Work delay at Downe site causing concern

Work delay at Downe site causing concern

9 October 2019

CONCERN has been expressed about the lengthy delay on an important social housing scheme in Downpatrick.

Work stopped on an eagerly-awaited project to build 37 homes for Clanmil Housing at the old Downe Hospital site over six months ago.

In April, it was claimed that the developer’s contractor was waiting the arrival on site of a specialist piling rig to allow work to continue on a scheme to provide a range of housing types including apartments, two and three storey homes and bungalows.

It’s also understood that the former hospital and a building at the rear which was the site of the original Downpatrick Infirmary — which both enjoy protected status — have been incorporated into the development plan as apartment blocks.

The delay in building work was raised with senior Housing Executive officials last week during a special meeting of Newry, Mourne and Down Council. 

Following the meeting, Clanmil officials confirmed that it had partnered with Milfort to develop 37 much-needed new homes on the site of the former hospital.

“We are aware that work has ceased on site and we understand that this is due to contractual issues between Milfort and its building contractor,” said the spokesperson.

“We have been working closely with Milfort to encourage them to find an urgent solution that will ensure these homes are delivered quickly for families who need them.”

Local politicians have expressed frustration at the delay in completing the scheme, especially as it was revealed last week that at the end of March there were 370 people on the waiting list for social homes in Downpatrick, with 272 classed in the urgent need category.

Downpatrick councillor Oonagh Hanlon has described the delay in completing the first phase of a scheme to build 

over 100 homes at the sprawling site as a “serious cause for concern”.

She said the scheme was welcomed as a major project in not only building 

new homes, but also freeing up Housing Executive stock for many people placed in the housing stress category.

“I have observed that no contractor has been on site for almost six months,” she continued.

“It is particularly worrying that a major project like this would be allowed to stand idle for so long, especially given the housing crisis in the Downpatrick area. The Housing Executive has a responsibility to work closely with Clanmill to get this project back on track as soon as possible.”

Cllr Hanlon paid tribute to local Housing Executive staff for the “amazing work” they do dealing with increasing demand and the lack of available homes.

She added: “Staff deserve credit for being at the coal face of the housing crisis. An increasing waiting list and the number of people in urgent need  must be addressed as a priority for future community planning. The number of planned new homes will simply not address this issue going forward.”

Cllr Dermot Curran is also keen to see contractors back at the former hospital site as soon as possible, with the initial 37 homes part of a major social housing project at the site.

“This particular scheme has the potential to go some way to help reduce the high number of people on the waiting list for social homes in Downpatrick. This is a much-needed development and it is essential that contractors are back on site as soon as possible,” Cllr Curran declared.

The local politician said the housing project will help rid what has become a “blot on the landscape” expressing concern that the two listed buildings on the site have fallen into a bad state of disrepair.

Cllr Curran added: “This social housing scheme has the potential to regenerate this part of Downpatrick which has largely been forgotten about since the hospital relocated to a new building at the Ardglass Road over a decade ago.

“Like many, I am eager to see new tenants move in to help breathe new life into this part of the town and transform the former hospital site to provide a vibrant housing area.”