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The blocks are eerily quiet.
In surrounding buildings of the Prospect Hill complex, a terrier barks from a balcony, and an owner shouts down from an apartment.
But blocks 2 and 2A, which contain 58 homes arranged in an L-shape on one side of a landscaped plaza, are silent – and empty.
Yet these 58 homes are supposed to be social housing. Over the last few years, council officials have regularly said they’ll soon be ready for families to move into, but the timeline has retreated again, and again, and again.
“Every couple of months we’re told it’s going to be ready, it’s going to be ready,” says Sinn Féin Councillor Anthony Connaghan. “And it’s not ready.”
The Prospect Hill complex was developed on Dublin City Council-owned land by McCabe Builders, a council report says.
It’s perched on top of a hill at the junction of the Finglas Road and Tolka Valley Road, and has 469 apartments in 10 blocks.
Dublin City Council had struck an agreement in 2004 with McCabe Builders for 150 affordable homes, and 35 senior citizens’ apartments, in the complex.
McCabe went into receivership in 2012. The complex wasn’t finished, and some of the flats had yet to be sold.
Blocks 2 and 2A – which weren’t finished – had 58 apartments, of which 23 were affordable homes promised to the council and 35 had been meant for the private market.
In 2011, a council report set out a plan for the council to also buy the 35 apartments meant for the private market in blocks 2 and 2A. It wanted them for social housing.
Monami Construction announced on its website that it was doing refurbishment and upgrade works at block 2 and expected to be done by April 2014.
A council report in May 2014 said the builder had told the council they expected blocks 2 and 2A to be done within a couple of weeks. The City Architects office and the approved housing body Clúid were “snagging” the units and common areas, it said, meaning they were checking for any minor faults.
That was almost five years ago.
In January 2019, there were 2,939 applicants on the social-housing waiting list in Area E, according to council figures. That area includes Finglas – and Prospect Hill.
So why are the 58 social homes in blocks 2 and 2A sitting empty?
In late 2014, a fire-safety consultant identified issues in common areas and in individual apartments in the broader complex, says a July 2015 report.
The receiver appointed MSA Consultants to identify any further issues and in 2015 a tender was put out by BDO, the receivers, to address the defects.
MSA said they couldn’t share the report. “It is against company policy to issue information to anyone other than the client who commissioned the report,” said a spokesperson.
Monami Construction said on its website in 2017 that it was carrying out works on block 2 at Prospect Hill that included “fireproofing and remedial work to apartments and common areas within apartment blocks”.
The project “has a short programme and is due for completion in July 2017”, Monami’s site said.
Fine Gael Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy told the Dáil in June 2018 that Dublin City Council had “already taken ownership of 58 units in Block 2” and remediation works were done for those.
For the wider apartment complex, the receiver had appointed a contractor and those works were expected to be done by October 2019, said Murphy.
Why So Long?
A press officer for Dublin City Council said they couldn’t comment on what was going on with the empty blocks – why nobody had yet moved in, and how much, if anything, the council has paid so far on remedial works and other related costs.
“There are still negotiations ongoing between Dublin City Council and the Receiver for this property in relation to the remediation works,” they said, by email. “We have no further comment at this stage.”
Coming off the the junction of Finglas Road and Tolka Valley Road, a series of steps lead up between the edges of blocks 6 and 7 of the Prospect Hill complex.
A sculpture of a triangular prism sits at the top of the stairs, in a generous open space, overlooked by balconies. There are small landscaped mounds in the centre of the plaza.
There was no evidence on Monday of anybody living in the apartments in blocks 2 and 2A. A few abandoned footballs sat on a balcony of the one of the lower apartments.
There were builders at work on the site, but none would talk on the record about what was going on at the complex.
“What I understand is that the remediation works have been carried out there,” says Fianna Fáil Councillor Paul McAuliffe. But he’s unsure what the hold-up is preventing the council from moving families into the complex.
BDO, the receiver, said it wouldn’t answer questions about the status of remediation works at block 2 and block 2A, the cost of these works, and who paid these costs. It’s against BDO’s policy “to comment on individual receiverships”, says David O’Connor, a partner at BDO.
However, while a housing-supply report from January 2018 said the snagging process had commenced, last month’s housing-supply report said Prospect Hill was “in remediation process”
Sinn Féin’s Connaghan said the council hadn’t been happy with the work done on the blocks to bring them up to standard.
“The council said, ‘We’re not taking it until it’s brought up to a certain level,’ you know,” he said.