Environment Minister urged to visit Longford over housing crisis

Minister Alan Kelly
Envinronment Minister Alan Kelly is facing mounting calls to visit Longford and see for himself the growing number of vacant local authority houses currently out of use.

Envinronment Minister Alan Kelly is facing mounting calls to visit Longford and see for himself the growing number of vacant local authority houses currently out of use.

The call was made by Fine Gael Councillor John Browne last week as he appealed for additional State funding to deal with the problem.

Cllr Browne said should Mr Kelly be unable to attend, he should send down his understudy-Minister of State with Special Responsibility for Housing-Paudie Coffey.

They were claims which were backed up by Fianna Fáil’s Martin Mulleady.

He said the increasing number of void or vacant units inside the likes of local authority estates like MacEoin Park and Annaly Park were abundantly clear.

A bigger issue, Cllr Mulleady stressed, was the lack of house building being carried out by council chiefs.

He said he had attended a housing committee meeting the previous week in which it was revealed no new houses had been constructed by Longford County Council since the end of last year.

“I just can’t understand how this is happening when there is well over 200 people waiting on housing and we haven’t even gone to planning stage for a house to be built,” he said.

“It’s not just for the people that’s waiting for a house, it’s about getting work for people inside the county as well.”

Independent Cllr Mae Sexton said while she empathised with Cllr Mulleady’s concerns, the Council’s main line of focus should remain fully directed on tackling ‘void’ or disused units.

Recently installed Director of Services, John Brannigan said the Department of Environment’s policy was very much in keeping with Cllr Sexton’s point of view.

He also revealed nine units in MacEoin Park would be actively targeted by the Council with 17 further houses currently awaiting approval from Department bosses.

It was a remark which caused Cllr Seamus Butler to hit out however.

He said the lack of autonomy given to councils in making decisions on vacant dwellings was another case of “central government gone mad”.

He said: “We (Longford County Council) have been granted €7.6m on a rolling programme but every void we go for (to refurbish) has to go back to the Department for approval.

“This is central government gone mad. If they (Department) give you the amount to spend over a two to three year period it should be at the discretion of the executive and elected members without having to refer back every five minutes like a child to the Department only for them to sit on it for two to three months.

“And they wonder why the voids aren’t being done up and why houses aren’t being done up, it’s insane.”