Limerick Regeneration, launched to fanfare 13 years ago, has “failed” the communities it was tasked to help, Limerick’s Mayor Daniel Butler has said.
The projected €3 billion project, drastically scaled down to €337 million following the economic crash in 2008, and then in 2013 anticipating an average of €28 million per annum, aimed to transform severely impoverished local authority housing estates destroyed by unemployment and a feud between drug gangs that resulted in 20 killings.
A special meeting of elected representatives of the Limerick metropolitan district, held Friday, heard the historic problems of unemployment and drugs continue to blight the communities, albeit against the backdrop of the gangs having agreed a ceasefire.
Due to cuts in funding from central government, the plans to demolish and rebuild large swathes of substandard housing in Moyross, Southill, St Mary’s Park and Ballinacurra Weston, were also scaled back.
The result of this is that so far, 1,287 homes have been demolished and 269 houses have been rebuilt. Existing houses will be refurbished and subject to a thermal upgrade programme. Last year figures released showed that nearly €400 million had been spent on Limerick Regeneration.
Councillors concerned at the pace of the project, which in 2014 was adopted as the Limerick Regeneration Framework Implementation Plan (LRFIP) sought more details at today’s meeting but were left with many unanswered questions.
Fine Gael councillor Sarah Kiely asked Regeneration officials for details on how much of the project's budget had been spent, how much was left, and what the money had been spent on, however officials did not have this information.
Cllr Kiely claimed Regeneration staff had ignored her requests for information on spending as well as project timelines.
She described the thermal upgrade programme as “a disaster” and that it has been stalled for the last two years, since before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cllr Kiely said residents in some of the Regeneration areas were living in “cold, damp, inadequate homes”.
Sinn Féin councillor John Costelloe, complained: “It’s like Groundhog Day, we need to get it over the line; we have been promised this, that, and the other.”
He told the meeting of trying to assist an 80-year-old woman living in a Regeneration area, whose stove had broken.
A Council email to Cllr Costelloe, following his request, read: “Unfortunately, LCCC have not received funding for these works as yet and therefore our previous commitment has not been met.” “LCCC anticipate to rectify all stove issues in the regen areas by the end of 2021, subject to the availability of funding.” “In the meantime, Tenant should not light the stove and should use alternative heat source supplied within the property.”
Councillors also argued not enough had been done to implement social projects in the estates.
Joe Leddin, Labour, said Regeneration had not brought jobs, and that the areas red-flagged for investment in 2007, in the Fitzgerald Report, remained “unemployment black spots”.
Cllr Leddin said “criminality” was “rampant” in the Regeneration areas.
Trying to “stabilise the estates” has been an “ongoing issue”, illustrated by garda raids on drug gangs in Moyross on September 7th last, he added.
Fine Gael mayor Daniel Butler said some “progress had been made under Regeneration” but that it had failed overall.
“Regeneration needs a complete revamp, I don’t think it’s fit for purpose any longer, it has failed and left communities isolated.”
Newly appointed director of Regeneration, Joe Delaney, revealed it had operated without a “dedicated directorate” and without a “dedicated infrastructural team” for “a number of years”.
Mr Delaney assured councillors his staff would engage with them, and he acknowledged “there has been delays” overall.
His team is “trying to resolve defects in a number of houses” earmarked for thermal upgrades.
His presentation showed that 513 housing units will be built in total; that 269 of these units are completed; 40 are under construction; 121 are at “tender stage”; 27 are at “pre-tender” stage; and 56 units are “future builds”.
Mr Delaney said Regeneration had done some “great work” and noted the Social Intervention Fund (SIF) had “funded 137 projects, already this year”.
School attendances, community safety, and local facilities had all “improved” under Regeneration, he said.
“There are still issues, of course, but there are in any other city,” Mr Delaney said.
Cllr Kiely said that, in her opinion, much of the presentation to councillors was “waffle”.
She said the “appointment of a dedicated director, with two years to go on the project, is welcome, but I think we are closing the stable door long after the horse has bolted”.
A Council spokeswoman said the LRFIP “is a 10-year programme which the Council will be seeking to extend” and that it would “revert to elected members at a later date in relation to matters raised”.