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03 Dec 2021

€1 million taxpayers' money down the drain?

Council to demolish and rebuild five Buncrana mica houses

Council to demolish and rebuild five Buncrana mica houses

Council to demolish and rebuild five Buncrana mica houses

“Is more than one million euro of taxpayers' money going to go down the drain as a result of Donegal County Council's purchase of five mica-affected houses in Buncrana?”

That was the question posed by Councillor Frank McBrearty (Independent) following a Housing Workshop attended by Donegal county councillors last week.

Cllr McBrearty also commented, The workshop highlighted Council and Department of Housing “hypocrisy”, in terms of the glaring disparity in treatment of mica-impacted private homeowners, compared to social housing tenants.

At the beginning of this year, Donegal County Council bought the five houses in An Crannla, in the Gransha area of the seaside town, from developer Ronald McGrory.

The purchase cost of the houses was €600,000. The refurbishment cost of the houses was €68,650 and the fees for the purchase amounted to €12,000.

In addition, Donegal County Council had previously leased the five houses for 10 years at a cost of €307,000 and, when that lease expired, Council rented the houses at a cost of €33,000.

In total, Donegal County Council spent €1,020,650 on five properties, which it is now going to demolish and rebuild as a result, as part of plans for which it has already tendered.

These plans involve the Council demolishing and rebuilding, at least, 1000 mica-affected social homes, including the homes at An Crannla, over a four year period

Cllr McBrearty said he expected that figure to rise as Donegal County Council had already identified 1,300 of its properties as containing mica.

Cllr McBrearty used the analogy of two football teams.

He explained: “Team A is private homes and Team B is social housing. Team A, private homeowners, can only apply to the Mica Redress Scheme, which is being administered by Donegal County Council. This 90 / 10 scheme was set up under Statutory Instrument 25/2020: Dwellings Damaged by the Use of Defective Concrete Blocks in Construction (Remediation) (Financial Assistance) Regulations 2020.

“However, only certain deleterious materials are covered in the Mica Redress Scheme, as IS 465 only specifies certain testing under the scheme.”

IS465 is the standard developed by the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) Concrete Block Committee for the assessment, testing and categorisation of damaged buildings incorporating concrete blocks containing certain deleterious materials.

Cllr McBrearty elaborated: “The rules appear to be different for Donegal County Council. It will apply directly to the Department of Housing for remediation funding, taxpayers money, unlike the private homeowner, who has no option but to apply to the Mica Redress Scheme.

“It has prior tendered for the demolition and rebuilding of 1,000 properties, including An Crannla, over a four year period, at an average cost of €208,000 per unit. It is obvious, private primary residents are being treated as second class citizens.

“According to Donegal County Council's document, 'Request for Tenders (16/11/2021) for the provision of RFT 200206 – Testing and reporting on results of concrete blocks/cores in accordance with IS 465 and A1: 2020', Council will be testing its social housing stock for sulphide minerals, which were included in IS 465, but excluded from the Mica Redress Scheme for private homeowners.

“In Annex E, IS 465 outlines guidance on elevation of degradation of concrete blocks due to pyrite and sulphides, be they general, acid soluble sulphate, total sulphur and water soluble sulphate. This means, that under IS465, while a private homeowner can test for sulphide minerals, the current 90 / 10 scheme does not cover all deleterious materials. When the Mica Redress Scheme was designed, it was designed for remedial works only.

“In contrast, if sulphide minerals of more than 0.1% are detected in any Donegal County Council social homes, the property will be demolished and rebuilt. I believe all of the properties are going to show up sulphide minerals. The current Mica Redress Scheme is majorly flawed. I cannot understand why those flaws have not been highlighted.”

Cllr McBrearty pointed out that the NASI had fully endorsed EU Directive EN 771-3, the specification for masonry units – part 3: aggregate concrete masonry units (dense and lightweight aggregates. The Directive, which clearly refers to “sulphide attack”, was written into Irish law in 2020.

He added: “Since 2013, Ireland's 'SR325: Recommendations for the Design of Masonry Structures in Ireland' has also referenced 'sulphide attack'. It was flagged before the Mica Action Group was even formed. The issue now is, have blocks manufactured in the last 18 months been manufactured to this new standard?”

Donegal TD, Thomas Pringle raised the purchase of the five mica-affected properties in An Crannla in Dáil Éireann yesterday (Tuesday) and the Council's failure to notify either the Department or its solicitors they contained mica. He called for a public inquiry into the matter. His calls were echoed by Cllr Micheál Choilm Mac Giolla Easbuig.

Donegal Live requested a comment from Donegal County Council in relation to the planned demolition and rebuilding of the five houses at An Crannla. At the time of going to press, no response had been received.

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