Sunday 25 February 2018

Planning could stop child deaths

Mark Keenan

Mark Keenan

IN THE midst of this heatwave it's impossible to imagine closing all windows and keeping them locked shut. But for families with young children who are today forced to live in boom-era apartment blocks, the cost of a breath of fresh air could ultimately be tragedy.

A two-year-old boy is in hospital this week after miraculously surviving a fall from a second floor apartment balcony at Belfry Hall in Tallaght. Last year 21-month-old Sebastian Kus died after falling from a top floor window at the Tramyard in Inchicore.

Less than a year ago an 18-month baby girl fell to her death from the top windows of an apartment block in Phibsboro and the previous year a 16-month girl died after a fall from apartments in Eyre Square in Galway.

The Children's Hospital in Temple Street, reports increases in tragic deaths from high falls with more than 40 reported in the last two years. Usually children aged from one to two are the victims.

These tragedies underline how high rise apartments are not suitable places for young children to live. However many young families simply don't have a choice.

The result is Ireland's burgeoning population of "block children" are living with their parents in the sort of one-and two-bed dwellings which were marketed for investors seeking to cash-in on trendy, high rise urban lifestyles.

Little Sebastian's case highlighted that window locks don't provide the solution – his mother said he had somehow managed to undo the safety mechanism on the window from which he fell.

But parents like Sebastian's also face a Hobson's choice.

Within a week of the Tallaght accident, young children and babies were (as witnesses related), "being dropped from open windows" after a fire blazed through another Clondalkin apartment block at 5am. A witness reported: "The building went up in 15 minutes and we couldn't get out the hall door with the flames in the corridor. All along the back of the building there were kids being dropped from windows."

So what would have happened if all these windows had been securely locked and the keys not immediately at hand? What choice would you make?

The other serious question to be answered in Clondalkin is how did that fire spread so quickly that it left residents no option but to drop their babies from windows, entrusting them to be caught by people on the street.

A leading executive in the property management business adds: "Children are a big issue at the moment in apartment blocks. We had a child fall out a window in one of our blocks and thank Christ he walked away from it.

"They're in danger in the common stairwell areas as well. It's hard to know what to do. You can't bar children from apartment blocks but if there's a case to be made, I'd say that case is with the planners."

And he's right.

Because despite the increasing population and baby boom, Ireland stopped building family houses in its cities more than five years ago.

This trend is reflected in the recently surging prices for family houses in Dublin and Cork which have been escalating at levels equal to the worst of the boom.

This is despite most of them already being priced beyond the reach of most young couples – and often they can't get a loan for them anyway.

Six years after the property crash started, local authorities still maintain the same high density development stipulations which require developers to cram the most homes possible into each site. That means shoebox apartments.

Building has already started again on a small scale in our cities spurred by new demand, and some schemes are already knocking family homes to build even more apartments.

The council's high density planning regimes might produce the most cash for the local authorities and the exchequer, but they certainly don't provide suitable and safe homes for our two-year-olds.

Irish Independent

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