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Friday 19 January 2018

Not a single house built despite €116m spend on rescue scheme

Barry Duggan

NOT a single house has been built and some families now live in worse circumstances despite over €100m being spent on a controversial regeneration project.

Five years after the establishment of Limerick's regeneration agencies, the vast majority of the €116m spent so far has gone to a local authority to demolish homes and relocate hundreds of families while the process has descended into chaos.

The agencies set up to transform blighted areas of Limerick have faced a torrent of criticism over the slow progress amid claims entire communities have been decimated due to haphazard relocation.

Now the man charged with delivering a better life for thousands in disadvantaged areas like Moyross and Southill has claimed his agencies were left powerless and tasked with too much work.

In a hard-hitting interview, the outgoing Limerick Regeneration Agencies chief executive Brendan Kenny revealed to the Irish Independent the problems that have hindered the work since 2007.

These included:

• Some families now live in worse circumstances.

• The agencies were left powerless by government to implement serious change and had to rely on the goodwill of other organisations.

• Despite early warnings, the vast majority of the €116m regeneration pot has gone to a local authority to demolish homes and relocate hundreds of families while the regeneration process stalled.

• Government departments represented on the regeneration board held up key initiatives such as multi-disciplinary teams to work within communities.

• From a project that was initially meant to cover just two neglected suburbs -- Moyross and Southill -- regeneration later took on two other suburban areas without extra resources.

The regeneration agencies will be wound up next month with their responsibilities transferred to Limerick City Council and a new local authority in 2014.

Mr Kenny said state bodies did not deliver for Limerick. He said regeneration had hoped to tackle anti-social behaviour, criminality, education issues and family welfare across Limerick's deprived estates, but largely could not because there was no co-ordinated approach.

"There was an unrealistic expectation that we could solve everything. The pressure was coming on myself and (regeneration chairman) John Fitzgerald and the reality is the solutions lay with the government departments," Mr Kenny said.

Asked if government departments delivered for Limerick's regeneration, Mr Kenny gave a blunt response, "No".

"We were very much depending on getting a government approach to regeneration, but in our view we didn't get it. No."

Relocation

A key and early desire of the regeneration management was to establish multi-disciplinary teams comprising of a garda officer, local authority worker and social worker to work in four Limerick communities under the regeneration remit. It never happened.

"If we had that, we would have achieved more. If we had a bit more clout, we would like to have seen more done on anti-social behaviour, education and welfare.

The relocation of tenants to non-regeneration areas by Limerick City Council also overtook the demand for new homes in Moyross, Southill, St Mary's Park and Ballinacurra-Weston.

Up to €90m has been spent by the local authority on moving 365 families from regeneration areas and demolishing homes. Of this sum, a total of €53m was spent on buying new homes across the mid-west for the families -- at an average cost of €145,000 per house.

With the regeneration agencies being wound up next month, the first 33 homes in Moyross are still under construction.

"We wanted to see building (of homes) starting earlier rather than the big emphasis on relocation," Mr Kenny said.

"One of the weaknesses overall was that the budget was separated. Most of the money has actually gone to the local authorities."

Former government minister Willie O'Dea said Mr Kenny should look closer to home to see who raised people's expectations of regeneration.

"There was high expectations, but who created them? By and large it was the initial interaction of the people who came down to run regeneration," he said.

The Fianna Fail TD insisted that government departments delivered for regeneration.

"How much money has been delivered -- a lot of money. My understanding is that so much money was being allocated, it wasn't being spent. There was a whole lot of delays. Definitely, the fault seems closer to home (regeneration)."

Mr O'Dea said he did not envisage a situation where hundreds of homes would be demolished with none created.

Despite the imminent closure of the existing regeneration agencies, the Department of the Environment said it remained wholly committed to continuing the regeneration project.

Irish Independent

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