Photo by Caroline Brady

We may soon know who will provide the first batch of modular houses for Dublin’s homeless families.

Submissions were due yesterday at Dublin City Council from companies interested in winning the contract to install the first 22 homes on a site in Poppintree.

If all goes to plan, they will be in place before Christmas.

But that depends on Dublin City Council quickly bashing out some issues with a housing co-op that already has planning permission for the same spot and was set to put in some homes of their own.

The question now is, can both sides build on on the site? Can everybody get what they want?

Popping Prefabs into Poppintree

In some ways, the site in Poppintree seems like a great idea.

Dublin City Council chose it as the first site in the planned multi-stage roll-out of 500 modular homes for homeless families, because it already has a road and other services. In 2010, sewerage pipes, water mains, public lighting and gas services were all put in. It also has Eircom, NTL and ESB connections.

But there is a reason this land is ready to be built on. A co-operative housing group was waiting for the council’s nod to start building 40 homes there.

Noeleen Reilly, Sinn Fein councillor for Ballymun, has criticised the council’s decision to place the modular houses on exactly the part of the site where co-op housing is planned.

The council has spent years trying to limit new social housing in the area, instead encouraging private builds. So Reilly has questioned why it would do anything to discourage the 40 co-op houses going ahead.

“That space of land can facilitate both the co-op and modular homes,” she says. She has put forward a motion calling on the council to put the temporary accommodation on another part of the same site, where there isn’t planning permission for co-op housing.

A Lengthy Saga

For 13 years, co-operatives have planned to build on this site in Poppintree. They were supported by Ballymun Regeneration Limited, which wanted to usher more private housing into the area to create a better social mix.

Initially, Parkside Co-operative got planning permission for 32 houses on the north side of the Poppintree site. This permission has lapsed.

But another co-operative – CTSL – got permission to build 40 houses on the south of the site. Members struggled to raise the finance for the project, which led to delays. But the planning permission was extended until May 2017.

More recently, members of O Cualann Co-Housing Alliance began the search for a site, and discovered the patch of land in Ballymun, which boasted planning permission in place.

Members of the other two co-operatives who were able to secure mortgages joined them, and the latest push to build on the site began.

Hugh Brennan and Bill Black of the O Cualann Co-housing Alliance set about negotiating with Dublin City Council. “Because we both had construction in our backgrounds, we knew we would have the capacity to deliver it,” says Brennan.

They got the go-ahead. The members pinned down private finance, drew up and handed in a project plan, and then sat back to wait for the council’s response.

Brennan says he was expecting news last week. But before he heard back from the council, he saw media reports about modular housing proposed for the same patch.

“I thought, ‘Maybe they’re thinking about putting them on what was going to be open space,’” he says. “I didn’t honestly think that it was our site.”

Ongoing Discussions

On Friday, Brennan met with staff from the council’s housing department to discuss the issue.

As he tells it, he suggested that the modular homes be placed on the north of the site – where there was previously planning for 32 houses. “They would fit perfectly there,” he says.

Brennan would be happy to see co-operative housing and modular housing on the site together. But at Friday’s meeting there was no movement on their side, he says.

He doesn’t feel there’s any logic to disrupting the co-ops plans. The infrastructure runs through the whole site, he says, which seems to be confirmed by the response from the city manager to a question from councillor Reilly of Sinn Fein a couple of month. And the council are fast-tracking the planning permission.

The council suggested that the co-operative housing go to the north side of the site, he says. But to do that, O Cualann would have to get new planning permission, which would delay building once again.

Besides, co-op members have already paid €5,000 each to apply for the current permission. “We have all our finance in place, the plan is there, and we can start in the morning,” says Black.

This Thursday, co-op members are meeting to talk about the issue and decide if they’re willing to relocate to the north side of the site to accommodate the council’s plans. Council representatives have been invited.

Perhaps, the council’s reasoning will become clearer later.

Though it’s unclear if the council is willing to change the location of the modular housing, a spokesperson from Dublin City Council Press Office did say that the co-operative housing can be accommodated on the site as well.

“If we can get modular housing and co-op housing on the site that’s a huge win,” says Fine Gael councillor Noel Rock.

The Broader Picture

Aside from the Poppintree site, another 131 modular homes are planned for the four other sites that have been chosen by the council.

The plan is 29 on Mourne Road in Crumlin; 38 in Belcamp; 40 at St Helenas Drive, Finglas; and 24 in Cherry Orchard, Ballyfermot. But those will come a bit later.

And once more sites have been chosen, a total of 500 units should be spread across the four Dublin local authorities.

Councillors say they have streams of questions about the sites that have been selected to date. Last Thursday, they sat through an information meeting about the five sites and submitted dozens of questions to council management.

While some are waiting to see more details, others are opposed to the choice of sites.

Fianna Fáil councillor Daithi de Roiste is against the site in Cherry Orchard. “The council chose the worst possible site,” he says. “How they came up with it beggars belief.”

He believes there’s too much antisocial behaviour and too few services in the estate for it to be a good choice. Land up by Cherry Orchard Hospital would have been better, he says.

There have been media reports that putting prefabs on the site in Belcamp would interfere with the construction of permanent social housing. But the head of the council’s Housing Strategic Policy Committee, Sinn Fein councillor Daithi Doolan, says there’s nothing to worry about.

“There’s three sites [in Belcamp],” he says. “One for modular housing, another for social housing and one site for a pilot scheme of permanent modular housing.”

But Doolan, in turn, has concerns about the site in Finglas. He thinks it’s too small for 40 units. “I’m sure that [issues] will be resolved. We’re not trying to undermine the idea,” he says.

Pressing On

Rock says he is determined to see the plan for these 153 prefab units go ahead and is disappointed by the reactions of some other councillors.

“If we reject these sites because of local concerns, where are we going?” he asks. “I have a conscience at the end of the day.”

It is still unclear if public consultation will take place as part of this process.

As part of fast-tracking these homes, Dublin City Council is using Section 179 (6) (b) of the Planning & Development Act 2000. This means they are bypassing the normal planning process because of a situation the council manager deems an emergency.

This might mean that the council will skip taking any submissions or observations from the public on the proposal, but Dublin City Council’s press office would not clearly verify if this is the case or not.

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