Lessons for today
The Shannon project was not just about creating jobs; it was also about providing homes for the workers who flocked there.
By the late 1950s the housing issue, which had plagued the development of the hub since the early days, was becoming a crisis. So, in 1960, a proposal was tabled for the creation of a new town; an innovation without precedent in post-war Ireland. Inspired by the British new towns that arose after the war Brendan O’Regan and his team sought to build a hub for workers of the airport and the industrial zone.
The creation of the first new town in the history of the State was not without challenges; there were political ructions as to who would oversee the project – the government or SFADCO – while residents of Limerick city rued the fact that the development did not happen in Limerick instead.
Nonetheless, by 1962 the first residents were moving in, all of whom were tenants of SFADCO and who had to work either in the airport or
industrial area to qualify for affordable housing.
As SFADCO estates manager Cian O’Carroll recalls, building the houses so close to a place of huge employment was key, as was the fact that units were small – but larger families were catered for. “We often let them two houses and knocked them together,” he says.
Also key to its success was the fact that housing was affordable, and graded and related to people’s incomes. After some time a tenant purchase scheme was introduced, allowing people to buy their homes outright.
Today the town is home to some 10,000 residents, and remains one of the few examples of a new planned town in Ireland.
“It hasn’t grown as much as people might have expected, but it has its own social and economic viability,” says O’Carroll.
As to why subsequent governments haven’t looked to emulate the success of Shannon – particularly given our housing shortages – O’Carroll suggests it’s due to an ideological shift away from the State doing things directly, instead encouraging the private sector to do the same through tax incentives and other methods.
“It’s a shame,” he says.
■ Shannon town was built in the 1960s on reclaimed marshland alongside the airport