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The field in question
The field in question
Image: RTE Prime Time

Taxpayers pay hundreds of thousands on field unsuitable for sheltered housing

The situation was unveiled on Prime Time tonight.
Sep 25th 2014, 10:21 PM 12,713 38

THE TAXPAYER PAID almost half a million euro for a field in Co Leitrim that was supposed to be used as a site for sheltered housing – but it wasn’t suitable for this.

That’s according to RTÉ Prime Time, which unveiled the story on its show tonight.

It said that officials of the Department of the Environment “knew [the field] was unsuitable”.

On tonight’s Prime Time, Mark Coughlan reported that the housing charity the Sue Ryder Foundation, which is based in County Laois, proposed the building of a 30 unit project on the field in mid-2002.

According to the programme:

The chair of the board of the Foundation is Charles McDonald, a former Fine Gael TD, Senator and MEP. Charlie Flanagan, current Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade was a board member until May 2009.

In May 2002 the foundation approached Leitrim County Council saying they wanted to build 30 apartment-style units in the north of the county.

But as of today, nothing has been built, despite the fact hundreds of thousands of euro of taxpayers money has been spent on the site for the proposal.

Funding

Prime Time reports that the Foundation wanted the Department of Environment to fund the project under the Capital Assistance Scheme.

According to correspondence obtained by Prime Time, the Foundation estimated that about €3.5million euro was needed.

In 2004, they got planning permission to build 29 apartment style units. However, they still needed funding, and Prime Time said that the local authority, which is Leitrim County Council in this situation, is responsible for assessing if the proposal should be considered by the Department for funding.

The Council supported the proposal, however, upon examination the Department inspectors expressed significant reservations. A significant concern of the inspectors was suitability of the site, which is sloped.

“In July 2010 after a number of problems within the Foundation, and with the owner of the site over several years, the Department decided the project would not go ahead,” said Prime Time.

They also agreed to fund the Foundation for costs incurred to date on the proposal.

This resulted in the Department providing the Foundation with more than half a million euro.

Prime Time approached the Department, who told them that from “a corporate memory point of view” there are no other projects where funding was provided in similar circumstances.

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It also said that: “A legitimate expectation existed on behalf of Sue Ryder that funding would be provided in respect of costs duly incurred… It was agreed that reasonable… costs would be recouped and project would be considered again for construction at a future date”.

The field was fenced off in 2011. The fence was valued at €30,000.

Moving into the future

Leitrim County Council and the Department said that the field may be used for sheltered housing at a future date.

Planning permission for the Sue Ryder proposal expired last December.

The full programme is available on the RTÉ Player.

Read: Irish Water’s spokeswoman was on Prime Time tonight. Here’s what she said:>

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Aoife Barry

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