Cheap houses, terrible planning: the ballad of Ballaghaderreen

That the Roscommon town has the cheapest housing in the State is down to official policy

The cheapest market to purchase property in the State is Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, where the average property value is just €58,000.

 

So Ballaghaderreen, my home town, is in the news again. TCD academic Ronan Lyons has concluded it is the cheapest place in Ireland to buy property. The average house price now is €58,000. Really?

A three-bedroom terraced house there, right in the town on Pound Street, went for €17,000 last November, while more recently a shop on Main Street went for €45,000.

Conclusion: no one wants to live in Ballaghaderreen, QED? Wrong!

Ballaghaderren is a perfect example of the idiocy of planners and government policy in this state. It was the most westerly town to “benefit” from the Shannon Valley tax relief scheme, which encouraged the frenetic building of hundreds of new houses all along the Shannon corridor during the Celtic Tiger era.

This daft plan was seemingly inspired solely by the film Field of Dreams, with its slogan “If you build it, they will come”. Well, you did, and they didn’t.

And why would they? Where was the employment in any of those towns and villages to sustain a population necessary to fill all those homes? It did not and does not exist. In fact, the opposite has happened.

Unemployment in Ballaghaderreen was 32.4 per cent, according to the 2011 census, since when it has got worse. This week it will lose its status as the cigar-centre of Ireland, when 38 more people will be out of work from Friday as Exclusive Cigar Manufacturing Ireland moves to Sri Lanka after almost 40 years in the town.

This on top of the loss of 200 jobs there in 2008 due to the closure of Dawn Meats has meant demand for new houses in the town dropped even as the supply continued to grow.

Built on hope

The planners, it seems, were happy to build on hope. As a foundation it may as well have been sand. As a result of their ingenuity there are now 282 vacant residential units in Ballaghaderreen, 90 in the town proper.

One entire estate of more than 51 new houses in the town was bought by investors in 2015 for €500,000 – about €10,000 per house – some now for sale again.

The nearby newly built hotel, closed in the crash, has been signed over by investors to the Department of Justice for two years as a reception centre for Syrian refugees, who have been welcomed by the town.

Ballaghaderreen does have some jobs. Aurivo Dairy Ingredients employs up to 70 at peak times, a large SuperValu about 50. Other significant employers are Cunniffes bacon factory, Thompson Butler Steel, FDK Steel and Maddens builders’ provider.

But all were there long before the Shannon Valley scheme came along.

The mess they have created is not being taken lying down by locals. A Town Teams initiative set up by Roscommon County Council has taken steps to support the revival and rebranding of the town.

A Tidy Towns team has been enhancing local streetscapes, while the Roscommon Leader Partnership is providing a range of training and support services at the town’s Community Resource Centre.

Last weekend saw a successful Douglas Hyde Conference there, while the town’s Lakes and Legends group, set up to promote the areas’ strong tourism potential, hosted a crowded carnival.

The first weekend in August will see the Secret Village festival, Ballaghaderrreen’s version of Electric Picnic, which is almost sold out.

The people of the town are doing their very best against formidable odds while those officials responsible for their predicament do nothing.

Varadkar’s vision

In the GPO on Easter Sunday last, following State commemorations of the 1916 Rising, this reporter asked then aspiring taoiseach Leo Varadkar what he proposed to do about Ballaghaderreen.

He responded that “one of the projects I was involved in, in my time as minister for transport, was ensuring there was a bypass for the town, so there has been investment in transport.” It is hard to see how investment in transport to bypass the town is to its benefit.

He added that “the national broadband plan as it develops will be of benefit to the whole area”. At current rates of progress, the Shannon will be drained first.

Varadkar did admit that Ballaghaderreen was “certainly a town that has difficulties but I don’t think it’s a town that people think should be forgotten, so it’s very much on the radar here”. Where’s the evidence?

The State got Ballaghaderreen into this mess. The State must put a leash on the platitudes, and do something for Ballaghaderreen.