A group of Wexford residents are awaiting the result of an appeal to an Bord Pleanála against a Council decision to grant planning permission to the HSE for the change of use of an office building in Upper George's Street which has been earmarked as a possible methadone clinic.
The appeals board is currently considering the appeal by residents from George's Street, Melrose Court, Mount George and Abbey Street against a local authority decision to approve the retention of a change of use of the premises from health to bank building, even though it has been used not as a bank but as an administrative office of the HSE for over 20 years.
The objectors now understand the building is to be used as a Community Addiction Centre catering for large numbers of people, in line with similar services being established elsewhere in the country, including one opened in Portlaoise which deals with an estimated 945 service users, according to a residents' spokesman.
'What they want to do is to keep it as low-key as possible and sneak it in', said resident Tom Mulhall. 'The way they are going about this is to deceive everyone as to their true intentions', he said, criticising a lack of specific information about the proposed use of the building.
HSE representatives attended a meeting with residents and councillors during the summer and confirmed that a methadone clinic was to be located in George's Street but in a subsequent statement, the authority said it was 'reviewing all options' regarding the location of the service and said the recently-opened Primary Care Unit in Grogan's Road was also a possible site.
In the appeal to An Bord Pleanála, residents said the proposed change of use from 'bank to health services building' is so vague and broad that it conceals the specific future purpose of the premises. 'We believe that it is now proposed by the HSE to modify and use the facility as a Community Addiction Centre...and this is of great concern to the local community at large', they said.
'It took the HSE 20 years to apply for change of use for this building, we do not want to see another 20 years go by before they seek belated permission for a Community Addiction Centre', they pointed out. 'The HSE South are endeavouring to introduce such a facility by stealth. Their application is scant in detail and deliberately vague because they know their location for this facility is flawed from many a standpoint'.
The residents informed An Bord Pleanála that it was only through local knowledge from certain personnel within the HSE that the health authority's precise intentions for the building have become clear.
'Initially, it was verbally and reluctantly conveyed to be a methadone centre, dispensing prescriptions to opiate addicts only, estimated to number 45 or 50 service users. It now appears that this was the first bit of drip-fed information....and it is now setting up to be a full-blown Community Addiction Centre, servicing significantly more users from Monday to Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.', they told the Board.
'We do not wish this quiet, residential and tourist/commercial part of town to become, for the want of a better comparison, a mini 'Merchant's Quay. It just could not absorb the impact of the presence of such an addiction centre'.
The residents said they are not opposed to the provision of services for people with drug, alcohol and other addictions but they are against locating them in 'disproportionate numbers' in a small residential/historic/commercial area of town.
'We believe the presence of such a facility would cause daily nuisance, anti-social behaviour, intimidation and threats of violence'..and..'would attract large numbers of addicts to a centralised service unit in Upper George's Street and adjacent streets like Abbey Street and John Street', they stated in their appeal.