Yesterday, the planning minister, Jan O’Sullivan TD, launched the Final Report of the Advisory Group on Unfinished Housing Developments. The headline news is that 211 estates, 1 in 10, have been ‘resolved’. Whilst it is welcome that some progress has been made with respect to unfinished estates, it is profoundly depressing that five years after the crash started, and the unfinished estates problem emerged, that so little progress has been made and the residents of 9 out of 10 estates are still living with ongoing issues (unfinished and unsafe units, poor roads and paths, no street lights, inadequate sewage systems, vandalised structures, and so on).
As the DECLG uses it, resolution is a contextual term. It does not mean that the all the issues on an estate have been resolved. The fact that only 75 of the 211 resolved estates have been taken in charge indicates that there are still outstanding issues preventing the local authority from taking over the management of the estate. What DECLG means by resolution is largely addressing health and safety issues – boarding up, fencing off, filling in, fixing up – but not undertaking construction to complete buildings and finish off estates. With a budget of just €5m to try and deal with the problems on the 2,066 estates that have outstanding building works, this is no surprise. The strategy here is to make secure and mothball and to wait for the market to recover to deal with the bigger construction issues.
There are site resolution plans in place for 523 estates, but the remainder await attention. €3.2m of €5m fund has been allocated for 128 of the worst estates. 29 estates are being dealt with by NAMA, and 20 are being looked at by the Health and Safety authority. Enforcement proceedings are being undertaken against the developers of 636 estates. Worryingly, it has not been possible to make contact with the developers of 140 estates. Moreover, there is an uneven geography to site resolution – DLR have resolved 45 of 61 estates; Roscommon and Sligo which both have over 230 problem estates have resolved 14 and 4 estates each.
In sum, what the report indicates is that the government approach to unfinished estates has been a low effort, voluntaristic, minimal cost approach which gives the impression of policy-at-work, but to a large degree pushes the problem down the road to be hopefully corrected at a later date by the market. In many areas that market correction is not going to happen any time soon due to oversupply. In the meantime, estates wither on the vine and their residents continue to live with a variety of issues.