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17/09/2021

Go-ahead for €12m housing scheme on 'boggy' Offaly land

Go-ahead for €12m housing scheme on 'boggy' Offaly land

An architect's impression of one section of the Raheen housing scheme in Clara

THE long-awaited 38-unit social housing project for Raheen in Clara got the go-ahead from the County Council on Monday.

Councillors warmly welcomed the scheme, saying its mix of housing types will help take some of the pressure off the public housing waiting list.

Disappointment was expressed however, at the failure of the plan to include a sewerage scheme link for existing residents and the absence of a roundabout at the entrance.

Housing officer John Cunningham said the Raheen development is the largest of its type outside Tullamore in over 30 years.

There will be six one-bed bungalows, two two-bed bungalows, one three-bed bungalow, one four-bed bungalow, 12 two-storey two-beds, 14 two-storey three-beds and two two-storey four beds.

Mr Cunningham said bungalows are “badly needed”.

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Cllr Neil Feighery formally proposed that the scheme as designed following public consultation go ahead.

“I think it's a great development, a significant investment from central government in housing stock in Clara,” said the Fine Gael councillor. “It's badly needed as we all know and it'll surely alleviate the pressure on the housing list for Clara and surrounding areas.”

His proposal was seconded by Cllr Sean O'Brien. The Independent councillor said: “It's fantastic to see a development of this size in Clara, or anywhere.”

Both councillors voiced their concerns about existing residents' hopes that they could be linked to the new scheme's sewerage system, as did Cllr Ken Smollen, Cllr Declan Harvey, Cllr Danny Owens and Cllr Frank Moran.

The councillors also said they believed the provision of a roundabout is necessary for road safety.

The council has suggested that a group sewerage scheme could be developed.

“I think we need to keep that on the agenda for the residents of Raheen,” remarked Cllr Feighery.

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Cllr Moran said he is looking forward to ongoing communication with the residents of Raheen on the sewerage issue and noted the concerns about the rounadabout.

The Fianna Fail councillor stressed that he was very happy with the scheme: “It will be a great advantage to the area.”

Sharon Kennedy, director of service with the council, said the sewerage and road traffic issues “are extraneous to the actual site” but they will be addressed.

“It is a very important project. It's beautifully designed in my opinion, both in terms of the actual layout and the siting within the site and also the design of the houses themselves. It's top class,” said Ms Kennedy.

“It's going to be a huge investment in Clara for the next few years when we all need that investment to bring us through the post-Covid time. It's welcome both in terms of housing and also in economic development.”

Councillors were not told when building will start but Ms Kennedy did say: “Hopefully we will progress now and you'll see delivery in due course.”

In the report considered by councillors on Monday, council chief executive Anna Marie Delaney said the boggy conditions at the Raheen site are not a barrier to building houses there.

The report said detailed site investigations indicated “poor ground conditions with boggy ground”.

The chief executive's report said a suitable civil engineering solution has been arrived at “in the form of pile foundations and suspended slabs”.

“Upper peat will be removed from the site and replaced with well compacted granular fill for roads and parking areas,” said the report.

During the public consultation period for the 38-house project, several submissions referred to the decision to locate the houses in the Bogtown area of Clara.

A neighbouring landowner, John Hogan, engaged consultants ABBD who estimated the cost of the scheme at between €8m and €8.5m in “normal ground conditions” but “given the ground conditions on this site”, the cost will be “much, much higher”.

They said the peaty, southern portion of the site is not very suitable for building on, and pointed out that the council's own consulting engineers, Hayes Higgins, found that soft, fibrous peat was 1.5m deep in places and soft sandy silt or clay was at a depth of up to 4.8m.

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Hayes Higgins recommended piling methods or a vibroflotation process as engineering solutions.

ABBD estimated that the necessary excavation and filling will cost €1.9m or €50,000 per housing unit.

ABBD concluded the site was not fit for purpose and said there were other zoned lands available in Clara for the housing scheme.

A separate submission from JJ Gibbons suggested that the houses be built on council land at Charlestown instead.

“It would save considerable money on floating the houses,” said Mr Gibbons.

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