Earlier this summer, it seemed as if the derelict lot on Bridgefoot Street, in part of the south inner city known more for grey than green, was on track to be turned into a large park.
At one of the meetings to discuss the draft development plan — the blueprint for the city in the coming years — councillors voted for the patch of land to be rezoned to “Z9”, for an amenity or open space.
But that now seems less clear. As the number of homeless families in emergency accommodation continues to climb, Dublin City Council’s Housing Department is pushing forward with plans for housing on the site.
Some local residents and some councillors aren’t happy.
A Continued Campaign
“In the Oliver Bonds area there are currently 150 children under the age of 10 with playing facilities for 38 children,” says Zoe Obeimhen, who lives with her husband and four children in the flat complex near the site.
She’s been involved in the campaign for the Bridgefoot Street Park for more than six years. “If we have 100 families here, that means at least another 200 children [if the families have two each]. Where are all of these children going to play if we’ve scrapped plans for the park?”
As she sees it, the move to build homes on the site serves neither the homeless families nor the community that already lives there. The area can’t support them, she says.
The lack of green space in the area is well documented.
The average Liberties resident has 0.7 square metres of green space, whilst residents of Dublin 4 and Dublin 6 have 15 square metres. The World Health Organisation recommends 9 square metres of green space per city resident.
Dublin City Council’s Parks Department in 2014 identified a need for greening the Liberties in its “greening strategy”.
Locals were supposed to attend a council-funded workshop to aid and advise on the design of the park in early May, but the meeting was scrapped a week before it was due to take place, and participants were told in a letter that plans for the park were being momentarily “postponed”.
Council officials later informed local councillors that the site was being reviewed, as the Housing Department had expressed its interest in the site for emergency housing.
Some councillors agree with Obeimhen that this is not the right place for more housing, but others seem to think there might be a possible compromise.
Councillor Tina MacVeigh of People Before Profit — who has worked alongside the Bridgefoot Street Park Campaign to oppose the plan for emergency housing on the site — says she still wants just a park there.
MacVeigh says that the community has a good record for inclusivity, having welcomed “its fair share of social housing, wet hostels and shelters for the homeless”, she said.
But “they reached saturation point with this,” MacVeigh says. “It’s something they’ve been campaigning for, for years.”
“It’s not an adequate response, dumping these people who’ve already been through the ringer, living in terrible emergency accommodation, into a community that already has its fair share of social and economic need,” she said.
Plans for Housing
As yet, the council’s housing department says it hasn’t pinned down exact, detailed plans for what it wants to do with the site, what kind of homes officials would ideally put there, and for how long.
“No decision [has] yet been made on the design, or construction type of this housing,” said a spokesperson from Dublin City Council Press Office. Any proposals will be sent to councillors first, they said.
But the council has said it is looking to run some pilot schemes for rapid-build or modular stackable homes for homeless families in the city centre, so there’s the possibility that that is on the table.
Its current plans do include a park and “some housing” putting the estimate at 100 to 120 apartments. “The site in question includes the full railed off area and also the green area adjacent … There is adequate space for a significant urban park and much-needed new housing,” said the spokesperson, by email.
But it’s unclear how those plans fit with the rezoning as just parkland that councillors voted to include in the draft development plan — and which, if it stays in the plan, would come into effect in November.
“The proposals for the Bridgefoot site are consistent with the existing Dublin City Development Plan,” said a council spokesperson. (Note the word “existing”.)
“The draft new City Development Plan is due to be finalised before the end of this year and it is matter for City Councillors in that process to decide whether or not to rezone this or other sites in the city,” he said. “All development proposals brought forward by the City Council have to be consistent with the City Development Plan.”
Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan, head of the arts, culture and recreation committee, says she’s in favour of putting both emergency accommodation and a park on the site. A compromise is possible, she said.
“Having a mixture of both housing and parks is what will make both spaces sustainable and successful in the long-term. A park without surveillance doesn’t work,” she said.
That’s exactly what council chief Owen Keegan had said in a briefing note to councillors earlier this year, when he asked them to keep the zoning as “Z5” so that it could be used for both a park and housing.
“Both the City Architect and the Parks Superintendent have recommended the provision of housing around the perimeter of the site to improve the existing streetscape and to provide a degree of passive surveillance for the Park,” he wrote.
But it’s going to be a hard sell for some. Back in the community garden that’s flourished in the Bridgefoot Street site, Obeimhen shows me the adjacent privately owned allotments that won this year’s “Best Allotment in Dublin 8”.
The man who tends to them, David Morse, says he’s not sure whether they’ll be allowed to stay if the emergency housing goes up.
As children dash in and out of the gate leading to the garden, Obeimhen says that she’s feeling confident about her chances of defeating the council’s plans.
“A hundred percent this isn’t going ahead,” she says. “I have a conscience and I can’t sit back and watch this area deteriorate more than it already has.”