Contentious debate on social housing provision in Laois splits Government councillors
A big row flared up between public representatives from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil over housing in Laois where a Fine Gael councillor said building too many social housing estates is 'destroying' towns.
The skirmish blew up at the Portarlington Municipal Distric meeting after Cllr Aisling Moran, Fine Gael, called into question the provision of open spaces and parks in new housing developments.
Against the backdrop of the pandemic, she said open space is needed in every estate in Ireland but she focused on a new development in Stradbally.
"It's very important that we have a new park in Stradbally even if we have to change the design of new housing," she said at the meeting in Laois County Council HQ.
She asked if it is possible to relocate housing planned for the village so that a park could be created. She suggested that additional housing could be procured from a builder in another part of the town where social housing is being built to make way for the park.
This led her on to questioning the number of houses being built.
"I feel we are putting too much social housing in small villages," she said.
Cllr Moran insisted that people for an area be housed and not those living in other counties or cities. She claimed that she had spoken with a number of Dublin people who had been moved to social housing in Laois.
While she is in favour of more housing, she said that the more than 50 social houses that are in the pipeline for Stradbally are not all needed.
Cllr Paschal McEvoy, Fianna Fáil, did not agree on a number of fronts and disputed the claims that people from outside Laois are being housed in the county. He said there are in the region of 300 people are waiting for new social housing with a preference to live in Stradbally.
"I don't agree with what you are saying," he said.
But Cllr Moran countered: "Do you see what is happening in other towns where they have built council estate after council estate? They are destroying them," she said.
Cllr Moran gave the example of Ballylinan near her home where an estate was originally earmarked for private housing but she claimed there are now nearly 70% of the houses occupied by council tenants.
Cllr McEvoy challenged her again: "What is wrong with council estates"?
She replied that she had no issue but local people are getting no say when it comes to houses being purchased for council tenants. She believes this impacts the community.
"We are losing the community spirit and we have people coming from other counties to live," she said.
Cllr McEvoy claimed anybody that may be living in Laois in housing supported by the State having moved from another county is doing so through the Housing Assistance Programme.
"There is no way that this council is allowing applications from another county unless they have an absolute connection," she said.
The two councillors also disagreed sharply on the location of the park for Stradbally. Cllr McEvoy insisted parks must come second to providing homes.
"I'm all for parks but I'm more for housing," he said.
He said it is hugely important to people waiting for a house when they hear confirmation that they are getting a home but is devastating on those on a list who get turned down for a home in a new housing development.
Cllr Aidan Mullins said he is not opposed to social housing but it must be sustainable.
"There seems to be a carte blanche in relation to social housing," he said. He described this approach as: 'Put them anywhere and it doesn't matter how many'.
He said gave an example of a housing estate in Portarlington where a developer received permission for more than 40 houses extra in an existing estate. After planning was granted all 40 were sold to a voluntary housing body for social housing.
He said 30 residents already living in the estate were not consulted on this change.
He said social housing targets can be achieved without impacting negatively on existing residents.
Cllr Padraig Fleming said it is very difficult for people to housed in social housing in Laois.
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