desirable both from a social and an environmental point of view.

Conditions here are not as bad as in some British cities, for example, Glasgow, which requires a great deal of investment because it has problems which thanks be to God, we have never had here in terms of ugly buildings, etc. There is lots of space in Ballymun which has great environmental potential and phase one of this scheme should go ahead quickly, and be followed rapidly by phases two to six. The funds necessary to complete the scheme over a number of years would be of the order of £20 million to £30 million. For this sum we could change this area and make it one which the people who are so committed to building it up deserve, which we can be proud of and which will be an addition to the city rather than an area of difficulty. This scheme will also have tremendous employment potential.

For all of the reasons I have outlined I ask the Minister to ensure that the total inadequate level of funding provided by Dublin Corporation this year be increased. The funding of £800,000 is only a token gesture and means that new projects cannot commence. These projects are necessary to provide basic decent facilities where people can live. Phase one of the Darndale scheme has been completed but the people there are very disillusioned at the delay in starting phase two. If in ten to 15 years only one phase of this scheme has been carried out and the rest of the area is left in the same depressing condition the Minister will have defeated the purpose of this programme.

It is important that these programmes move at a decent pace so that the people are not let down. Obviously it is a struggle to turn around an area, but if we implement these programmes at a snail's pace so that they have little impact on an area then we will be wasting the resources we are putting into the area. The Minister has the right idea but he needs to put it into a new gear and give it more financial commitment next year in particular.

I call Deputy Michael Barrett who is sharing the Minister's time.

I should like to thank the Minister for allowing me to make a few comments, and also Deputy Flaherty for bringing this matter before the House. This is an opportunity for me to once again defend the Minister. I am very much aware of the commitment the Minister made when he was approached by the task force committee in Ballymun. The Minister agreed to meet this committee on three occasions and on the final occasion he met them in Ballymun at their request. On the third occasion the Minister said he would like to see Ballymun and I took him on a tour there, spending an hour doing so before attending the meeting, when he was afforded an opportunity of seeing its good and bad aspects. On that occasion I showed him the results of some of the money he had previously allocated for landscaping and other such work in Ballymun. At no time was there any doubt in my mind of the Minister's commitment.

On three occasions in Dublin Corporation I had occasion to defend the Minister, twice at housing committee meetings and once at a city council meeting. I was very disappointed at the reaction of some politicians, particularly those of The Workers' Party who endeavoured to discredit the Minister, saying all sorts of things about him. They even intimated he had no idea about environmental matters, coming, as he does, from the west. I defended him, pointing out that although he came from the west he was, in my view, the most positive Minister for the Environment we have ever had. In fact, I described him as the best Minister for the Environment on account of his commitment to Ballymun.

The Minister committed himself to allocating the total cost of the phase one refurbishment plan, amounting to something in the region of £5 million. He gave that commitment to all the committee members present on that occasion, issuing a press statement afterwards. Therefore, there has never been any doubt in my mind of the Minister's commitment. Following on that meeting Dublin Corporation officials, having decided on the relevant plan, set about its preparation. Because in this year, approximately only £750,000 of that allocation will be spent, I endeavoured to explain to those people that the whole of the £5 million could not be expended between August and December, explaining that the £750,000 would be the amount of money spent in this year and the remainder in following ones.

Is the Minister confirming that we will get £4 million for Ballymun next year?

Of course, the Minister gave that commitment. When phase one is completed we will have to ask Dublin Corporation to provide proper management——

Hear, hear.

——capable of scrutinising prospective tenants. As I discovered, the biggest problem in Ballymun is caused by what are described as unsociable tenants. A good example is a box of apples with one or two rotten ones among them. Even if one transfers those apples into another box, unless one extracts the rotten ones the rot will continue to permeate the others. Therefore, when this work has been completed Dublin Corporation will have the important task of establishing proper management there.

Deputy Flaherty mentioned phase two. However, I heard a senior official in Dublin Corporation say that when phase one is completed a period of time will have to elapse before phase two can be considered, that its implementation will be entirely dependent on how the people of Ballymun deal with the results of phase one. For example, if when phase one is completed the refurbished flats are vandalised, there would be no point in implementing phase two.

Is it the Deputy's policy to let it decay?

Deputy Flaherty had a very good hearing. Let us have the same good hearing for the Deputy in possession.

I would prefer that the Deputy would not interrupt me because I did not interrupt her. The overall Ballymun complex will have to be examined People living in flats at present are making representations to me to move out of them. There are a certain number of flats needed in Ballymun but it would appear that, if we are to stabilise the Ballymun population more houses will be needed, the stable population there at present being accommodated in houses with a most unstable population in the flats. I am sure Deputy Flaherty holds a clinic in Ballymun also, when she will have ascertained that people at present living in flats there are anxious to vacate them.

I want to thank the Minister for his positive reaction to the people of Ballymun when they approached him. Throughout my years in politics I can say he is the first Minister who ever toured Ballymun and responded favourably to the requests made to him.

First, I should thank the two Deputies who contributed to this debate, in particular Deputy Michael Barrett, and indeed the good people of Ballymun for having received me so kindly when I conducted a tour there together with the other members of the group involved.

Before I turn to the matter of the allocations to Dublin Corporation, I would like to clarify some misconceptions which have arisen about the remedial works scheme under which these allocations are made. The House will already be aware that, while the construction of local authority houses is funded in full by my Department, their management, maintenance and improvement is the responsibility of the local authority concerned. There are no funds available from my Department for that purpose. It is, however, recognised that the financial limitations on authorities may prevent them from undertaking major structural works which have become necessary in certain cases. For this reason 100 per cent capital grants may be made available under the remedial works scheme to enable authorities to tackle specific, serious problem areas. The scheme is targeted, in particular, at remedying defective, low-cost housing and refurbishing pre-1940 estates, including the provision of adequate sanitary facilities. But we will aim also to assist local authorities to rehabilitate the designated run down and problem estates to which they have accorded the highest priority.

One might get the impression sometimes that local authorities look on this scheme as a source of funding to make up for the inadequacy of their housing management and maintenance systems over the years. That is not the objective of the scheme. The scheme is not a substitute for a properly planned management and maintenance programme, nor does its existence relieve local authorities from the responsibility of adequately maintaining their stock on an ongoing basis.

The capital provision for the remedial works scheme in 1989 is £15 million. The fact that this is an increase of some 66 per cent on the 1988 expenditure figure is an indication of the importance which I attach to the need for a programme to tackle the problems which affect certain local authority dwellings. In spite of this increase the demand for funds under the scheme far exceeds the amount of money available. The fact that the funds available are limited and likely to be so in the future means that priorities, based on extent and urgency, have to be established and, in the case of larger projects, the works must be phased over a number of years. Everybody appreciates that. It was in that context that we said: let us have a look at Dublin.

To date I have approved the six proposals, including Ballymun, which have been accorded the highest priority by Dublin Corporation. The total estimated cost of these schemes is over £80 million. While this year's allocation of £4.4 million to Dublin Corporation may seem a small amount in this context I am satisfied that it is reasonable in the light of their probable spending in 1989 to which Deputy Flaherty alluded. It should be borne in mind that Dublin Corporation this year received almost 30 per cent of the total funds available for these estates. It must also be remembered that nearly all of the projects are still in the initial pilot stages and that the scope for major expenditure in 1989 is limited. Work is in progress in Fatima Mansions. Pilot schemes are underway in Cherry Orchard and St. Mary's Mansions. The technical and cost results of these will have to be evaluated before further phases are undertaken. Examination of Dublin Corporation's proposals for phase two of Darndale is complete. I will be in touch with them shortly in the matter. I have approved in principle the projects at Ballymun and Oliver Bond House. Technical documentation in respect of these schemes is being examined. I hope to be in a position to make a decision on both very shortly.

——for the General Election.

I should also like to make it clear that, in considering any proposal under the remedial works scheme, it is necessary to look at more than the structural works to the dwellings in question. No matter how satisfactory these are, the remedial works will not succeed — and here Deputies Flaherty and Barrett are correct — unless similar attention is paid to the environment of these dwellings and to the needs and wishes of the residents.

I have made it clear to all authorities, including Dublin Corporation, that continued remedial works funding is contingent on satisfactory progress being made in the areas of improved management and maintenance and the involvement and co-operation of tenants in the improvement of their estates. Future allocations to Dublin Corporation will be dependent on their overall response to the management and maintenance problems of their estates and the annual capital allocation available to me for the programme and the level of demand by other authorities for funds for remedial works to their housing stocks.

I am committed to implementing a decent remedial works programme. That is the reason the money has been increased this year. I should like to give more and, progressively, I will give as much as I can to meet the demands. I was very impressed with the reception I received in Ballymun. There is a real problem to be tackled there, but it cannot be tackled in isolation, by merely doing up a block and then saying goodbye; it will not work that way. The people themselves pointed out to me and to Deputies Flaherty and Barrett that they wanted to have a sense of belonging; that is the fundamental aspect being made clear at this point.

The Deputy is quite right, I did approve phase one. I cannot give the House the exact figure of what phase one will cost but I am satisfied that, when I release the figure in the near future to go to contract, whatever money can be spent in the intervening period of the contract will have to be met between now and the end of the year. I do not know how much that will be but the House can rest assured we will fund it in that way and will continue in that manner into next year until that phase has been finalised. It does involve a lot of money on phase one only. There is much money to be expended after that as well. Therefore let us get good value for that money.

I am happy that the two Deputies are present because they can convey to their colleagues that, as Deputy Barrett said, I want management and maintenance put on a proper footing, with a proper manager appointed out there to deal with that matter so that the money spent is not put to bad use, as Deputy Flaherty suggested, with the place being revandalised. We are not going to waste money in that fashion. This is a major project which will continue for many years. My commitment is as good today as when I gave it to Deputy Barrett and his colleagues on that occasion. Indeed the Leas-Cheann Comhairle was there as well, as were the other people.

I propose finalising the phase one project for Ballymun in the immediate future, letting it go to contract when I hope we can arrive at a satisfactory solution with regard to the money to be spent this year on whatever is deemed to be necessary. Then we can get Dublin Corporation to put in place what I consider to be just as important, that is an environmental arrangement for the people there with proper management and maintenance controls.

The Dáil adjourned at 9 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 3 May 1989.