To Get People Into 58 Vacant Social Homes in Finglas Will Cost Council at Least €6 million More, Documents Show

Dublin City Council is committed to spend more than €6 million on remediation works for a block of social homes at Prospect Hill in Finglas, show records released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The 58 homes in block 2/2A have lain empty for years, in an area of the city with more than 4,900 households on its social housing lists.

Twenty years ago, Dublin City Council agreed what council documents call a “joint venture/public-private partnership” with McCabe Builders Limited to develop land at Prospect Hill.

The agreement and plan for these 58 homes – which are part of a much bigger complex – evolved over the years as the economy collapsed and, in 2012, McCabe Builders Limited went into receivership.

Negotiations between the council and the receiver for the builder wound up with a settlement agreement in February 2021, which laid out what the council still owed for the homes.

The agreement included a discount to the council for remedial works it would carry out, which was set at €1 million.

Dublin City Council hasn’t responded to queries as to how that lower figure of €1 million was arrived at in the settlement, and whether it should have had sight of the full cost of the future works – the €6 million quoted in a tender in June last year – before agreeing that discount.

The cost of the project to date must be enormous, said Dessie Ellis, the Sinn Féin TD, who has highlighted the issue of the vacant apartments in the Dáil several times over the years.

It’s hard to know what to count, he said, but there have been past rounds of remediation, security costs, time. “I shudder to think.”

What’s Been Going On?

The 58 homes at Prospect Hill are part of a bigger complex of 469 apartments across 10 blocks, on top of a hill at the junction of the Finglas Road and the Tolka Valley Road.

The plan almost two decades ago had been for the council to get 150 of the apartments for affordable homes, and 35 for social senior citizens’ apartments.

In 2011, the council and the builder updated the agreement. Because of the economic downturn, many of the apartments including in Block 2/2A were unfinished and unsold, says a council report from the time.

The new agreement was for Dublin City Council to buy 35 of those in Block 2/2A that had been earmarked for private homes for €3,949,000 – just shy of €113,000 each – once the works had been finished to its satisfaction.

By then, the other 23 homes in the same block had been bought by the council’s housing department for affordable homes, but the economic downturn meant that they hadn’t found buyers for them.

All 58 of these apartments would become social homes, says the January 2011 update to councillors.

Then in 2012, McCabe Builders Limited was placed in receivership.

How Much?

Councillors say that when they have asked over the years, council officials have often told them that the homes would be ready soon. But negotiations over remedial works dragged on.

Council reports and Dáil responses mention at least two rounds of refurbishment and remedial works, one in 2014 and another in 2017.

In May 2018, the council approved a partial payment of €2 million of the €3,949,000 it had agreed for the 35 apartments that it was still to buy.

The following month, the council’s head of housing, Brendan Kenny, told local councillors that the council had found defects during past snagging – which is when new buildings are looked over to check they’re built right – and hadn’t been happy with work done to fix them.

But he was confident the homes would be fixed up and allocated by September that year, he said. That was four and a half years ago.

Council documents released under the Freedom of Information Act also say that concerning defects had been found during snagging. Other documents suggest that the technical professionals advising the receiver and the council had disagreed over the works needed.

Says Ellis, the Sinn Féin TD: “How they were signed off on in the first place originally is a serious question.”

In June 2022, Coilín O’Reilly, the council’s current head of housing, approved a recommendation for even more remedial works to the 58 apartments in Block 2/2A at Prospect Hill.

This latest round of works includes “fire safety upgrades, stair core upgrades, mechanical and electrical works, repair works to external facades, roofs and balconies”, the document says.

The council got three bids for the tender to carry out the remedial works. It opted for Purcell Construction Limited, the cheapest of the three, who said they would do the works for €6,011,410.

That’s €5 million more than the council put in the settlement agreement that it reached with receivers in February 2021.

The agreement included the €1 million discount to the balance the council owed McCabe Builders Limited, to cover remedial works that the council would do to Block 2/2A.

It also included a “site fine payment” to the council for the receiver’s 54 apartments, of €1,648,059, and a refund of €283,704 already spent by the council on emergency fire remediation works.

(Dublin City Council didn’t respond to a query asking what a site fine payment is.)

That tally offset what was agreed as owed to McCabe by the council: adjustments to past site fines, changes to flooring, refunds of development contributions, and a “final agreement adjustment negotiated by the parties”, which all together came out at €2,096,404.

When that all shook out, it left a payment by the council to McCabe Builders Limited of €448,345 for the homes.

Once executed, McCabe Builders Limited would cease to have any liability whatsoever in relation to the development, the agreement says.

In October last year, Purcell Construction started works to fix the defects in the blocks, according to the council response to the FOI request.

The works are expected to be done by October this year, the response says.

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Authors:

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

Lois Kapila: Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general assignment reporter. She covers housing and land, too. Want to share a comment or a tip? You can reach her at [email protected]

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