A Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement to build 51 housing units in Shannon will be four years of gestation before any tenant receives the keys to a home. This is at a time when there are over 300 Shannon applicants on Clare County Council’s waiting list.

According to Ruth Hurley, an architect with Clare County Council, it will be the summer of 2021 before a new development of 51 social houses becomes available for allocation to tenants. Ms Hurley updated Shannon Municipal District councillors on the PPP arrangement between the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA) and the local authority. Under this arrangement, the NDFA will licence a private company to develop the 51 houses on public land and lease them to Clare County Council for allocation to tenants. After 25 years the council will assume full ownership of the houses.

The 51 social houses will comprise of 31 three-bedroom houses, 7 four-beds and 13 two-bedroom houses. Two of the units will be adapted for special needs. During the initial 25-year period, the houses will be operated and maintained by the private developer for an annual payment. Cork County Council is contracting the PPP arrangements on behalf of eight local authorities, including Clare County Council.

Noting that this is a Part 8 planning application, Ms Hurley said no public objections were received during the period for submissions which has now lapsed. She expects the project to be endorsed by Clare County Council at its meeting in June. Ms Hurley said the NDFA plans to tender for the development in Q3 2018 with work beginning on site one year later. It is anticipated that the complex will be available by June 2021.

Fianna Fáil councillor Cathal Crowe was critical of the time taken to deliver the 51 social houses. He quoted Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy as saying that it takes two years to complete housing schemes like this. Cllr Crowe said, “The completion date for this is June 2021, that’s three years from now and 50% more than the Housing Minister is saying it takes.”

In actual fact, the project will take more than four years as it was first mooted on 16th May 2017 when Shannon MD councillors were told that a private company will design, build, finance and manage the project of more than 50 units. At that meeting, a representative from Simon J. Kelly Architects gave details of the project and it was stated that the planning application would be put before the full council “in the coming months”.

Commenting on Ms Hurley’s update, independent councillor Gerry Flynn said that this would be good news were it not for the fact that it will take until June 2021 to have the housing scheme in place. Cllr Flynn, who is chairman of the council’s SPC for Social Development which includes housing policy, believes the 51 social houses will go a long way to help with a large number of people who have applied for social housing in Shannon.

On plans to have two units adapted for special needs, Cllr Flynn said the future needs of tenants, including the need to make provision for older people, should be taken into consideration when designing social houses. Each year the council spends more than €2 million on housing adaptation grants to people living in homes that are not fit for purpose. Cllr Flynn said planners should be conscious of the need to design homes “from birth to death”, particularly with access to ground floor toilet and washing facilities.

While welcoming the update, Liam Conneally, meetings facilitator with Shannon Municipal District, urged Ms Hurley to consider the need to fast-track the process leading to the construction of these 51 houses. “This scheme is so badly needed and we also need to make these units fit for purpose in terms of the whole-of-life cycle use. It would save a lot of money in future if the design incorporated a downstairs bathroom,” he said.

Explaining the process, Ruth Hurley said the project is being run by the NDFA. Typically, tendering takes five months and then up to four months to complete funding arrangements with the private company. Under the PPP model, Clare County Council will effectively be a tenant for 25 years. This also allows the Government to access private funding for social housing so that there is less capital investment on the books.

Ms Hurley said the local authority has 59 weeks from receiving approval for the project to getting it on site – “That’s another one of Eoghan Murphy’s chants,” said the official. Noting that it will take 18 months to construct the 51 houses at this site, Ms Hurley commented, “the ground conditions are difficult in Shannon so 18 months errs on the side of caution.”

Liam Conneally said the PPP arrangement has only become possible because of very low interest rates and this makes the financial model viable over a 25-year period. The houses revert to council ownership, without any other payment, at the end of the 25-year lease period.