Reason sought for Cork county council’s €13m of unfit social housing sites

Cork county councillors are to seek an explanation as to how the local authority has debts of €13m for sites which it bought for social housing but were later deemed unsuitable for residential development.

Last week, the Irish Examiner revealed how Cork County Council had loans totalling €12,926,765 relating to the purchase of 12 sites that were intended for social housing, and how the local authority unsuccessfully attempted to move the loans off its books using a scheme described as a ‘mini-Nama.’

The Department of Environment and Local Government refused to include the 12 sites in the Land Aggregation Scheme because it found that the sites were unsuitable for residential development.

The scheme saw the State buy lands off councils for €1, but also take the financial burden associated with the sites off the councils.

Now councillors in Cork want to know how the council ended up with the multi-million euro debt on lands that were deemed unfit for residential development.

A Freedom of Information request from this newspaper to Cork County Council was denied, but the number of Cork sites rejected under the Land Aggregation Scheme and the level of associated debt came to light following a similar request to the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Sinn Féin councillor Kieran McCarthy said that the matter was discussed at a meeting with his fellow party councillors last Monday. He said that the party will submit a motion seeking more information on the sites.

“We will also ask why this information was redacted,” Mr McCarthy said. “There is no logical explanation as to why this can’t be made known. Public money was spent on these sites, the council should be more forthcoming.”

Independent councillor John Paul O’Shea also said that he would submit a motion on the sites.

“This obviously needs looking at and we need to know why the lands were bought and why they are now not acceptable under the Land Aggregation Scheme,” he said.

Mr McCarthy said that it was “frustrating” to learn of the debts given the financial constraints experienced elsewhere in the council.

“I went to the Housing Department to try and get some repairs done for people and was told that they haven’t had a budget since 2013,” said Mr McCarthy.

“Imagine how many repairs could have been carried out for €13m? It’s very frustrating knowing that’s there while there are people suffering.”

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