The saga of an unfinished housing estate in Kilkenny has turned into a circus. Literally.
And no one seems to know who should be regulating it.
Residents in the Rath Úllord estate off the city’s ring road say they are angry and frustrated that they are living in an unfinished estate with their houses in negative equity – and on Sunday they discovered that a circus was being set up on the adjoining site.
It’s the same site for which planning permission was in place a few years ago for shops, restaurants and a GP surgery.
A pair of signs still stands in front of the site where the circus is now set up, promoting the “exclusive development of energy rated four bedroom detached homes” and announcing the proposed arrival of “Applewood village centre” in late 2008, promising a “supermarket, creche, surgery, bar/restaurant, retail units and office opportunities” – none of which materialised.
The residents are upset that they were not given advance notice of the circus’s arrival, and they are concerned about the noise and traffic that it will bring to the area over the next five days.
The circus is due to open from today (Wednesday) until Sunday, with evening shows during the week and afternoon shows on the weekend.
Christy Beirne, the developer of the sites says, however, that it is perfectly legal to allow the circus to set up there.
“The circus are in there. Their insurance is in place. They have health and safety in place, and the council has a copy of their health and safety. Their permit is in place, and the police have been notified,” he said.
Mr Beirne said that there would be off-street parking for those attending the circus, and emphasised that “they are going to be finished by Sunday.”
There is speculation that the circus is due to return to the site in a few weeks, but Mr Beirne said that was not the case.
He said the site was being cleared off and levelled yesterday (Tuesday) and that “the site is going to be a nicer place to look out at when it’s done.”
Asked why he was allowing a circus to set up on the site, he said: “I am not prepared to answer that question.”
He did say, however, “What’s wrong with children having a bit of entertainment?”
Officials at Kilkenny County Council said that it is permissible for a circus or fun fair to set up on such a site. The regulations stipulate only that it must not be there for more than 15 days at a time or more than 30 days in one year, and that the site must be returned to its previous state afterwards.
And although events such as concerts that would attract upwards of 5,000 people would require advance notice and a permit from the council, a circus would not now fall into this category, the council said.
It is also not subject to planning permission, because that is only required for long-term uses of land.
As for health and safety and licensing, Kilkenny County Council says it’s the responsibility of the Health and Safety Authority – or, in the case of traffic management, the gardaí. The gardaí say a permit would be the responsibility of the council. And the HSA says it’s a matter for the local council.
The Rath Úllord residents say the whole thing is “just horrific.”
The estate is classified as a Category 3 unfinished estate – to such an extent that they are among those exempt from paying the household charge.
They set up a residents committee in 2010 “because we wanted to get the site cleaned and we wanted the site made safe,” said residents association chairman Rob Stanley.
He said they have written to Kilkenny County Council and the Department of the Environment in an attempt to have the estate finished, including the likes of streetlights and exposed mains, and residents have taken the initiative to maintain the grass cutting, plant shrubbery and set up a Community Alert group.
“Some of the problems have been dealt with but it would still be considered dangerous,” said residents association secretary Gavin Caird.
Such issues are outside the remit of the council’s enforcement section, however, because the developer is still carrying out works on the site, and the planning permission for the construction of 70 houses in the estate was extended for a further five years in May 2011.
“We are frustrated. We are annoyed. We feel that we paid such big money for the houses and all of the houses are probably in negative equity. We were left to deal with all of this and basically we feel the builder doesn’t give a toss,” Mr Stanley said. “The builder will not negotiate with us, and then suddenly a circus has arrived on the site.”
There is “a huge amount of anger and frustration,” Mr Stanley said. “It is a circus.”