On Friday 27th of September 2013, the Minister of State for Housing and Planning, Jan O'Sullivan TD, launched the Limerick Regeneration Framework Implementation Plan to invited guests in the Thomond Suite at Thomond Park. The 506 page document outlines the Councils intentions for "regeneration" areas over the next 10-years. Hard copies of the plan should be available to members of the public at the Regeneration offices in Watch House Cross in Moyross and the LEDP on the Roxboro Road from Monday 30th September. Limerick Regeneration Watch has taken the liberty of scanning the document and creating a series of PDF's for online viewing:
Comment: Very few residents were invited to attend the launch of the Limerick Regeneration Framework Implementation Plan, although all of the speakers stressed how much community involvement and "collaboration" there was with residents in developing it.
The proceedings were compered by Chief Superintendent Dave Sheehan of the Limerick Garda Division, who claimed that the “regeneration” areas had been stabilised over the past 7-years.
There was no mention of the depopulation policy that had decimated communities with boarded-up houses. There was no explanation from the Garda Chief Superintendent as to how so many of those houses were looted and burnt out (often in broad daylight) while the Gardaí were supposed to policing the estates, However, it was admitted that anti-social behaviour was still a major concern for residents
The fact that resident’s basic human rights to adequate housing and security were seriously undermined by these deliberate policies was described throughout the launch as “mistakes“.
Mayor Kathleen Leddin urged everyone to put the past behind us and move forward together with the plan. The fact that mandated and representative resident’ groups had initially been excluded from the event and had to obtain last minute invitations to the launch by contacting the office of the Minster of State for Housing & Planning does not bode well for any stated intentions a unified approach to regeneration.
The Weston Gardens Residents’ Association (WGRA), the Moyross Residents’ Alliance (MRA) and the Ballinacurra Weston Residents’ Alliance (BWRA) are recognised by government Ministers and Departments, EU Institutions and organisations, they are even recognised and receive funding from the Councils Environment section, yet the Office of Regeneration refuses to engage with them.
The resident groups had also been excluded for a “Buffet Breakfast Briefing” organised by the Office of Regeneration before the launch for selected “community people”. The Kincora Carew Concerned Residents Action Group did receive an invitation to this event, but it was withdrawn the day before and the group was told that it had been sent “by mistake”.
The olive branch was extended on the day by Tom Daly, Chairperson of the MRA in an interview with Limerick's Live 95fm, but it remains to be seen if the Office of Regeneration will adopt inclusive polices.
INTERVIEW WITH TOMMY DALY AFTER THE LAUNCH
Cathal McCarthy, Chair of the WGRA and PRO with the BWRA, was less enthusiastic and raised the need for community elections so that residents could directly elect representatives, he also highlighted the lack of policing and the issue of unmonitored CCTV cameras on the Southside, telling Limerick's Live 95fm that the plans needed to be studied closely.
INTERVIEW WITH CATHAL McCARTHY AFTER THE LAUNCH
Unable to attend the launch at such short notice, Matt Collins, Chair of the BWRA said he was shocked to learn that a lot of occupied homes were now being targeted for demolition and described the consultations that took place in March as farcical:
"Those consultations were farcical, they weren't able to answer half our questions and there were no independent experts to help residents understand what we were shown. We made a formal submission and they never replied.
"We had to go to our TD's. We have a letter from Seamus Hanrahan to Willie O'Dea that addressed some of our issues and now the plans are telling us different, that they want to knock more homes including ones that they said they would refurbish, they want all my neighbours across the road gone and this is the first that anyone heard of it.
"I'm really shocked, but I suppose I shouldn't be; I was on the residents' forum for 3-years and they never listened. Now they're telling everyone that they're listening, but they haven't even the decency to knock on peoples doors and let them know that they want their homes. People are afraid that they will take their homes, they really should have talked to residents first and come to an agreement.
"Look, we protested for 4-weeks this time last year just to get them to knock the more dangerous houses, we had to get government Ministers and the national media involved before they would listen. They can pretend all they like that they worked on these plans with the community but we know better.
"Myself and some of our committee members have just completed our Human Rights Action Training with CAN (Community Action Network) in Dublin. What went on here over the past 7-years with the boarding up of houses was an abuse of our human rights, it caused all sorts of problems for residents and forced many to leave, they had no choice in the matter.
"We learnt a lot from CAN about our human rights. We have the right to adequate housing, to security and safety. We also have a human right to participate in the decisions that affect our lives and that certainly isn't happening now, the BWRA will be doing all we can to assert those rights going forward." said Mr. Collins.
The Office of Regeneration has advised residents groups to engage with the "existing resident structures", but has thus far refused to provide relevant information such as ‘where, when, who and how?’ Only time will tell if the Framework Implementation Plan's objective to enhance community participation will materialise, it’s certainly off to a bad start. If this policy of selective inclusion continues and the structures for community participation are not reformed to give residents a real say in the decisions that affect our lives then the plan is doomed to failure.
At the launch the Cathaoirleach of Limerick County Council, Cllr. John Sheehan, welcomed the plans and the Councils Director of Home & Community, Mr. Oliver O'Loughlin claimed in his presentation that residents had been properly consulted, but later acknowledged the need for greater community participation, empowerment and civic engagement. This was followed by a "few words of endorsement" by the Chief Superintendent before inviting the Chairperson of the Community Consultative Forum, Mr. Ger Crowley, to speak. Most residents are unaware of the existence of this forum or who their selected representatives are, as there is currently no communication with residents.
It was then the turn of Minister O'Sullivan to officially launch the plan. In the foreword Minister O'Sullivan tells us that she is "pleased with the level of engagement and co-operation between the Office of Regeneration and the communities in framing this plan." Unfortunately, many residents are less than pleased with the engagement, particularly those residents that were unaware that their homes are being targeted for demolition until the publication of the plans.
Up next was Limerick's City & County Manager, Mr. Conn Murray, who acknowledged that the target communities had been failed by previous administrations, echoing the words of the former Limerick Regeneration Agencies CEO, Mr. Brendan Kenny, 7-years ago when "regeneration" first arrived, but it is of little comfort to residents that have to endure it, many of whom are still living in fear.
The proceedings were brought a close by the Chief Superintendent. There was no opportunity to ask questions from the floor; this carefully choreographed event stuck rigidly to the itinerary.
Limerick Regeneration Watch welcomes the publication of the Framework Implementation Plan and at a cursory glance, there much to be positive about. For the first time ever, the legal remit of regeneration is acknowledged and the statutory boundaries are clearly indicated throughout the plan. However, it is important to note that the Vizes Court, Edward Street, Nicholas Street and Opera Centre developments are outside the legal remit.
The statutory boundaries of regeneration were enshrined in law in 2008, when the legislation that established the Regeneration Agencies was amended to include deposited maps for the Northside and the Southside areas, which defined the legal remit. New legislation was introduced in July 2012, transferring the Functions of the Agencies over to Limerick City Council. While the legal remit goes well beyond the target areas in most instances to include neighbouring estates, it has partitioned Ballinacurra Weston, excluding most of the area and including parts of Prospect and Rosbrien. The statutory boundaries need to be revised and amended.
Priority spending should be given to the demolition of derelict and unsafe houses in the areas; privately owned houses that were abandoned by their owners because of the intimidation they experienced during the “stabilisation period” should be purchased and the owners fairly compensated with deeds for deeds.
The Inclusion of an intention to comply with EU legislation when awarding contracts for developments so that provision can be made for local employment is to be welcomed; this is something that the excluded residents groups have been highlighting since 2010.
Minister O'Sullivan has promised that her office will establish a "watchdog" to monitor the progress of the plan, this is something that is long overdue; it was first recommended by the 2007 Fitzgerald Report. Such an oversight committee will need to be independent and empowered to hold the Office of Regeneration to account.
The Framework Implementation Plan is half the width and twice as thick as the 2008 'Master Plan', not only does it look different, but it promises to be more than just an aspirational wish list and claims that it will deliver "safe and sustainable communities" for a fraction of the cost of the previous plan. Residents and members of the public will be asked for their feedback on the plan over the next 6-weeks. Limerick Regeneration Watch and affiliated resident groups will study the plan in more detail and make formal submissions.
Only time will tell whether or not this is more than the public relations exercise that it appears to be. The powers that be may yet prove willing to learn from those past "mistakes", but the injustices perpetrated in the name of "regeneration" also need to be atoned for, perhaps then we can all move forward together.