Despite extensive objections from numerous residents in the area, Laois County Council have sanctioned plans for a new social housing development on the Abbeyleix Road in Portlaoise.
Individual families and resident’s associations in the locality had opposed the provision of the new homes on a variety of grounds when the plan was put out to public consultation.
Supporting the residents, Cllr Catherine Fitzgerald who insisted, that while she was 100% in favour of the development, she was opposed to it including apartments.
She vociferously argued the case that apartments were entirely unsuitable for what she claimed was a rural location, too far out of town for apartments and constituted bad planning. She wanted the apartments dropped in favour of conventional housing.
This was strenuously refuted by planning and housing departments of the local authority and senior officials who recommended the 39 unit development for approval. The development is just off the Abbeyliex Road, 1km from the town centre and a quarter of a kilometre from O’ Moore Park and the shopping centre.
The 39 unit development is to comprise of 12 bungalows, 12 two-storey houses and 15 apartments and a community facility. It is understood that the development would be provided and managed in partnership with the voluntary housing agency, Respond.
Ultimately, the vast majority of other councillors supported the plan as proposed on the basis that it was well designed, properly panned and located and in particular that there is a dire need for such housing in the community.
The go-ahead was given with Cllr Fitzgerald winning an agreed concession regarding the fenestration design of the apartments, which would see the relocation of its primary living room windows so that they would no longer be overlooking the adjoining neighbours’ gardens.
Cllr Fitzgerald contended that the development would be better and more appropriate without apartments but this was vigorously resisted by the local authority management and the majority of other councillors.
Director of Services for Housing, Michael Rainey warned that any significant alteration to the plan which had gone out for extensive public consultation would lead to going back to the drawing board entirely, resulting in significant delays.
“This is proper planning, it is most acceptable and it’s not like it’s high rise or anything; the apartments are scarcely two-story, it’s very appropriate. They will be built to the highest standards, they are sustainable and of good design. I’m looking for approval here today for the plan as it stands so that we can proceed and get spades in the ground. There is a huge demand for these homes. Of the 1,700 on our housing list between 1,100 and 1,200 are here in Portlaoise the demand is significant.”
Cllr James Kelly cautioned: “We can’t afford to pass up on extra housing units like this. How long have we been looking at this, and the submissions, we do need them.”
Cllr Tom Mulhall said that a similar development in Portarlington with 30 apartments had worked out very well. “It is a great project, the tenants are very happy if we had 60 more we’d fill them.”
Cllr Caroline Dwane-Stanley lent her support to the plan. “It would be crazy and reckless to hold up this process today and people being forced to life in homeless shelters. I don’t think any councillor should go against it.”
Her colleague Aidan Mullins agreed: “This development is essential, I would love it in Portarlington. The apartments are only two-storeys. It would be reckless to oppose it and cause a delay.”
Ms Angela Mc Evoy of the Planning Department noted the need to provide a choice of tenure as not everyone wanted or needed a two-storey house with a garden. She pointed out that there was a significant demographic on the housing list for which the apartments worked very well.
She was agreeable to adjusting the fenestration as suggested by Cllr Fitzgerald as this was considered a minor alteration and therefore acceptable.
Mr Michael Rainey pointed out that the apartments in question are the same height as a two-story house. “I don’t understand what impact you are talking about or the basis of your objection and don’t accept at all the basis for saying it constitutes bad planning. The land was zoned for housing with such homes in mind. Two-thirds of the demand for housing are for one and two-bed properties”
This point was underscored by the Chief Executive, Mr John Mulholland who referred to an incorrect connotation about the provision of the apartments which he was not sure if that was entirely helpful. He urged the councillors to accept the plan as it stood as it had taken a great deal of time to get it this far and they had to provide homes for all sectors with over 700 on the housing list requiring one and two-bed units and this would only cater for a fraction of that demand.