The rows of concrete wreckage which form streets through St Mary’s Park are a stark definition of how the much-vaunted Limerick Regeneration Plan has failed this community, writes Jimmy Woulfe
The plan, launched in October 2008, was heralded as the most spectacular venture ever in urban renewal in this country. Four black-spot estates in the city, Southill, Ballinacurra Weston, Moyross, and St Mary’s Park, were selected for massive redevelopment, with a budget of €3bn.
The plan provided for the replacement of 2,450 houses and the construction of 4,790 new ones.
Leafing through the 203-page document, former mayor of Limerick John Gilligan says: “It reads like a fairytale from Hans Christian Andersen.”
Sadly, it has turned out to be a horror for many, whose hopes were raised that this was to be the new beginning of all beginnings. Today, many people rightly get angry when there is mention of the word ‘regeneration’.
St Mary’s Park is more derelict than it was prior to October 2008, and now stands as a crumbling collection of run-down, knocked-down, boarded-up dwellings. The cratered roads add to the misery.
The regeneration plan for St Mary’s Park envisaged the building of 1,420 new houses and the replacement of a further 380. Not one new house has been erected.
The original estate was built in 1935. The Island Field, as it is known, was to be divided into seven quarters, to include an urban park with a viewing tower, a marina, and sports facilities.
It’s easy to agree with Mr Gilligan in his assessment of the great plan. He represents St Mary’s Park on Limerick City and County Council and lives in nearby Lee Estate.
“The people feel betrayed,” he says. “Not a single house has been built by the regeneration agency. Not a single brick laid for a house. To make matters worse, they started moving people out to other parts of the city and demolishing houses willy-nilly.
“Now, there are derelict, boarded-up houses all over St Mary’s Park and big gabs where houses once stood. The place looks like a bombed-out site from a World War Two film.
“This is a far cry to what appeared in that big, glossy book they brought out for the launch in 2008. The regeneration was a lost opportunity. I accept there was a breakdown in the economy, but they had billions to pay back the bankers, but there wasn’t a shilling to improve the lives of the people of St Mary’s Park.”
He breaks into a derisory laugh as he flicks through pages of the plan.
“They talked of seven distinctive quarters, taking advantage of the unique island setting. It stated ‘the areas will be known as Gooseneck Park — an urban park to cater for sporting and recreational needs’. Another was to be Verdant Quarter, which would have density housing and riverfront shopping and cafes.”
Mr Gilligan says a second plan proposed building canals through St Mary’s Park.
“They wanted to turn it into some kind of Venice or Amsterdam,” he says.
Another section of the plan reads: “A key objective for housing is to transform the perception of St Mary’s Park as a socially disadvantaged, physically sub-standard, and crime-ridden ghetto to be one of a safe, model, urban riverside residential development.”
Walking through St Mary’s Park, it is obviously one of the country’s most socially disadvantaged and substandard of housing estates. And one of the country’s biggest drug rackets is run from the there.
On St Senan’s St, I met Christopher Moran. Aged 48, he has lived in St Mary’s Park all his life.
“Look at the state of the place,” he says. “There are rats coming into my house and they’d nearly talk to you. We were told a load of shit and lies about what they were going to do for us.
“It has got far worse. Lots of people were forced out of their houses and moved to other parts of the city. The houses were knocked or boarded-up. You can’t drive on the roads, they’re so bad.
“I had a lot of neighbours who lived near me all their lives and they had to go to live in other parts of the city. They thought they’d be getting new houses here. Everybody is pissed off.”
Up the street, another man, who did not want to give his name, sat at the front door of his well-kept house. He said he was 51 and had lived in St Mary’s Park since he was born.
A lot of the people who were moved out of St Mary’s Park as part of the regeneration plan are now living in other parts of the city, where they are not accepted.
“They were scattered all over the place, although they would have preferred to have stayed here,” the man says.
“They have no friends and I’d meet them in town and they’d tell you how they kind of have a label on them, that they came from St Mary’s Park and because of that they were marked as messers.
“This regeneration was bad news for St Mary’s Park. Look over there, that’s the old Star Rovers playing pitch. They were supposed to put in all new houses there.”
Mr Gilligan says it was ironic that the regeneration project did see the construction of a new creche.
“They build a creche and, at the same time, move young families out,” he says, shaking his head.
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