Friday 18 October 2019

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Cork Independent

Our City Our Town

Corporation’s 1919 housing plans come to naught

Wednesday, 9th October, 2019 4:41pm

The autumn and winter of 1919 coincided with the complexities of Cork’s housing market being laid bare in Cork Corporation meetings and in the local press.

The Housing (Ireland) Act was passed on 15 August 1919 and obligation was put for the first time on Irish municipalities to meet the housing need in their area. If they failed to do so, then the Irish Local Government Board had powers to execute the role on their behalf.

The process for acquiring housing sites was simplified, and local authorities were given greater power to attain suburban land so as to build schemes. However, the simplification process had its own complexities for bodies such as Cork Corporation.

In 1911, Cork had a population of 76,673 and had only 12,071 inhabited houses. There were then 4,653 houses of two rooms and under inhabited in the city, while 3,645 persons lived in 1,511 single-room tenements or parts of rooms.

By 1919, the population of Cork was estimated at 77,000 and it was estimated that that 2,500 new houses were needed to take into account the extension of industrial activities of the city. The maximum density which the Local Government Board was prepared to approve was 12 houses to an acre.

In 1919 there were thirteen small sites across 160 acres hoped to be built upon by the corporation in Cork. These included sites at the Cattle Market, Fair Hill, Farranferris, Assumption Road, Rathmore, Kiely’s near Ballyhooley, Kelleher’s Buildings, Ashburton Hill, Mayfield, Wycherley, Quaker Road, Evergreen Road and at Quarry Road.

Through the 12 houses per acre ruling, technically the Local Government Board could only give permission to 1,920 houses to be built across the Corporation’s 160 acres of suitable land.

In truth the city needed 300-400 more acres of land to accommodate future growth. Discussion was ongoing that the city either needed to have a boundary extension or to purchase new sites within the county suburbs. However, much of this was down to funding provision and the financing of loans.

So when a substantial proposed loan scheme was presented to members of Cork Corporation in early October 1919, it was a pitch that members were very interested in engaging with.

A special meeting on housing was held by the Cork Corporation under Lord Mayor William F O’Connor at 3pm on 3 October 1919 to consider a circular letter from the Secretary of the National Development Company of Ireland, who were based at the Commercial Buildings, Dublin.

The letter called attention to the fact that the company had entered into a contract with a trust composed of Irish-American and Scottish trustees, and had succeeded in arranging for an advance of the substantial sum of £150m for Irish housing – a sum, which would be advanced to municipal, county and district councils requiring its use.

The proposed loan was to be re-payable in 50 years, at five per cent per annum (including principal and interest) at which period the debt would be automatically extinguished.

According to the minutes of the meeting published in the Cork Examiner, Cork Corporation’s treasurer Thomas Ireton reported that the proposed loan seemed to him to be a very favourable one.

The Lord Mayor was content with the Treasurer’s report. Several councillors who were present argued that the money offered by the National Development Company, if they could secure it, was about the best bargain they could pursue.

Councillors noted that Cork Corporation had gone as far as they could go and had made all the preparations and arrangements that they could make. The city engineer had prepared a report showing the probable cost of the houses to be erected.

On the basis of the city engineer's figures, it would take £1.5m to meet their requirements across their thirteen sites.

Councillor J Horgan drew attention to the fact that since the corporation last met fresh cases of typhus fever had occurred in the city. He detailed that at meeting of the Public Health Committee, the medical officer drew attention to such cases and attributed them to overcrowding.

The committee decided that that report should be sent to the Local Government Board in order to draw their attention to the urgency of the housing question in the city, and they also urged that their medical officer should go to Dublin. He moved that they should accept the offer of the National Development Company.

However, some councillors disagreed with accepting the offer straight away and warned to be weary. Cllr D Williams said he agreed about the necessity and urgency for dealing with the housing question, but he would oppose having anything to do with the National Development Company until they knew something about it.

He noted that the Cork Rural District Council had applied for the loan but had heard nothing back and funding had also been applied for by Dublin Corporation, but the loan had not materialised.

Cork Corporation applied for £1.5m to the loan fund of the National Development Company. Joseph James Kelly, a Dublin businessman and alderman was the front man of the company as well a London financier Patrick K Keiran.

However, the concerns of some Cork Corporation members were deemed valid as it did emerge as the winter months progressed that it was unclear who the principal investors were. The Dublin Castle British administration deemed it another part of Dáil Éireann’s and Sinn Féin’s propaganda campaign.

Another theory was perhaps the funding proposed was built on possible investment that could be raised through Éamon de Valera’s visit to America in 1919 and 1920. For Cork city’s thirteen sites, it would take several more years before the construction of houses was seen upon them.

This week’s column marks the 20th year mark of Our City, Our Town (started in October 1999). Thanks to everyone for their support along the journey.

Kieran’s book ‘The Little Book of Cork Harbour’ (2019) is published by The History Press and is available in Waterstones, Vibes and Scribes and Easons.

 

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