Thursday, 30 June 1994
Dáil Éireann Debate
Mr. Allen: Cork Corporation is faced with the major problem of unfinished housing estates in all parts of the city. Some of the worst problems are on the north side where estates such as Hawthorn Mews, Millfield Lawns, Onslow Gardens and the Hollywood Estate on  the Blarney Road have been left unfinished. Residents have had to put up with serious inconvenience during the past ten years. The problems have arisen because developers who have gone out of business either left inadequate bonds with Cork Corporation, or having done so, the corporation failed to call in these bonds.
Cork Corporation has estimated that the cost of having these unfinished estates put in order will be in the region of £300,000. I consider that to be a very conservative figure. Cork Corporation has considered a number of options and has decided to set in train a works programme funded in partnership with the Department of the Environment. In response to a parliamentary question on Tuesday last the Minister for the Environment indicated that he will not fund the taking over of these estates. The taxpayers, the commercial ratepayers and those who pay service charges in the city are being asked to fund this works programme, a matter which I very much regret. The alternative is to do nothing and to leave these estates in the terrible condition they are in and let people suffer.
A number of serious questions arise from this sorry episode: (1) why were some developers in a position to continue other projects in Cork city without first fulfilling their responsibilities to their customers or to the local authority? (2) Why did Cork Corporation not cash in the bonds that developers had deposited with them? (3) Was the updated bond for Hawthorn Mews a cash bond? (4) Why has Cork Corporation failed to pursue to date the principals of the defaulting companies?
A report submitted to the members of the finance and planning committee of Cork Corporation has thrown up more questions than answers and nothing short of a departmental investigation of the matter is required. Alternatively, the Minister should request the local government auditor to examine the scandal where taxpayers are forced to fund the work left undone by these defaulting companies. Will the Minister insist that Cork Corporation identifies the principals of all the  companies involved to ensure that they are legally forced to carry out their obligations? The evidence in relation to the principals of the company is readily available and I ask that they be pursued to carry out their obligations.
My quest to get justice for hundreds of householders in Cork city is not a political witchhunt, as some wish to present it, but an honest and determined effort to get justice for people who have suffered for over a decade.
Mr. Browne: (Wexford): I thank Deputy Allen for raising this issue. It is a matter for Cork Corporation to ensure that the housing estates in its functional area are completed to a satisfactory standard. As the Minister said in a reply to a recent parliamentary question on the subject, there are no funds available to him to provide grants for the completion of unfinished estates.
It is a matter for each planning authority to ensure the completion of housing estates by attaching appropriate conditions to planning permissions. These might include conditions requiring completion of estates on a phased basis and requiring a bond to ensure that the legal powers are available to planning authorities under the planning Acts to ensure that developments are carried out in accordance with the terms of the relevant planning permission. The planning Acts allow for prosecutions, the issue of enforcement notices or taking court action to ensure compliance with the Acts. The Planning Act, 1990 updated the law on planning compensation and, in relation to unfinished estates, allows for the inclusion in planning permissions of non-compensatable conditions relating to the phasing and completion of works and the occupation of structures. The penalties for breaches of the Acts have been significantly increased under the 1992 Act. As a last resort, and in the event of the developer being unwilling or unable to complete the job, the capitalised value of the bond should allow for the completion of the estate by the  planning authority. Where enforcement measures cannot be taken or where bonds are defective or have run out, local authorities are encouraged to consider other measures to alleviate the position. This might include the provision of technical and other advice to residents' associations undertaking the work themselves or, where feasible, engaging in joint schemes of work with the residents or residents' associations to achieve completion of the estate to an agreed and acceptable standard. The Department of the Environment issued guidelines to planning authorities in October 1982 in relation to their approach to development control. The guidelines dealt comprehensively with the problem of unfinished housing estates and stressed the importance of the types of conditions I have already mentioned. The Minister is happy that the advice has in general been followed and the vast majority of local authorities appear to have no difficulty using the powers available to them effectively.
He is aware that there are problems with a number of housing estates in Cork because of defective bonds and companies having gone into liquidation. The Minister understands that the corporation is considering drawing up a schedule of work needed to complete these estates and will consider how to finance the works. It would, however, be wrong to expect the Exchequer to take up the tab for the completion of such estates. This is a local function and local authorities' powers are more than adequate to meet the situation, provided of course they use the powers properly. Experience has shown that a grant scheme only encourages rogue builders to leave estates unfinished knowing that someone else would be expected to pay for the work involved.
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