Clare County Council will spend an estimated €585,000 on the long-awaited public takeover of one of the largest housing developments in South-East Clare, it emerged this week.
Residents who spent the last five years or more requesting the county council to take the Westbury Housing Estate in charge breathed a sigh of relief when Monday next was announced as the start of the takeover process.
The move to assume responsibility for the public infrastructure serving almost 800 houses follows extensive negotiations with bondholders who held bonds on behalf of McInerney Homes Ltd and Chieftain Construction Ltd, both of whom have been in receivership and liquidation for some time.
The council will take on responsibility for water services, including all pumping stations, with effect from January 21 as well as ten kilometres of roads for the first time in 27 years, with the remaining services, such as open spaces and roads, being taken in charge on an interim basis pending completion of the statutory taking in charge process.
Grass cutting and maintenance of public open spaces within the estate will remain the responsibility of residents’ associations, but grant funding will be available to allay costs.
This deal paves the way for the expenditure on priority works of about €390,000 on upgrading the sewerage treatment plant and network; €65,000 on a water audit to assess the water system; €25,000 on security fencing for the sewerage pumping station; €25,000 on roads and footpaths and €2,000 to improve the embankment.
The overall arrangement with the bondholders involves a payment of €715,000, which will be used to remedy defective infrastructure, particularly wastewater treatment infrastructure.
However, Councillor Cathal Crowe believes the net expenditure will be in the region of €585,000 after an estimated €130,000 was spent by the receivers on surveys, maintenance works and sewerage treatment works.
The full value of the bond was in the region of €900,000. The insurance companies quoted a much lower figure, the council submitted a higher claim and a compromise sum of €715,000 was reached in between the two quotations following intensive negotiations, detailed costings submitted by the council and counter insurance claims.
It is believed the full bond is rarely paid out by insurance companies and is viewed by the latter as just a starting point in negotiations. However, the council stated this assertion is not fully correct. “Planning bonds relate to individual planning permissions. An analysis of the works permitted under the original permission and works completed needs to be undertaken. The bond holder will only accept a liability where there are specific deficiencies and will only accept a liability up to the maximum of the individual bond,” a spokesman explained.
Details of the council’s investment in Westbury over the coming years were unveiled at a private meeting between senior officials and East Clare councillors on Monday afternoon.
Mayor of Clare Pat Daly welcomed the progress made in relation to the estates, which he said is part of ongoing council efforts to address difficulties in a number of developments around the county, brought about through the collapse of many companies in the building sector.
Councillor Daly stated the council has assigned considerable resources to deal with these very complex issues and progress made on Westbury is a demonstration of what can be achieved.
Deputy Mayor Councillor Pascal Fitzgerald said securing the takeover of Westbury was on his list of priorities since he was elected to the council in 2004.
Acknowledging the estate would require additional council resources over the coming years, Councillor Fitzgerald stressed it had to be taken in public charge for the benefit of residents who had been left in limbo in recent years, particularly when the two main construction companies ceased trading.
Area engineer ,Hugh McGrath also welcomed the first full involvement in over 30 years of the council at Westbury. He noted the council has prepared a priority list of works to be undertaken from the monies now available.
“These works will be concentrated on remedying serious deficiencies in the water services infrastructure. The council will need over a period of time to plan, schedule and fund other works on the development.
“These will however, be contingent on further funding becoming available from other sources in the future,” he explained. “The council’s decision to take on responsibility for services at Westbury gives the platform from which future progress can be made. We will have a significant amount of work to do to effect the full transfer and this could take some years.
However, the taking in charge of these extensive housing developments allows us to now consider the developments in the context of our various work programmes and to seek funding for necessary works as would apply to other developments under the control of the council.”
Council to splash out for water
Clare County Council will have to secure almost €225,000 to address deficits in the provision of water services following the takeover of Westbury, a local councillor has claimed.
Councillor Cathal Crowe claimed the council doesn’t have a definitive source of funding to cover the cost of remedying poorly laid water stop cocks and meters, which will cost an estimated €223,500.
“I am concerned that €223,500 will have to be secured to address the fact that water meters were not laid low enough in the estate. Over 30 houses lost water during the major freeze in 2009 when stop cocks froze and burst.
“These will have to be re-laid. The council have been left with a massive bill, which could have been avoided if there was a proper inspection while the estate was being constructed,” he said.
A council spokesman pointed out the national planning and building control system in Ireland has never been resourced or structured on the basis of the local authority supervising individual developments during construction.
“The system has been based on self certification and regulation by the industry itself. Recent high profile cases such as Priory Hall in Dublin has clearly demonstrated the deficiencies in the approach that has been adopted. This is a matter which Government has been examining and the minister has already indicated his intention to legislate for change in this area.
“Local authorities have been doing their best to deal with significant legacy issues and decisions taken in relation to Westbury reflects the objective of Clare County Council to progress these type of development to a point where the local authority can take control so that the necessary remedial works can be progressed.
“This decision has been taken in the absence of any other party to take on such responsibilities and particularly in the interests of residents living on the Westbury development,” the spokesman explained.
While there are over 900 houses in Westbury, the council has also confirmed that a portion of unfinished development at Bruachlán and Grianan is not subject to the taking in charge process as it relates to a separate receivership.
This includes 67 houses in Bruachlán where associated services are not fully completed, including seven completed unsold and unused dwellings. Two of the seven houses had to be boarded up to protect the glazing.
There are another 22 houses in Grianan, which are completed and occupied but they front on to a linked avenue with Bruachlán where public services aren’t fully completed.
Grant Thornton Accountants will continue to act as the NAMA appointed receivers and effective managers for Bruachlán.