‘I refuse to pay the household charge’

When Colin Regan and his fiancée, Siobhan Grace, moved into their new home on the outskirts of Carrick-on-Suir in 2009, they were assured that the houses in Hazel Close were the best-built in town.

Every weekend, perspective buyers would flood into the estate to visit the two show-houses and have a look around.

Colin and Siobhan were the fourth people to buy in the 22-house estate. They would turn out to be the last.

The grass on green areas is wild, there are huge potholes in the road. Hazel Close was to be phase one of a five-phase development, so the houses are surrounded by an ugly wasteland where it was intended the other phases would go. At night time, the estate lies in total darkness because no one will take responsibility for street lighting. The developer has disappeared and thus far, the local authority has refused to take over maintenance.

The first inkling that anything might be wrong came before Colin and Siobhan moved in. “I had to take out the bathroom ware to get the place tiled,” says Colin, “and when I did, we got a wicked smell coming up through it.” Investigative works revealed the toilet was not connected to the sewerage mains. Colin went back to the estate agent who handled the sale and, luckily, he was able to get the remedial works completed without further cost.

As the first winter in their new house approached, one by one, the street lights began to go out. They were not replaced.

Soon after that, the anti-social behaviour began. “The two show-houses were all kitted out and furnished,” says Colin. “There were flat-screen TVs and all the appliances. I came on them one night and saw the back doors were open, so I rang up the guards. The flat-screens were gone and the appliances were ready in another heap to go the next night.”

Groups of young people roamed through the estate and hung around in the unoccupied houses. There was illegal dumping, and skips were set alight in the waste ground that adjoins the estate.

Things came to a head when two of the unoccupied houses were set alight. “My neighbour came across to us and said: ‘You better get out because the houses up the road are on fire.’ ”

The houses were subsequently demolished, then rebuilt, and both spent six months surrounded by scaffolding.

Things improved slightly when the council took over four units for social housing, doubling the number of occupied houses on the estate. But as time goes by, conditions continue to deteriorate.

Because there’s a crèche at the end of the estate, the road draws a lot of extra traffic and the road is now treacherous. Other houses suffered the same sewerage problems, and the manhole covers along the road are uneven; some at road level, some well below it. The kerbs haven’t been correctly finished, which means that Colin has had to replace damaged tyres on his car.

The Department of the Environment has paid over €1.3m out of a total fund of €2.5m to 19 local authorities for safety measures at unfinished housing estates. To qualify for funding, the housing developments must be abandoned by the developer and pose serious problems for residents. Though Hazel Close clearly fits these criteria, the local authority hasn’t taken over the estate.

The legislation says that an owner of a residential property in an unfinished estate is entitled to a waiver from the household charge. But when Colin checked the list of exempt estates, he was shocked to find that Hazel Close was not listed. “I refuse point blank to pay it,” he says. “I’m fighting it.”


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