Thursday 20 June 2019

Fingal has a bright future

outgoing chief executive of Fingal County Council, Paul Reid, tells John Manning he is optimistic for the county's future as he leaves County Hall

In the second part of our exclusive interview with the chief executive of Fingal County Council who left office last week to become Director General of the HSE, the now former heard of Fingal County Council looks to the future and talks about the council and the county he is handing over to his successor.

There are some significant pieces of unfinished business on the desk of the outgoing chief executive, Paul Reid as he leaves office and among them are two major development plans that come with a lot of housing, and therefore, a lot of local controversy.

The plans are for Ballymastone in Donabate and Castlelands in Balbriggan and both plans have faced quite a lot of opposition locally but Mr Reid is convinced that both are 'the right things to be doing'.

He told the Fingal Independent: 'First of all, they are the right things to be doing. We have big landbanks, we have huge, major shortages of housing supply and we have huge issues around affordability.

'You have young people now growing up in Fingal not being able to afford homes to live in Fingal and having to leave and travel to all kinds of remote regional areas and that is not the quality of life that people need and deserve. So firstly for the people of Fingal, it is absolutely the right thing to do.'

'Secondly it is the best use of landbanks that we and the State own.

'So taking leadership on the landbanks we own is the right thing to do. It's the right thing to do because we can have control over the mix of development in those areas.

'Here we have the opportunity to set it at an affordable rate, certainly a significant proportion of the development for affordable housing for people from Fingal and elsewhere. So, it's the right thing to do.'

Addressing each of the plans, he said: 'I think Ballymastone will progress very well.

'There's a huge level of awareness built in, in terms oft he mix and densities that are built into it and that's right. That has taken its own momentum and will move on.

'Castlelands has just been published and inevitably when such an investment is set out and published you do get some public reaction and that's good.

'We want to hear the views of people, particularly in Balbriggan and I have no doubt when we go through that process and get their concerns in, we will be able to address a lot of the concerns people have but ultimately it is a landbank and we need housing, we need affordable housing and my strong message to the people of Balbriggan is to use the opportunity to get the infrastructure the community needs and Castlelands is one of these unique projects in the country that has the opportunity to have the infrastructural investment in advance of the housing.

'I would be strongly saying to people in Balbriggan that the history of objecting to something can actually work against you.

'If you embrace something, you get the investment and the infrastructure in first, it's a big win.'

He said the plan for Castlelands should not be taken in isolation and should be seen in the context of the recently unveiled plan to rejuvenate the town.

He said: 'The socio-economic strategy is important to build the infrastructure and the community impetus in the town along with housing.'

But ultimately, he said: 'There will be more housing in Balbriggan, that's a fact. The land is there and it's affordable so there will be more housing in the town.'

Asked what he will miss about the job as he leaves office, Mr Reid said: 'I will hugely miss a few things. First of all, the people of Fingal, it's a really distinct community, it's not a homogeneous community - it's all very different.

'But it's a community that works very well with the local authority which you don't get all the time.

'So I will miss a lot of the community engagements that I've had and even on the business side, I've met a lot of great business people here who are not just committed for the sake of their business, but they are committed to giving back to the community so I'll miss a lot of the relationships I've had there.

'I will hugely miss the relationships I have had in here with the staff.

'It's something that I'm proud of in there that we've had a really good engagement process with staff to get them to understand what we are trying to achieve, to get them to see the role they play in terms of what we are trying to achieve and to get good buy-in to what we are trying to do.

'Fingal County Council is a great place to work. I can say this genuinely, it has been the nicest job I've had in my career to date.'

The outgoing chief executive had a few things to say about the state of local government as he left office. He believes very strongly that further powers should be devolved from central government to councils.

He explained: 'That's one of the things I've been saying publicly and saying to Government, there's a debate at the moment around directly elected Mayors and that's fine and that's Government policy to have that debate and we'll let that happen but what I'm saying is that the debate should now move to what could be further devolved to local government.

'What central government services can be devolved down because I think we have a great capacity to make a greater impact in people's lives.'

Mr Reid said he believes he is handing over a better council and a better county than the one he found when he took office.

He said: 'I think so, yes. There's no doubt when I came we were still kind of in recession and the economy has improved which has been great.

'Certainly the economic factors have helped because it gave us a chance to invest. I said this to someone in Government recently, I think in Fingal we took control of a lot of things.

'If you look at some of the decisions this council has made. We borrowed from the European Investment Bank when no other local authority had ever done that and we did that.

'We took decisions around the Local Property Tax that some of the other local authorities in Dublin didn't take around retaining it and ring-fencing it for community development.'

He added: 'We took a very balanced approach but we took control of decisions we could take ourselves.

'We didn't put ourselves and this council in victim mode, we put ourselves in control mode and took the decisions we could take ourselves.

'It's interesting when you do that, you generally get the funds from Government because you get the confidence of Government to invest.'

Looking to the future for the county, the outgoing chief executive said he was optimistic for Fingal in the years ahead.

He said: 'I think it's a great county and there's going to be more growth in it, in the future.

'We should continue to engage with the local communities. I think that's when you hit the sweet spot and really crack what local government is about.

'You get get local communities, local business and local State agencies working together.'

He said that Fingal's future, in a very real sense is Ireland's future and the county can be one of the nation's real economic drivers into the future.

He explained: 'Dublin is key to growing the national economy and Fingal is key to growing Dublin and that for me puts us at the very heart of the national planning framework.

'We are at the heart of growing the national economy and I think that's the way we should always see it.

'Here is where the growth is in Dublin and Dublin is at the heart of growing the national economy.'

With those thoughts, Mr Reid closed his files on Fingal and moved on to the HSE where he started work last week as the organsation's Director General.

Fingal Independent