Irish Water has withdrawn certification needed to advance two large housing schemes in southwest Dublin, delaying the delivery of almost 1,300 new homes because of capacity problems on the sewage network.
The move has interrupted fast-track planning for the apartment developments at Cookstown in Tallaght, raising questions over the viability of other new housing in the area and undermining Government efforts to boost the supply of new homes after the coronavirus lockdown.
It has also fanned anxiety that the lack of waste-water infrastructure in rural areas could erode Government efforts to boost regional growth after the surge in remote-working during the pandemic.
Irish Water has invested heavily in recent years to upgrade sewage systems but large parts of the network still don’t meet EU environmental standards. Now constraints on waste-water systems have hit the delivery of new homes as the Government struggles to overcome the housing crisis.
The water body has notified two developers that certificates of feasibility it issued in relation to their strategic housing development (SHD) projects in Cookstown were “no longer valid” because of capacity issues on the Dodder Valley sewage network.
Joseph Costello Absolute Limousines had applied to An Bord Pleanála for 1,104 apartments before its certificate was withdrawn, and Square Foot Property Services’ plan for 170 apartments at the Glen Abbey site was also with the planning board.
Applications to Irish Water for the same feasibility certificates from the backers of two other housing projects in Cookstown have been delayed for the same reason, it is understood.
Seán Canney, Independent TD for East Galway, said several housing projects in the county were blocked because of sewage problems. “Basically a large amount of our county is frozen in terms planning,” Mr Canney said.
He cited one case in which Irish Water reversed its stance on a proposed development in the Co Galway for 104 SHD homes.
“He got a letter from Irish Water to say that this was okay, but then when he went back – because he was delayed in putting his application to An Bord Pleanála for the SHD – they said that they couldn’t give him the letter because there would be no more connections on to the sewage plant before 2024.”
Irish Water, which will not comment on individual projects, insisted it was not rejecting SHD applications for the Tallaght area, saying it had supported plans for 5,300 homes there in the last three years. “We continue to encourage developers to engage with us on their plans,” it said.
But the extent of the works needed to increase capacity on what Irish Water describes as a “major trunk sewer” remains uncertain, despite the bottleneck being under examination since 2018. “The survey stage of the drainage area plan for the Dodder Valley area is nearing completion, and we will have a clearer view as to what solutions are required by July.”
There are concerns that there could be considerable delays to an upgrade of the waste-water network at Dodder Valley if major capital works are needed, given the likelihood of significant spending and the requirement for planning approval.
“It brings into question the viability of all existing SHD applications and future large-scale projects,” said Mick Duff, an Independent councillor in Tallaght.
Emma Murphy, a Fianna Fáil member of South Dublin County Council, said there could be implications for other building projects. “If there is a demand on the sewage system from an SHD perspective, there’s going to a demand right across the board,” she said.
“If it’s affecting SHDs, it’s going to be affecting other housing proposals and commercial and community proposals.”
South Dublin County Council declined to comment, saying questions should be referred to Irish Water. The water body said: “Each application for housing is assessed on a case-by-case basis, and in certain instance localised solutions have been effective in enabling development to progress.”