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Minister opens new Portlaoise council estate but next new estate is years away

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Conniberry Way opens in Portlaoise but next new council estate is years away

Minister for housing Eoghan Murphy cuts the ribbon at Conniberry Way council estate in Portlaoise on June 18.

The first council estate to be built in Portlaoise in a decade has been officially opened by Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy.

Conniberry Way on the Old Knockmay Road has 33 homes on a compact 2 acre site with a small green at its centre.

The new tenants, individuals and families young and old, were chosen as the most in need from the council's housing list.

Over 1,000 names still remain on that list but no other estate is yet under construction in Portlaoise.

On Monday morning June 18 Minister Murphy arrived with Minister Charlie Flanagan to cut the ribbon.

Wishing the residents happiness in their homes, he urged them to keep in touch with local politicians to “keep them working for you”.

“We face serious challenges, the worst is homelessness. We have a housing shortage but we are fixing this problem, with €6bn of a warchest to do it,” he said.

Asked by the Leinster Express if cities would gobble up much of that money, Minister Murphy said each local authority had its target.

“Under Rebuilding Ireland we have dedicated targets for each local authority as to where the 3.800 houses will be built spread out across the country. This year 4,400 new social housing homes will be built and that's significant progress,” he said.

Minister Flanagan noted that Portlaoise is chosen for an urban regeneration project, and said the town's sudden growth to 25k brings a challenge and opportunity.

“Almost 12,000 people leave Laois to work, mostly in Dublin, we have to ensure that Portlaoise has a quality of life, as well as housing we must provide education, health, environment and heritage services,” he said.

Portlaoise Parish Priest Monsignor John Byrne blessed the estate. "that these well designed and constructed houses will become homes filled with peace and harmony".

Laois County Council CEO John Mulholland quoted the poem 'The Old Woman of the Road', noting that the 'hearth' is replaced with a photo voltaic solar panel in the new A rated homes.

He is confident that Laois' target of 627 new homes by 2021 can be met, by a combination of building new council estates like Conniberry, Part V homes in new private estates allocated for social tenants, turnkey developments by private developers for the council, homes from approved housing bodies, and renovating vacant and derelict houses.

“At the same time we are targeting dereliction and regenerating towns,” he said.

Below: Christina, Brooklyn and Jessica Shortall - pictured outside their new home.

The council's next housing project in Portlaoise is to rebuild derelict private estate Hepburn Court but another official opening will be several years away. Compulsory Purchase Orders on the final few houses in that estate are not yet complete. Once done, with a field behind it and halls beside it, there will be up to 3 acres owned by the council for more new council houses.

Cllr Willie Aird, Leas Cathaoirleach said that the council does not own “one acre of land” in Portlaoise.

“The buck stops with Laois County Council as the housing authority so we have to be the front runners in providing land to make sure we have projects coming on stream,” he said.

Sheelagh Coyle is a community rep on the Housing SPC committee.

“This is a tiny drop in the ocean, everything needs to be speeded up,” she said.

Conniberry was first planned in 2005 when the council bought the site for over €1 million. Plans were shelved during the bust. It was resurrected in 2014 and redesigned. It was built by Laois company Michael Kelly & Sons Ltd in 20 months for €4.7 million, averaging €181k per house, and 2.5 weeks construction time per house.

It has one 4 bed house, 10 two bed homes including bungalows for disabled access, and 22 three bed homes. All are A rated energy efficient with a yearly heating bill expected to be only €250. 

New tenant Trisha Flanagan's daughter Caoimhe, 3, helped Minister Murphy cut the ribbon.

“It's going to be a great little neighbourhood. My little son Jay is making friends fast. I was renting privately before, now I am no longer in fear of the rent going up,” said Ms Flanagan.

Below: Trisha Flanagan with her daughter Caoimhe outside their new home.

Her new neighbour Christina Shortall has four children and was previously also renting a house, with the help of a rent allowance.

"The houses are so warm and lovely, I hope we all get to know each other now and we all get along. It's nice to be able to see the green for the children to play, and they are so close to the schools and town," she said. 

The Minister took a tour of a house afterwards.

"These are some of the best designed homes I've seen in the country. A incredible amount of storage which is great for any family, the finish is just brilliant, and you can see they will be very energy efficient. Really impressive," he said.

Below: 1: Cllr Willie Aird speaking at the official opening of Conniberry Way.

2: Minister Murphy visiting Cllr Aird's farm at Nutgrove, Portlaoise, with Minister Charlie Flanagan.