Answers sought from Respond on apartments
Housing agency Respond are to be brought before the next meeting of Wexford County Council to explain why apartments have been left idle to fall to rack and ruin despite having obtained Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS) funding.
The issue was raised at a recent special housing meeting of Wexford County Council and related in particular to apartments in the old St Mary's Convent in New Ross and apartments in Westlands in Wexford town.
Having heard of an increased demand for one and two bedroom properties on the council's housing list, Cllr Anthony Connick questioned the status of the project at the convent, a saga which he says has been ongoing for some seven years.
'Why aren't the likes of Respond being held accountable?' he asked. 'There's property left lying idle and falling into disrepair there when people are crying out for houses.'
Cllr Connick expressed his disbelief when he learned that Respond had already been in receipt of CAS funding to do up the 20 apartments, but as a result of lying vacant for so long, they now need further funding to bring them up to code.
Senior Housing Officer Padraig O'Gorman explained that CAS funding was allocated seven or eight years ago to develop the apartments. Subsequently they never opened, he said and they now are in 'need of significant refurbishment' but the project is ineligible for any further CAS funding.
'The building was developed into apartments, but never opened,' Mr O'Gorman said. 'Subsequently they fell into disrepair. The Director of Services and I are due to have a follow up meeting on this later this month. From the department's point of view though, Respond should pay to have the work done, but they say they can't do this.'
Cllr Connick was enraged by this. 'They are a housing body,' he said. 'Why haven't they provided the housing if they got the funding for it? You wouldn't see this type of thing anywhere else! What are they doing? We can't leave the place like that. It's embarrassing and Respond need to be held accountable.'
Similarly, Cllr Maura Bell pointed out that a number of units in the Respond development in Westlands in Wexford town are currently empty and are being let fall into disrepair at a time when people are crying out for such accommodation.
'In its day it was very successful,' she said. 'It's fallen by the wayside now though. A lot of the apartments there are vacant and have been for some time. I'd like for us to ask Respond what they are doing. There are a lot of one and two bed apartments there just falling into disrepair.'
Mr O'Gorman replied that the issue of Westlands had also been raised with Respond and he had been informed that the apartments were now in desperate need of heating and other upgrades. Again he pointed out that the project would not be eligible for a second round of CAS funding.
'This is absolutely disgraceful that they're left like that,' Cllr Bell said. 'The notion that public funds would be wasted like that is a disgrace.'
With the situation provoking the ire of the councillors, Council Chief Executive Tom Enright urged caution on the subject.
'Bearing in mind that the media are present and this is an open forum, I think we should refrain from saying much more until we have some more information,' he said. 'I think we need to ask some questions of Respond and it's important not to be judge and jury in this situation.'
Following the discussion, it was decided that representatives of Respond would be asked to attend the October meeting and explain the situation with both projects.