The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Simon Coveney, launched a report on 9 December detailing the progress of one of the largest Regeneration Projects in the State. This is the first assessment of the impact of the Limerick Regeneration Framework Implementation Plan (LRFIP) which covers four regeneration areas of St Mary’s Park, Moyross, Ballinacurra Weston and Southill. The LRFIP was adopted by the elected members of Limerick City Council in February 2014, endorsed by the DoECLG.
Coveney summed up the Limerick situation at the launch saying “The challenges we face in the area of housing include not just developing new supply, but also tackling legacy issues from a time when housing delivery perhaps focused more on quantity over quality”.
The overarching objective of the LRFIP is encapsulated in its vision statement:
“Safe and sustainable communities of opportunity where people of all ages enjoy a good quality of life, a decent home and a sense pride about their place. Well serviced and attractive neighbourhoods will be physically connected and fully integrated with the social, economic and cultural life of Limerick.” The Monitoring Programme is designed to achieve the holistic improvement of the regeneration areas by improving outcomes across seven key themes as follows:
- Three ‘place-related’ themes: Housing and Physical Environment, Crime and Community Safety, Community;
- Four ‘people-related’ themes: Employment and Enterprise, Health, Families and Youth at Risk and Education”.
Ambitious regeneration projects include: the completion of the Lord Edward Street apartments (picture above), the delivery of the Moyross Community Centre, Cliona Park accommodation, sports projects and investment into social regeneration. As part of the implementation plan, a total of €106.5m was projected for Moyross, including €37m for new housing; €10.8m for refurbishment; €40m on the Coonagh-Knockalisheen distributor road; €2.5m on an expansion for Moyross Community Enterprise Centre. One city-wide project included a €2m equestrian centre.
There seems to have been a turning point in 2011. No longer is money being thrown at the situation with little to show for it.
The expiry of the Regeneration Agency in 2012 with the transfer of reponsibility for regeneration to Limerick City and County Council was a turning point in the regeneration story.
The Regeneration Agency, instigated in June 2007, followed from the proposals outlined in the Fitzgerald Report (2007) to “establish structures for regeneration” involving the establishment of two regeneration agencies, one for the Northside and one for the Southside. “Vision” Plans for the Northside and Southside regeneration areas were developed and by October 2008, a Masterplan was prepared – ‘clean slate approach’ – extensive demolition of both private and public housing as well as all community/churches and school facilities and their replacement with new housing and other mixed uses. This was a €3bn plan which equated to €1m per home (3000 homes overall).
The Masterplan is now redundant since its replacement by the LRFIP in 2014. It should be noted that the original masterplans were never endorsed by the Department at the time or indeed even Limerick City Council as they were being driven by the Regeneration Agency which has now thankfully disbanded. Architectural and planning professionals were recruited, and the local Community engaged more.
A comprehensive review was carried out from June 2010 to September 2013 which had regard to all relevant features including the prevailing and projected economic circumstances. In addition, retention and refurbishment options were renewed and identified.
Following the transfer of responsibilities to Limerick City Council in 2012, a comprehensive review of the programme resulted in a focus on retention and refurbishment options rather than wholesale demolition. People did not want to see their homes demolished. This might be said to address the issues of dereliction but not that of bad planning that tends to undermine community solidarity.
€152,282,611 was spent by the Limerick Regeneration Office before it was replaced. Expenditure by Limerick City Council and Limerick City and County Council from June 2012 up to the end of 2015 was €104,827,300.
The average expenditure per year on Limerick Regeneration has been €28,567,767.
Approximately 1,000 dwellings have been demolished since 2008. As part of the original plan, it was hoped that more than 3,000 homes would be demolished, and that 2,500 would be constructed. This has been reduced to 549. Remarkably, no more than 150 houses and no more than 241 housing units have actually been constructed. The number of units demolished between June 2007 and April 2016 is 1,039. Of this figure, 144 have been demolished since the adoption of the Limerick Regeneration Framework Implementation Plan (LRFIP) in February 2014.
That’s a lot of demolition and not so much new build so it is important to put these figure in context.
Up to February 2014, the demolition programme in the first period of regeneration favoured a ‘clean-slate’ approach and reflected a sharp population decline in the regeneration areas over a 30-year period.
This reflected the simple fact that between 1981 and 2011 the population in the areas involved declined by between 48 and 70 per cent. In simple terms, many people had left these areas with a resultant spike in the number of vacant units which adversely affected the quality of life of those who remained and gave rise to additional problems with anti-social behaviour. A great deal of damage was done to morale in the current Rejuvenation Areas in the 1980s when a £5,000 grant was made available to tenants there to move to private housing in the middle-class suburbs outside the city centre. Many of the most dynamic tenants including industrial workers moved out.
The whole approach should now probably start reflecting the fact that for the first time in two centuries there seems to be some momentum for Limerick to actually develop, with talk from business people at least of Limerick becoming Ireland’s second city.
Not all the original ambitious regeneration targets outlined from 2007 or indeed 2011 are being realised as new targets were set with the adoption of LRFIP. The plan is a robust, evidence-based, measurable Implementation plan though it is not ambitious enough.
The Demolition and Retention Strategy was reviewed in 2015 with a further 44 houses being retained. Given that new housing proposed in the regeneration areas is replacement housing, the overall number of houses required, based on the calculation adopted in the LRFIP in 2014, reduces from 593 to 549.
So far of that 549, 241 units have been completed or are under construction as follows;
- 110 new housing units have been delivered under the regeneration programme (Colivet Court, Cliona Park Phase 1, Cliona Park Gap Site, Vizes Court and Waller’s Well) with an additional 134 currently under construction and 98 more due to commence shortly.
- 131 units under construction (Lord Edward Street, Cliona Park Phase 2, Churchfield Phase 1)
- 273 units though not under construction are at detailed design stage/design stage
- 50 units have preliminary approval.
Additionally, up to February 2016, the regeneration programme has funded and delivered a total of 85 housing units for older people.
In tandem with the new-build programme, the extensive refurbishment of vacant houses, also known as ‘long-term voids’, has also provided additional homes. Over 1,504 existing houses will be retained and refurbished to a BER Rating of C in the regeneration areas including a significant number of private houses. At the end of July 2016, a total of 278 units have been refurbished and had their insulation upgraded to make them warmer homes and more environmentally sustainable and affordable to heat. A further 485 are currently on site or in preparation and due to be similarly upgraded by the end of 2016. The area-wide refurbishment project is on-target with approximately 50% (763 units) of the overall units complete, on site or in preparation at the end of July 2016. The thermal upgrade programme is due for completion at the end of 2018.
Refurbishment and remedial/repair works are taking place beyond residential housing such as several derelict structures on Nicholas Street with the objective of improving the environmental quality of the street including 24, 25, 26, 27 and 35 Nicholas Street and the ‘Fireplace Site’ (36-39).
It is not clear whether the quality of the buildings that are being refurbished and upgraded is sufficient for Limerick to reach aspirations to be an excellent place to live, or whether the density of existing developments conduces to transportation and infrastructure desirable to effect radical change in the local quality of life.
Achievements under the LRFIP include:
- More than 300 jobs have been created as a direct result of the plan’s funding.
- There has been increased attendance at school and other services and higher numbers from DEIS schools progressing to further level.
- There has been a significant reduction in headline crime figures in Limerick between 2007 and 2015. The figures for youth crime have also decreased.
- Over the period of considerable cut-backs in state funding for community and social services, it has been possible to retain such services at a level in Limerick that would not have been possible in the absence of regeneration.
- Moyross Community Enterprise Centre, St Mary’s AID, Our Lady of Lourdes Community Support Group, Tait House Southill, Southill Area Centre, St. Munchin’s in Killeely and Garryowen Community Development Project have all been aided in the provision of services including: childcare, after-schools services, parenting programmes, meals and services for elderly people, education and training, community enterprise, work experience, and employment.
- A number of sports projects are being supported including the development of sports facilities and the purchase of small-scale equipment, while the “Sing Out with Strings” project and Music Generation Limerick are offering children the opportunity to engage in music.
- Regeneration initiatives are assisting people to become more employable, find work, creating jobs and support the development of social and community enterprise.
- Community enterprises are providing work placements, temporary employment and / or jobs for local people in areas including insulation, community cafes, meals and catering, hairdressing, services for older people and bike repair. While many of the jobs are still in temporary, employment programmes such as Community Employment Schemes, the intention is that through training, improving work-related skills and support for self-employment, enterprise and social enterprise, participants on schemes can progress into mainstream jobs.
- Limerick Community Development Project and schools in or serving populations in disadvantaged areas have been supported to offer extra-curricular activities for children and young people during school holidays, after-school services and additional educational supports in-school including literacy programmes and civic education.
- Funding from regeneration also provides bursaries for students from regeneration and other disadvantaged communities in the city that have accepted places in third level colleges.
- A number of family-support projects are now available to families in regeneration areas, to help them face day-to-day challenges, provide information and help to access services they might need.
According to the social geographer David Harvey, bad planning in urban areas lies at the heart of much that is wrong in contemporary urban societies. The badly-planned 1970s sprawling Southill estate demonstrated the societal outcomes of poor planning practices, compounded by a lack of community resources, poor community policing and endemically high levels of unemployment. Southill consists of a reasonably good stock of houses, but it sprawls on forever, and there seems to be no way out and nowhere to go, particularly at the rear of the estate where there seems to be a concentration of anti-social activity.
- The official LFRIP review [eg above] talks the talk but does not go far enough. There should be more new build to higher densities and quality than existing suburban-style estates. In particular Southill and Moyross are characteristically laid out in depressing cul de sacs which should be reinvented with greater permeability, more high-quality open space and greenery and much better social and leisure infrastructure.
- Emphasise quality of architecture and planning. The residents of these areas of Limerick deserve development that vastly improves the local quality of life. While the recent Review shows quality of life is on the agenda the ambition is not big or precise enough. Areas subject to renewal should aim for an excellent quality of life and should facilitate it through monitoring a range of dozens of indicators (employment, crime, educational attainment, green space, architectural quality, quality of transport, leisure facilities indoors and outdoors, etc) to improve performance, systematically.
- Expedite work. Local residents groups have long complained of the damage to morale and crime that results from properties being boarded or retrofitted. Generally within the regeneration areas, house prices are stagnant indicates a low demand and low confidence.
- Ensure locals are properly represented in decision-making including in the decision-making process on any future changes to the LRFIP.
- Explain to locals the change to plans especially the decision to retain much of the originally disdained housing stock, and why that is desirable.
- Integrate the LRFIP into the Limerick City and County Development Plan so it becomes determinant of planning applications. This added force would generate confidence that the plan will be implemented, and encourage private development.
- Continue to promote a mix of tenure: building houses is the easy part. Limerick is the most socially segregated of the four provincial cities. Why has it the highest proportion of local authority housing of any Irish city, as well as the highest rate of youth unemployment, suicide and marriage breakdown?
Limerick-born sociologist Dr Niamh Hourigan, author of Understanding Limerick (2011), which explores the factors which underpin the problems of social exclusion in Limerick’s marginalised periphery, suggests that rigid class divisions occur where there is no university (Limerick had none until 1989), leaving few routes but for the most able. In Limerick, people turned their skills into trade union activity.
The loss of manufacturing jobs over the decades such as Ranks, Krups, Ferenka, Dell etc. was a heavy blow with no replacements. Financial desperation led to drug gangs which goes hand in hand with feuding.
It looks like Limerick is finally sorting its social housing problems and realising that its regeneration must go beyond mere bricks and mortar.
By Emma Gilleece
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