Residents of 'unsafe' houses in Laois estate criticise support for developer

 

A GROUP of Laois residents say they have been left living in unsafe, badly built, and unsaleable houses in an estate developed by a Co Meath farmer whose own land attracted a bid of just €1 at auction last month.

The auction by a receiver appointed by ACC Bank of 67 acres of farm land owned by George Beggan, Crossakiel, Co Meath, collapsed when the only bid made was for €1.

The auction on November 10th was mainly attended by Mr Beggan’s neighbours and local farmers who indicated that they weren’t bidding because the land was being sold by the bank.

The lands had been given as collateral for loans to Beggan Developments to create a housing estate in Portarlington.

Almost all of the houses in the estate, Slí na Mona, were sold. However, the project was dogged by a dispute between Mr Beggan and builders whom he contracted for the development. This led to a High Court action which was settled in 2008.

The estate has since been left unfinished, with some houses showing serious sewerage, electrical and structural deficiencies.

Residents of the estate have reacted angrily to the support received by Mr Beggan at the auction.

“We moved in on June 25th, 2006, and a week later we were flooded upstairs and down,” said Karen Gaffney, who lives in the estate with her husband James and their four children.

“All the sewage water came back up through the shower trays and the toilets. This went on for about four weeks.”

It subsequently emerged that the pipes taking the soil water from the toilets and the water from the washing machine and sinks had been connected causing blockages and backing up of waste water.

That was just the start of the problems, Ms Gaffney said. As the months went on more worrying issues began to surface.

“We’d have these power surges, one day the kettle just went. Since then we’ve gone through three washing machines, two driers and about 20 kettles from the spikes in electricity.”

As their first winter drew in, the Gaffney’s realised their house would not retain heat. It emerged the walls were not insulated and there were gaps in the windows and doors.

“The house is deteriorating around us. The gas and ESB bills would make you go white . . . All we want is what we paid for, a house where we can raise our children. It would be appalling if this developer was allowed to walk away from this.”

Residents’ association chairman Derek Collins said similar problems are replicated in houses throughout the estate.The structural deficiencies range from an absence of sound-proofing to subsidence, he said, but all houses shared the problem of the unfinished public areas.

Following entreaties from Mr Collins and other residents, Laois County Council called in the insurance bond and has subsequently fixed and finished most of the public areas of the estate. However, the bond is not sufficient to help individual homeowners.

A spokesman for Mr Beggan said he conceded there were problems with the construction of the estate. While almost all the houses were sold, any proceeds had gone towards trying to correct these problems, he said. Mr Beggan had also put €1.5 million of personal funds towards trying to resolve the difficulties even though he had “no personal liability”, the spokesman said.

The situation is complicated by Mr Beggan’s dispute with the contractors. A report prepared for him by chartered surveyors Skeffingtons, for use in the High Court case, states that Mr Beggan was put in touch with Martin Curtis, whose company Martin Curtis Plant Hire was given the contract for sewage, road works and other civil elements of the development by ACC Bank.

Mr Curtis then put Mr Beggan in contact with engineer Cathal O’Rourke who was appointed project manager of the development, the report states. During the course of construction, unhappy with the standard of the work and other aspects of the development, Mr Beggan directed Mr O’Rourke and Mr Curtis to leave the site.

Mr O’Rourke and Mr Curtis subsequently took legal action against Mr Beggan, who submitted a counter-claim. The action was settled on commercial terms, Mr Beggan’s spokesman said.

In a response to queries from The Irish Times, Mr O’Rourke said he was “brought on” to the development by ACC bank in mid-2005 to “oversee the development” but resigned his position in November/December 2005 due to “interference and unprofessional conduct”.

At the point of his resignation as project manager only the first six units of the estate had been built to roof level, he said.

When asked the source of this unprofessional conduct, Mr O’Rourke said Mr Beggan had been “badly advised” and that this led to him (Mr O’Rourke) being “compromised professionally”which led to his decision to resign.

Attempts by The Irish Timesto contact Mr Curtis have been unsuccessful.

Martin Curtis Plant Hire was registered as a business name with the Companies Registration Office in January 2005 but no accounts or other documents have since been filed with the office.

A spokeswoman for ACC bank said its policy was not to comment on individual cases.

Mr Beggan was the guarantor of the loan for the development, while the directors of Beggan Developments are his two sons.

In a court document submitted by Mr Beggan, he is described as the “principal and employer” in relation to the Slí Na Mona development.

ONE RESIDENT'S STORY: 'THE KIDS WILL BE LEFT WITH NOTHING'

DEIRDRE McEVOY moved into Slí na Mona with her husband Paul in October 2006. They and their five children have recently moved to rented accommodation and shut up the house in which they fear it is unsafe to live.

“We moved in in October 2006. Everything was perfect, it was a brand new house, but there was a bad smell of sewage.” Workers on site told her it was “just a dead rat”, but the smell got worse.

It was eventually discovered that an incorrectly sized pipe had been fitted. An engineer inspected the house and further problems were found.

“He found electrical problems, plumbing problems, and that there was no firewall between my house and next door. Everything is buried behind the walls or in the floor so you can’t physically see it. We can’t get insurance because the house was built with void materials.”

Ms McEvoy now drives her children 20 miles to school, but says she won’t have them live in an “unsafe and uninsurable” house. “We’re fed up. We’ve worked our backsides off for something that’s never going to be worth anything even to the kids, they’ll be left with nothing.”