Aherlow Woods in the Glen of Aherlow, County Tipperary
Tipperary County Council bosses have hit back at claims that it should be more proactive in helping residents living in “very serious and worrying” conditions at a local housing estate.
Director of Services for Economic and Community Development, Pat Slattery, told a meeting of the Tipperary/Cahir/Cashel Municipal District that residents at Aherlow Woods in the Glen of Aherlow bought the “distressed asset” properties “very cheaply” and knew from day one that there were problems with the housing estate’s sewerage system.
Mr Slattery’s comments were made following a motion, unanimously supported by all councillors in the Municipal District, calling for an urgent meeting between the Aherlow Woods Residents’ Committee, councillors and directors of services for planning, the environment and water services to address legacy issues prohibiting the taking in charge process at the housing estate.
In reply to the motion, Tipperary County Council management had said the council has carried out a series of investigations and has initiated enforcement action against the receivers to ensure the protection of the environment.
“There has been regular engagement with the residents in relation to the legal complexity of this matter. On receipt of a response from the receivers, who are the duty holders, Tipperary County Council staff will be in a better position to further engage with the residents and the elected members,” added management, which was to the dissatisfaction of the councillors at the meeting.
Mr Slattery said the Aherlow Woods development was granted planning permission for “largely” tourism purposes.
“It was initially conceived that all the houses should be maintained for tourism. I know that many of the houses that were since sold were sold as distressed assets and were bought very cheaply. They were bought knowing there was no septic tank and that there were problems with sewage - they bought them cheaply because of that. Their solicitors would have advised them not to buy because planning wasn’t being complied with and they still bought the houses. And now they are saying ‘it’s the Council’s fault’,” he said.
“When you buy a house, you provide your own septic tank if living in a rural area or pay sufficient for the house to ensure access to discharge into sewage treatment and a public supply. If you don’t have that you can buy a house cheaply,” he continued.
District Administrator Anthony Coleman said the Council is not responsible for the management and maintenance of every private septic tank and treatment system that it grants planning permission for.
“A legal notice has been issued to the receivers, who are responsible for managing the system there,” Mr Coleman said.
“Anyone who purchased a property, I’m sure their legal advisors or agents would have undertaken due diligence to ensure that all the services were in proper working order.
“They should go back to their legal advisors or agents if there are issues with the existing system to see what due diligence was conducted at the time of purchase,” Mr Coleman added.
Cllrs Annemarie Ryan and Mary Hanna Hourigan said the response to the motion wasn’t adequate and that a meeting needs to take place urgently with the relevant council sections.
Cllr Ryan said the situation is “deteriorating rapidly” from a health and safety perspective.
“We need to find ways to make this happen and work, instead of making excuses as to why it won’t work,” Cllr Ryan said.
“The Residents’ Committee is going around and around in circles, and in the meantime their infrastructure such as their sewerage is deteriorating rapidly.
“We need to sit down and work proactively with council officials and the residents to find an answer to this problem. Over the weekend the situation has gotten worse.
"If I have small kids, I don’t want to be living in a place where there is sewage running down the street,” Cllr Ryan added.
Cllr Hourigan said the residents cannot continue to live in Aherlow Woods under the current circumstances. She said there is an onus on the council to deal with the situation.
“There is raw sewage coming up into their homes. It doesn’t matter if the planning permission was granted for holiday homes or residential.
“The local authority granted planning permission for those homes at the time,” Cllr Hourigan said.
“The residents are beside themselves. Their children can’t go out to play. We have conflicting information on whether the raw sewage is running into the river in one of the most scenic spots in the county. The residents are saying that you can see. We need to send up people to take more samples and to see if the sewage is flowing into the river,” she added.
Cllr Michael Fitzgerald, who previously described the conditions as “very serious and worrying”, told the meeting that funding is required for a septic tank and public lights at the estate.
“I visited the estate at the weekend and walked the route where the effluence isn’t going into the septic tank, which has been out of action for the best part of 10 or 15 years. The top of the tank is cracked, which is worked by electricity that brings it on to a soil filtration system that’s worse again. You can see where it flows down into a stream and reaches the River Aherlow," he said.
“We are hearing from the Environment Section that there’s no evidence of water pollution. I guarantee you that if something like this was coming out of a farmer’s yard, we would be down on top of him like a top of bricks to spend money and to get his act together, and we wouldn’t leave his yard until it was sorted,” Cllr Fitzgerald said.
“During the first lockdown, the residents couldn’t sit outside their doors to have a BBQ or a drink at night in the great weather over the smell. The smell was bad enough at the weekend, but I can’t imagine what it would be like on a sultry day,” he added.
Cllr Tony Black said nobody should have to live in these circumstances. “It’s not the residents fault and they shouldn’t have to suffer. It needs to be rectified as soon as possible,” the Sinn Féin councillor said.
Cllr Máirín McGrath said there are other estates in the county with similar problems which need to be addressed. Cllr McGrath said the issues at Aherlow Woods have been sent forward to the relevant ministers as Parliamentary Questions through Mattie McGrath TD’s office.
Cllr Roger Kennedy said “direction is needed, instead of blockages” from the council, while Cllr Declan Burgess also supported the call for an urgent meeting. “We need to step up the game here, properly sit down with residents and take a proactive response,” Cllr Burgess added.
Mr Slattery acknowledged the residents’ frustrations and the councillors’ comments, and agreed that a meeting should be held between a small group of councillors, the relevant Council sections and the Residents’ Committee.