Tuesday 28 March 2017

Home Truths: We need to talk about CPO ...

Up: Carl Fredricksen defies the odds by attaching thousands of helium balloons and saves his home
Up: Carl Fredricksen defies the odds by attaching thousands of helium balloons and saves his home
Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

THE Stephen King novel Roadwork tells the story of George Dawes who learns that his home is to be demolished to make way for a motorway extension. Dawes has just lost his son to cancer and his wife is leaving him after discovering that he hasn't engaged the authorities. As far as Dawes is concerned, his house and the memories it holds are all he has left.

Dawes, who has been an upstanding citizen, rigs his house with explosives, buys a firearm and ammunition and sits in his living room waiting for the bulldozers.

The story of the put-upon homeowner and the authorities seeking to flatten his property is a standard in popular culture. Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy opens with a harassed Arthur Dent lying in front of a bulldozer to save his house - only to learn that it's a pointless exercise because, in the penultimate version of this universal tale, the whole planet is to be demolished anyway to make way for an intergalactic motorway.

In the acclaimed Pixar animated film, Up, the elderly widower Carl Fredricksen defies the odds by attaching thousands of helium balloons and saves his home by steering it off airship-style into the sunset.

Such stories are anchored in popular culture because states and local authorities will always be required to take people's homes from them for the sake of roads and civic projects, but also because they often do it in a cack-handed and insensitive manner.

Champion rally driver Rosemary Smith knows only too well about the emotional turmoil wrought by threatened demolition. She describes her former home of 30 years - 'Four Winds' in Sandyford, Dublin - as "a really beautiful house on two-and-a-half acres". But her life was chicaned for more than a decade after the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Council decided it would be included on one of three proposed routes for the Southern Cross link of the M50 and then didn't decide the route for 12 years.

"They told me initially that the road would be running straight through my bedroom," says Smith, who now runs a successful driving school for transition year school children. Owners couldn't extend or improve their homes and they couldn't sell them. Smith had at the time needed to sell the house but couldn't. "Buyers wouldn't touch it while the road plan was in place."

Smith faced financial ruin and asked for a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to end it all, but the council wouldn't give it. "I had to keep ringing over and over again over the years because they refused to notify me when the decision was made. They were really unhelpful throughout." Smith's former home was not demolished but instead the council installed a halting site beside it.

Earlier this month, 41 Galwegian property owners received letters of foreboding telling them their homes are threatened with demolition to make way for the new Galway bypass while another 360 have been notified their properties are to be affected in some ways by the roadworks. Once again it seems cack-handed handling is widespread. Recent reports suggest many people didn't even receive their letters initially, while others did. It resulted in property owners finding out by accident and on the grapevine.

It also emerged the local authority approved many planning permissions for extensions and improvements late last year, some of which have already got underway.

A local GAA club which had just invested ¤200,000 in acquiring land for new pitches had been refused permission on the grounds of the land being in the zone threatened by the road. Its principals claimed nothing had been mentioned about it in two meetings with planners.

The club chairman said: "You'd think the left hand would have known what the right hand was doing, but they obviously didn't know. The city planners, in my opinion, weren't aware this was coming down the track when we spoke to them."

The Compulsory Purchase process will always be required to enable civic projects which benefit the greater good. But we need real changes in how people are treated and compensated. First off, decision processes need to be speeded up so owners are not left in limbo like Smith was for 12 years.

The process compensates owners to the exact financial value of their home and for the exact amount they are out of pocket for their move, or for the compromise caused to their property.

Unfortunately, the 'sale agreed' price is often established many months before the money is paid over. In a rising market where a home's value hikes by ¤30,000 in a year, a six-month delay leaves the owners out of pocket by ¤15,000 for which their next home will have increased in value by in the interim.

A home is far more than a commodity. To some older people it's all they have. It's time Irish homeowners affected by such projects were paid an additional significant amount above market value for the disturbances, emotional and otherwise, to lives, upon which the State currently places no value whatsoever.

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