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Westport councillor and officials clash on social housing

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LEGISLATION DOES NOT ALLOW AMENDMENT Catherine McConnell, Director of Services, Mayo County Council.

50-unit development approved despite opposition


Anton McNulty

A WESTPORT councillor accused council officials of giving incorrect information about a proposed social-housing scheme to a council meeting.
Councillors in the Westport-Belmullet Municipal District agreed by a vote of four to three to approve the controversial development of 50 social-housing units on a site along the Golf Course Road in Westport.
The matter came before yesterday’s monthly meeting of the municipal district for approval. Westport councillor Peter Flynn sought to amend the proposal to change the scheme to ensure 60 percent of the 50 houses were classified as affordable with the remainder to be social housing.
The Fine Gael councillor claimed he was given assurances by a senior official in the Department of Housing and Junior Minister for Housing Peter Burke that the site could also be used for affordable housing.
However, this was denied by Simon Shevlin, Head of Housing with Mayo County Council, and Director of Services Catherine McConnell, who explained that the €11.5 million funding for the scheme was approved on a basis it was for social housing.
Ms McConnell said that amending the scheme to include affordable housing was not allowed in the legislation.
“This is a scheme for 50 social houses, and how they are allocated or used does not fall under the scope of legislation which allow members to amend the scheme. The [Housing] Department are funding this scheme on the basis of them being social houses and any change on that the funding falls away,” she said.

‘Make no apology’
However, Cllr Flynn disagreed, insisting that the inclusion of afforable housing is possible, and he accused her of giving information that is incorrect.
“We are being give wrong information here. It [statute] clearly says we can amendments based on the manager’s report, and our recommendation is we put in a recommendation that 60 percent will be affordable and go back to the Department and come back with a scheme that will work. The Department have given me, in a call last week, confirmation that mixed developments are working all over the country. To state otherwise is very wrong,” he said.
Cllr Flynn added that he was acting in the best interest of the people in Westport who could not qualify for a mortgage and were ineligible for social housing.
“We are talking about the future of our town. We need to get this right. It is fine for someone sitting in Ballinrobe telling us to do something different. Christy [Hyland], Brendan [Mulroy], Johnno [John O’Malley] and I have to live in this town and we have to make sure we have to act for everyone in the town. I make no apology for trying to be as inclusive as possible.
“The 256 people you refer to [on the housing list], 150 are already housed through HAP or RAS and they are lucky enough to be in houses. How many earning over €25,000 are living at home with their parents or out the country that cannot afford a house in this town? They are the people we are forgetting about,” he said.

Convent site
When Ms McConnell again reiterated that the legislation did not allow the amendment Cllr Flynn was seeking, he replied he would seek legal advice.
“I disagree with you. I will seek legal advise out of this meeting because clearly people do not know what they are talking about. Let’s get the legal advice because we are at odds with what the legislation in saying.”
Cllr Flynn was supported by Cllr Christy Hyland who claimed that the council is throwing young couples ‘under the bus’ by not making affordable housing available in Westport. He said the maximum income level to qualify for social housing meant that anyone earning more than €6.78 per hour could not qualify.
Cllr Flynn also claimed that affordable housing schemes were available to other local authorities around the country.
Mr Shevlin said that at present there is no scheme available to the council to develop affordable housing. When a scheme is available, he said the council will look to develop affordable housing on the site of the old Convent of Mercy site in Westport.
The Westport social-housing scheme was supported by Cllr Brendan Mulroy who said that there are 60 families waiting for housing and they should not be forgotten. He said the advice was the scheme could not be amended to include affordable housing, and he would abide by that advice.
The discussion on the amendment lasted over an hour. This angered Achill-based councillor Paul McNamara, who said there were other items on the agenda that needed to be dealt with.
A vote was eventually taken on Cllr Flynn’s amendment, which was defeated by four votes to three, with Cllr Hyland and Cllr O’Malley both supporting him. A vote was also taken to approve the 50-unit social-housing scheme, which was passed by four votes to three.