President to open Thornton Heights

Article Posted: Tuesday 2nd September, 2014

President Michael D Higgins will be in Inchicore next week to open Thornton Heights on the site of the old St Michael's Estate. Here's what The Irish Times wrote last month about this new development:

Dublinís longest-planned social housing regeneration project will finally see its first residents this weekend, 16 years after its development was originally announced.

St Michaelís Estate, a late 1960s complex of about 350 council flats in Inchicore, has been replaced by Thornton Heights, a new development of 75 houses and apartments.

The finishing touches are being put on the estate ahead of its official opening by President Michael D Higgins in just over two weeks but tenants are already beginning to move into the homes promised since the late 1990s.

However just a handful of the former St Michaelís community, 11 tenants and their families, will live in the new complex. Because of the long delays in bringing the project to fruition most former inhabitants have put down roots elsewhere.

Dereliction and drugs
Built in 1969 in response to a housing crisis which also saw the construction of Ballymun near the airport, the estate began to deteriorate within a few years and, by the early 1980s, several flats in the 11 blocks had become derelict.

In 1986 a tenantsí action group was established seeking refurbishment, not demolition, of the flats.

However conditions, exacerbated by a heroin epidemic, got worse during the 1990s. In 1998 a survey of residents by Dublin City Council indicated the majority wanted the estate levelled and rebuilt.

Scheme after scheme
St Michaelís Task Force was set up and a Ä63 million low-density redevelopment plan was agreed for the construction of 170 local authority homes, 80 affordable homes and 70 private homes.

In 2003 the then minister for the environment Martin Cullen rejected the plan and instructed the council to pursue a public-private partnership (PPP) deal for the site.

The following year a new high-density scheme for 850 homes, 80 of which were to be social housing, was drawn up.

This was rejected by city councillors in September 2004 and in early 2005 new plans were revealed for a Ä160 million regeneration to provide 575 homes including 150 for social housing, 70 affordable homes and 355 private properties.

Two years later a PPP deal was struck with developer Bernard McNamara and the numbers shot back up, to 720 new homes, 165 of which were to be social housing, to be built at a cost of Ä265 million.

The following summer this deal, along with agreements for four other Dublin PPP housing schemes to be developed by Mr McNamara, collapsed with the property crash which meant the sale of private housing which was to fund the construction of the social housing would not achieve the price which had been expected.

Higher standards
In December 2008 the council announced plans for the reconstruction, using public funds only, of social housing at St Michaelís.

The estimated Ä12 million scheme to build 75 homes was started in late 2010.

Thornton Heights is the first significant social housing complex to be built to the councilís new development-plan standards, more stringent than the Department of Environmentís, with higher ceilings, larger, brighter rooms, better storage both inside and outside each home, higher insulation and energy-saving elements , including the use of photovoltaics and solar panels.

A number of apartments are fully accessible for wheelchair users.

Residents will be tenants of Circle Voluntary Housing Association, which will provide an on-site property management office and 24-hour concierge to deal with out-of-hours problems. Tenants will pay Ä11 a week for this.

Most of the new homes are apartments, there are also 10 houses and a large childcare facility along with playgrounds to cater for children of various ages.

Second phase
Thornton Heights is not finished. The councilís head of housing Dick Brady said a second phase of housing, likely to involve a senior citizens scheme, will begin when funding is available.

In the future, a 10-acre site that was part of the former complex, is to be developed, and this is likely to see private development, both residential and possibly commercial, bought back into the mix, Mr Brady said.

President to open Thornton Heights