Regeneration back on track for 'last lap' of a marathon project
BACKGROUND:AFTER AN eight-year delay, a budget overrun in the region of €500 million and numerous setbacks including the discovery of asbestos and pyrite, the regeneration of Ballymun is on target to be completed in two years’ time.
Just 240 of the original 2,600 prefabricated flats built between 1965 and 1969 remain occupied. About 200 houses are at various stages of construction and contracts for the final 30 – the last social houses that will be built in Ballymun – will be signed shortly.
By 2014, almost 18,000 people – many of whom have lived in circumstances of severe deprivation, some for as long as 40 years – will have new homes.
Managing director of Ballymun Regeneration Ltd (BRL) Philip Maguire describes the redevelopment of Ballymun as being on the “last lap” – an apt phrase for what has been a marathon project that became ever more gruelling as the finish line approached.
When the masterplan for the regeneration was devised in 1997 the project was due to be completed in 2006, with €442 million in public money spent. Construction was delayed in the early years due to inaccuracies in the maps which detailed the locations of underground mains pipes and electrical cables.
The discovery of asbestos in 2004 further delayed demolition and added to costs which were already growing with the overheating of the construction sector. In 2008 a revised completion date of 2012 was set and a new cost estimate of €942 million. Just one year later cuts in Government funding meant a new completion date of 2014 had to be set.
The discovery of asbestos now seems trifling in light of the pyrite problems which have since emerged. Pyrite was initially discovered in a community facility in late 2007. It was subsequently discovered that newly built houses had also been constructed using pyrite-contaminated materials.
Work to fix these 122 unoccupied houses and apartments is costing in the region of €10 million. Occupied houses in another part of the development have now been identified as having pyrite problems – the cost of this work, which would include the rehousing of residents, has yet to be determined.
The development of proper facilities for an area with 18,000 inhabitants has also faltered. In September 2009, Treasury Holdings secured planning permission for a new €400 million shopping centre. Construction was due to begin the following year on the site of the old shopping centre, which still stands and is now under the control of Nama.
The lack of this central facility has been one of the biggest blows to the regeneration project, Maguire said. “Any major project has a few disappointments, but the biggest one is the shopping centre. It was certainly intended it would be developed by now. It is an eyesore and it is something which the board of BRL is very determined that whatever can be done should be done and must be done.” Treasury is contesting the appointment of receivers by Nama, but if it is unable to develop the site, BRL will seek an alternative partner to develop lands adjacent to the old shopping centre.
Despite these difficulties BRL has achieved considerable successes, particularly in the area of social regeneration with the development of arts and sports facilities, a swimming pool, a health centre, parks, and a number of community and educational programmes. Most notably, school absenteeism – always a considerable problem in the area – has now been brought down to the national average.
Ballymun also reaped one of the benefits of the boom in that private housing was built and sold before the downturn.
Unlike many parts of the city this new housing is almost 95 per cent occupied and with more land available for private housing, the social mix hoped for but never achieved in 1960s Ballymun is a possibility.
BRL will wind up in 2014, and while certain elements, most notably the shopping centre, won’t be completed at that stage, Maguire believes Ballymun will be able to move on as a sustainable independent community.
“One of the strengths of Ballymun, even back in darker days, was its community organisations. There have always been a lot of people doing things for themselves rather than looking to have things done for them, and that type of self reliance will be key to its future success.”