€10m extra spent on housing project

€10m extra spent on housing project
Councillor Sean Martin. Pic: Darragh Kane

THE State’s housing policy has come under criticism in Cork after it emerged that more than €25 million was spent on a development site which has remained idle for more than a decade.

It’s been confirmed that a further €9.98m is needed to bring the 22-hectare site at the Old Whitechurch Road up to scratch for future housing.

Fianna Fáil councillor Seán Martin hit out at the development policy that has led to the current situation.

“The housing policy at the time of purchase more than a decade ago was that you would buy the site and get some of the money back when it was shovel-ready,” he said. “The rules have changed and Cork City Council has been paying interest on a hugely over-valued piece of land.”

In addition to the cost of purchasing the site — some €25,034,235 — Cork City Council has spent more than €1.5 million on interest payments, according to Mr Martin.

"This isn't a small amount of money. We spend our days arguing about roads and potholes - they wouldn't be an issue if we had this money," added Cllr Martin.

In recent weeks, Housing Minister Simon Coveney confirmed that some €9.98 million will be contributed under the government's Local Infrastructure Housing Activation Fund (LIHAF) to deliver infrastructural works that will bring the site up to scratch for development purposes.

The ambitious plan envisions the construction of more than 600 housing units on the 22-hectare site by 2021.

However, Mr Martin said he has concerns about the project.

"Who thought this site was right for housing in the first place? And, if it is, why do we have to put another €10 million into it?

"Between the initial cost of €25 million, the extra €10 million from the government and the added €1.5 million on interest, this site has seen more than €36.5 million spent on it. To break even on that investment, it needs to be sold on at €700,000 per acre."

He continued, "I understand land values have changed over the years but where will you find a developer interested at that price? And, if you do, then surely the properties will be out the price range of most buyers?"

The site is earmarked for the 'provision of reasonably priced new housing' to alleviate 'the pent-up demand in the northside of the city', according to to documents provided to councillors at a recent meeting.

City officials noted that the site was valued at the time of purchase by an independent arbitrator under the Arbitration Act 1954.

The local authority now plans to 'realise the best use of the site' as part of its housing policy.

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