In Stoneybatter, a Council Housing Complex Beset by Problems Isn’t Among Those Scheduled for Regeneration

The reason why last month two apartments in a council-owned complex on Queen Street and Blackhall Parade in Stoneybatter flooded was leaks through the walls, according to a council spokesperson.

Tenants of that complex, also known as Marmion Court, said previously that it is plagued with structural and design flaws, and there was an electrical fire there in 2019.

But despite all the problems, the Queen Street complex is not included on the council’s list of developments scheduled for regeneration.

Some councillors say it should be considered.

Queen Street was substantially renovated 20 years ago, though, so the council management may be reluctant to put it back on the list, says Labour Councillor Joe Costello. The council “would find it hard to do something with it so soon”.

Local councillors say that they think the regeneration 20 years ago failed and there have been problems there ever since.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says it audited its complexes in 2010 and 2011, and did a desktop review in 2017, based on which it settled on its list of complexes for regeneration.

In 2020, its city architects were asked to report on options for addressing reported issues at the Queen Street housing complex, they said, including major retrofit, demolition and new build.

“Their report concluded that the problems complained of are of a maintenance and repair nature,” they said.

What Is Wrong?

In September 2019, there was an electrical fire in an outside meter box at the complex. Tenants complained about glitchy electrics, lights flickering and bulbs burning out within a week.

The ESB spokesperson said in December 2019 that it couldn’t work out the cause of the fire but that it was possibly caused by water getting into the electricity supply, rats eating through the cables, vandalism or failed connections in the fuse unit.

The metering cabinet didn’t have a “pot head”, said the spokesperson at the time, and that it is “an old type of cable termination that has not been used by ESB Networks for many years”.

A council spokesperson said on Tuesday that a pot-head had overheated and caught fire. “There were never any leaks causing electrical fire.”

While tenants say there are frequently leaks in the Queen Street complex, a council spokesperson said on Monday that water only gets in from time to time.

“There are no leaks through the roof, only rarely leaks appear as a result of small wall cracks allowing the ingress of rainwater to some flats,” says the spokesperson.

The recent flooding of the two apartments was caused by heavy rainfall getting through cracks in the walls, said the spokesperson.

Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan said the council’s area manager has been working with tenants to resolve smaller issues in the complex.

The council has tackled the vermin, carried out clean-ups, fixed the roofs and done maintenance within flats, she says, “but the major structural issues remain”.

The council spokesperson says the council re-covered four out of the five roofs at the complex in 2021.

As well as the leaks, says Boylan, tenants complain about draughts from doors and windows, handles coming off windows, poor water pressure, or – sometimes – no water. They also say that the stairs become slippy and dangerous when it rains.

Some of the problems in Queen Street are down to the design since the major refurbishment, says Boylan. “They were built mentally.”

The regeneration took place between 2000 and 2004 and involved substantially refurbishing the existing homes, reconfiguring the scheme and adding 50 homes around the existing ones.

Speaking in 2019 tenants said that all the problems began immediately after that regeneration effort. One tenant said she thought that adding an extra 50 homes may have caused the ongoing sewage problems and water-pressure problems, as the infrastructure can’t support it.

Queen Street was originally an award-winning building, says Costello, the Labour councillor. But the works on it 20 years ago were “a disaster”.

There were disputes between the council and the builders, and the redevelopment took many years, he says. After tenants moved back in, the complex was beset with problems, he says.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said: “There were never any structural problems” or issues with the leaks, the stairs, draughts, faulty doors and windows, or the water system.

Regenerate Again?

Ten other complexes in the north inner-city are scheduled for regeneration. But Queen Street isn’t on that list.

Dublin City Council said it drew up its list after looking at first at “design, condition, and social situation” and later again at building condition, density, quality of the site layout, and whether the complex had heritage value.

Independent Councillor Christy Burke says he has asked the council managers for updates on the Queen Street complex and has been told that issues are being dealt with under routine maintenance.

There are also other badly run-down complexes in the city that are not on the regeneration list, Burke says. They might suffer from “mould, rat-infestation, dampness, lack of maintenance”, he says.

Almost all the flat complexes in the north inner-city require regeneration, in Burke’s view. “The flat complexes that came in in the ’50s and ’60s should be demolished, redeveloped and built to standards of quality and adequate space and decent accommodation,” he says.

Queen Street needs to be demolished and fully rebuilt, he says. “We can’t keep putting plasters on a gaping wound.”

Complexes are prioritised for regeneration according to how old they are, Burke says.

Boylan says that most of the flat complexes in the north inner-city need a full regeneration.

In Queen Street the “larger structural issues won’t be rectified unless there is a major regeneration”, she says.

“We need to do a needs-based assessment [of complexes] and select the worst ones for regeneration first,” says Boylan.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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