Demolishing more than a
building- the Gleann Riada folly

It is only 12 years since the original planning permission was granted for the first stage of the development associated with the now infamous Gleann Riada estate in Longford Town.

It is only 12 years since the original planning permission was granted for the first stage of the development associated with the now infamous Gleann Riada estate in Longford Town.

Last week, NAMA announced they were financing the demolition of one of the apartment blocks in the estate, the first time NAMA has authorised a demolition of one of its properties.

In 2000 the property market had yet to hit the dizzy heights it would peak at in a few years but it was clear that this application – for 227 housing units – was the first of many for the area. What followed this initial planning application – had they all been built – would have transformed this swampy wasteland on the outskirts of the town into a booming mini-metropolis.

A flood of other applications were made between 2000 and 2005, most of which were applied for in the name of Flancare Clonmel Distribution Ltd. They included a four-storey 110 bedroom hotel with leisure centre and swimming pool (approved), drive-through restaurant (approved), car showrooms (approved), 11 industrial units (approved), crèche (approved), service station (approved) neighbourhood centre with six retail units (refused) and a 15,000 m2 gross anchor unit retail space with adjoining shops (refused).

Only the first stage of the development ever got off the ground and its legacy is causing serious problems for both residents and for the County Council, who originally granted permission. At the time, like many other developments, these applications would have generated significant income for the council.

The very first application cost IR£42,000 in planning fees alone and when approved it carried a condition requiring payment of IR£884,000 as a contribution to the costs of provisions on the site. Today, this development is a serious financial burden on the Council, despite it remaining a private estate. An insurance bond of IR£773,000 was also a condition, but that too would have expired by the time problems became known.

By March 2010, when Longford County Council launched its first enforcement proceedings against the developers, it was clear the Gleann Riada dream was fading fast. At that stage, it was expected that the developers would eradicate serious failings on the apartment block in the estate, including the lack of back stairwells on the third floor. Demolition had yet to feature on anyone’s mind.

Speaking at that time, senior planner with Longford County Council Donal Mac An Bheatha said: “We are pursuing them (developers) separately under enforcement. We have to try and figure out how to get them into court. We are confident but it is a long and slow process.”

How right he was. A major stumbling block during this whole process has been the location of the developer’s company, Jackson Ltd., across the border in Northern Ireland, making the prospect of securing a successful outcome through legal or other means all the more difficult.

One of the major issues with Gleann Riada is its location on marshy land, that was historically a flood plain. At the time, the Council were given assurances that attenuation tanks would suffice, and the conditions of planning were strict on providing proper foundations for the buildings. Associated works such as sewers and footpaths did not get the same attention, and these are causing serious problems for residents now.

“A number of councillors such as myself were vehemently opposed to building on this floodplain,” Cllr Denis Glennon said. “We raised a number of concerns but we were looked at as if we had two heads. That whole thing is an example of the menatlity that prevailed during the so-called Celtic Tiger years.”

As yet there has been no serious flooding of the estate, but residents are complaining of serious defects in their buildings as homes and fencing gently creep into the soil, with County Manager, Tim Caffrey, admitting the quality of the construction was sub-par at last month’s County Council meeting.

This week, the demolition team carried on with their work removing the bases of the other two apartment blocks that never got past slab level. Demolition was temporarily stalled when the National Parks and Wildlife Services highlighted that three nests of house martins were present in the building.

A spokesperson for the NPWS has informed this paper that after a comprehensive study for a number of days, two of the nests were found to be vacant and have been removed. A third nest is active and does contain chicks. The NPWS expect the birds to be ready for fledging soon and have agreed July 9 as the date for demolition to begin.

A quick study of the houses in the estate reveal that houses haven’t hit rock bottom just yet, with prices for two bed homes starting at €116,000, nearly half of what many residents paid. Residents are hopeful that the demolition of the apartment block will be the first step in improving their plight.