Special meeting again hears councillors widespread concerns
WESTPORT county councillors have said that the shortage of housing in Westport is hurting the town’s economic development.
Councillors passed a motion at yesterday’s special meeting of the Westport-Belmullet Municipal District demanding to meet with Department of Housing officials to discuss the matter.
The meeting heard that Mayo County Council does not have any land banks available for residential development apart from a site at the old convent.
The site on Altamount Street, which was purchased by the council in 2008, has been earmarked for social housing, a new library and civic offices.
Mayo County Council has written to the Assistant Secretary General at the Department of Housing in relation to the local authority being refused an affordable housing scheme in Westport.
A recent KPMG report which found that Westport did not meet the ‘affordability constraint’ for affordable housing was slammed by councillors at a previous meeting.
CLLR Peter Flynn described the lack of residential zoned land in his area as ‘very stark’.
The Fine Gael councillor said that housing policy in Mayo has been dictated by financial interests rather than the needs of the locality.
“The council have not pursued affordable housing because of the costs to the council. That is it, bottom line,” he stated.
“Whereas social housing is going to be 100 percent reimbursed, affordable housing cost has to come from the council to make up the shortfall. So on that basis, in my view, all of these decisions are not made based on the needs of people based in west Mayo, they are based solely on the financial needs of Mayo County Council, which is really a shocking indictment of where we are.”
Cllr Flynn and Cllr Christy Hyland said that people were refusing employment in Westport due to the lack of housing in the town.
“We have failed Mayo, and we are absolutely killing Westport town,” said Cllr Flynn.
MAYO County Council’s Director of Services for Housing Tom Gilligan described the shortage of residential land as ‘complex’.
Mr Gilligan defended the local authority’s record on housing, stating that it had exceeded its targets for social houses under the Rebuilding Ireland plan.
He cited the number of Airbnb properties in Westport as being a squeeze on the supply of long-term rental properties.
Mayo County Council’s Head of Housing Simon Shevlin said that affordable housing could only be included on the old convent site if the council was deemed eligible.
He said the council would continue trying to secure affordable housing for the site, saying that it could act as a ‘test case’ for similar schemes in the rest of Mayo.
Mr Shevlin said that 23 social houses were due to come on stream in Louisburgh.
The local authority is currently looking at purchasing land in the Louisburgh and Newport areas to be zoned for residential use.
Mayo County Council’s Director of Services Catherine McConnell said that there are at least three applications being made by private developers that could deliver between 30-50 units in Westport.
Ms McConnell rejected Cllr Christy Hyland’s assertion that Westport would become a ‘retirement home’ and said between 120 and 150 houses could come on the market in the area in the next few years.