Friday, November 05, 2021

ON Thursday, September 30, The Irish Times published details of individual targets for the construction of social homes for each county and city issued by the Department of Housing and Local Government to each local authority manager under the ‘Housing for All’ plan published in September.

According to the report, 1057 homes are to be built in Waterford city and county over the next five years.

It is reasonable to suggest that housing of all kinds is a function of the local economy and as many people are being priced out of the housing market and into social housing. It is interesting to compare the numbers of houses designated for various areas.

Cork City and county have a combined projection of 5977 houses, 3189 in the county and 2788 in the city. I am sure these will be welcome should they be built.

In the traditional South East region, the targets are 1149 in Wexford, 804 in Kilkenny, 464 in Carlow and 423 in Tipp South.

When added to the Waterford figure, we get a combined total of 3897 social homes to be built in the region over the next five years. This is some 2100 less than the proposed numbers for Cork city and county which is quite a disparity when one considers that the Cork city and county area and population is approximately the same as the South East region.

This suggests that population and hence economic growth in the Cork area is expected to be much greater than the South East and that sensible provision is being made for that growth. No surprise there! On the other hand, it suggests that economic performance in the South East will continue to lag behind the Cork region and that population growth in the South East may also lag as young people leave the region to seek university education and economic opportunity.

It has long been reported that the flight to seek university education has created a brain drain which doubly impacts the South East.

Youngsters leave to get a university education and are supported by their parents, which is a capital outflow. The same youngsters rarely return to the region as the jobs they seek have not been created or located in this region so their income is lost to us – and this is why having a regional university clearly matters.

Think Galway for instance.  It may well be that the Covid pandemic will create hybrid work pattern where people will return home to escape the housing and rent crisis in Dublin. That remains to be seen.

In the interim, Waterford and the South East are losing young people to Dublin, Cork and Galway. The remedy to the university flight would have been to grant Waterford university designation.

The quest for that designation has gone on for nearly 100 years and, as said last week, where a solvable problem exists for years and is not fixed, then a policy is in play. The policy not to designate Waterford has been emphatically clear for those 100 years due to outright opposition from Cork academia, commerce and politics. Even the decision to create WIT in 1994 was challenged in Cork, resulting in IoT status being applied to the whole RTC sector. We now have the proposed TUSE, a decision on which by Simon Harris is reported as imminent. Much has been promised by him and his party leader Leo Varadkar.

Senator John Cummins was also to the fore in announcing developments which thus far have not appeared as Simon Harris is holding his cards close to his chest. It is now rumoured that there is more in the mix than previously thought insofar as a former seminary in Carlow and a low-level campus in South County Wicklow are to be included in the TUSE announcement. What started as a merger of two Institutes of Technology under the TU legislation may end up being compromised by a ministerial decision. Should that happen, we can expect some serious fallout!

The TUSE, which is supposed to answer the need for university designation in Waterford, would be essentially degraded from the start. That would of course be just another policy setback in the long struggle for university designation.

A new “university” lumbered with many diverse locations, indifferent institutions and political infighting from the start is hardly likely to pose too much of a challenge to the existing university providers.

Is that the policy intention? Is that why we find population, housing and economic growth in Cork proposed at a much higher level than the south east?

Maybe Simon Harris will surprise us all with a proper funding and developmental package for WIT, although our UHW experience with the minister and his sec gen Jim Breslin, who accompanied Harris from the Department of Health to the Department of Further Education, would not fill anyone in Waterford with great confidence.

Despite the FG promise of university designation for Waterford, the glossy promises in the Ireland 2040 Plan and the “I will not forget Waterford” comments of Tánaiste Varadkar, I for one am holding my breath.

On the housing front in general, it is long past the time when the proposed stakeholder meeting at Carrickphierish took place. This is a properly conceived suburb with much investment in place before housing was developed.

There have been many complaints of anti-social behaviour and breaches of planning law focussed around the present Traveller housing site and an extension to same.

Proposals to vastly extend the site from three housing units to 16 fail to understand the dynamic of Traveller accommodation where every man from about age of 15 and upwards expects to own a horse. We can see the results of that all over the edges of the city.

Travellers have as much right as anyone to be housed. However, one has to wonder if the development of a dense housing suburb in Carrickphierish can ever really sit comfortably with the needs and activities of an ethnic group who need stabling and other space for activities like scrap collection they engage in?

A sensible solution will have to be found and the planning laws will have to be implemented.

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