Council Briefs: Family Hubs, Play Spaces, Train Tracks, and Cost Overruns

Councillors at Dublin City Council’s North Central Area committee meeting on Monday agreed that the location of a new family homeless hostel or “family hub” at an industrial estate is not suitable.

The building was previously a warehouse for Bargaintown furniture, and is located at Greencastle Parade, in the Malahide Road Industrial Estate, Coolock.

The majority also voted for two other motions opposing the creation of family hubs. The motions cannot stop the creation of the hubs, which are being rolled out using emergency planning legislation.

Councillor John Lyons of People Before Profit tabled a motion calling on Dublin City Council “to cease immediately with this shameful plan of placing families into former furniture stores”.

He said there was a lack of strategic thinking in tackling homelessness, and that relying on the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) programme isn’t working. “At some point, we are going to have to say, ‘Stop. Why are we doing this?’” said Lyons.

Councillor Michael O’Brien of Solidarity tabled a separate motion. He said that the hubs were forced through because the then minister for housing, Simon Coveney, made an ill-advised promise to end the practice of using hotels to shelter homeless families by 1 July.

“Efforts and resources are better spent on housing the homeless rather than moving them between different types of emergency accommodation,” said O’Brien, in his motion.

But Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland said the new hubs will be an improvement for her constituents who are currently homeless. She said she deals with homeless families who are regularly moved on from the hotels they are staying in, and this causes huge stress.

Hubs will be better for those with large families who need adjoining rooms, which are often not available in hotels, Gilliland said. People will be placed in hubs near their children’s schools, she said.

“We are always going to have people homeless,” said Gilliland.

She said she has received assurances from the director of Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, Eileen Gleeson, that the rooms for families will be ensuite, and they will have kitchen, laundry, and crèche facilities.

Councillor Larry O’Toole of Sinn Féin got unanimous support for his motion, which opposed the specific location of the new hub at Greencastle Road, formerly Bargaintown.

“What kind of message are we sending out to people who are living in hotels …. Now we are going to put you into disused factories,” he said.

Nowhere to Play

At the moment, Belmayne Youth Club doesn’t really have a home of its own.

Organisers have to take the children to neighbouring Donaghmede just to host their weekly youth club, said volunteer Alison Benson, at the North Central Area committee meeting on Monday.

She and her colleague Michelle McGoldrick told councillors that they desperately need a community centre and recreational facilities for young people in the area. “We can’t say to our kids go on out and play … all it is is roads,” said Benson.

There’s a divide between private homeowners and social-housing tenants, with some private residents trying to get segregated play areas, she said. The youth club wants to bring kids together.

The group have set their sights on an empty building in Belmayne, which is privately owned but earmarked for a library, said Benson. “As our community is so diverse it is important that we have somewhere where people can go.”

There are plans approved for Belmayne, with as many as 1,380 homes, and a community hub and multi-games area on the site. But Benson said that there needs to be more community space there.

Dublin City Council Area Manager Dave Dinnigan said that the building does have planning permission for a library, but it would cost about €1 million to do it up. “We wouldn’t have the budget to buy it,” he said.

Dinnigan  added that “communities are not about buildings”, and that there are many neighbourhoods that have community centres that are not well used.

Still, he agreed to look at other vacant units in Belmayne and try to find a place for the youth club.

Crossing at Kilbarrack

It is “only a matter of time” until somebody is hurt or killed trespassing on the tracks at Kilbarrack train station, said Station Manager John Donnelly on Monday.

Staff at the station looked at CCTV footage for a single day in January and found that 145 people walked across the tracks in just 24 hours, he told councillors at the North Central Area committee’s meeting.

In 2016, train drivers had 32 near misses, having to brake suddenly to avoid hitting somebody, said Donnelly. (Iarnród Éireann released footage a while back of a near-collision at the station, to try to raise awareness.)

Sinn Féin Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha said that the lack of staff at stations might be partly behind the behaviour.

Labour Councillor Alison  Gilliland suggested that Iarnród Éireann use a talking trespass alarm, familiar from radio adverts. “Hey, you in the blue hoody,” she said.

Cost of Contracts

When councillors learnt about the massive overspend on Ballyfermot Leisure Centre, one of their key questions was whether it could happen again.

The 2004 contract for a new leisure centre had at first been for €18.2 million, but ended up costing more than €45 million, according to a local government audit.

At a meeting of the council’s finance committee last week, councillors talked to members of the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) to try to get a handle on whether anything has changed.

Martin Lang, the director of main contracting for the CIF, said a lot can go wrong in public procurement contracts.

The problem is often that the employer does not issue a detailed enough brief on the work that needs to be done, Lang said. Also, unforeseen circumstances can drive up costs, he said.

“When the new public works contracts were brought into play in 2007, they were deliberately designed to be adversarial,” said Lang.

The aim was that public contracts would never run over budget again. But, as he told it, the adversarial nature of the contracts meant that the two sides often didn’t collaborate, which led to more disputes – and so huge costs for dispute resolution.

Both sides realised this wasn’t working well, and a process is now underway to “make a more balanced approach to risk transfer”, he said.

Independent Councillor Paddy Bourke said he “could have no confidence in Dublin City Council entering into major contracts unless we have learned from this experience”. Would it happen again? he asked.

Terence O’Keeffe, the council’s law agent, said he doesn’t foresee that. “The contracts have changed completely now, and I wouldn’t envisage that happening again,” he said.

The mediation process as outlined by Lang should mean that issues are dealt with one by one as the arise, with a conciliator, O’Keeffe said. “I think the mechanism now in place is much improved.”

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Author:

Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at laoiseneylon@gmail.com.

Reader responses

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steve white
at 21 June 2017 at 20:49

so what did the Council say about the warehouse homes? Why is Gilliland the chief defender of these.

Laoise Neylon
at 22 June 2017 at 16:37

Hi Steve,
Thanks for your question.

The local area councillors unanimously agreed that the former Bargaintown Warehouse site was not suitable, this included Councillor Alison Gilliland and Fine Gael Councillor Naoise O’Muiri.

Further motions opposing hubs in general, as outlined in the piece, were passed also – but some did not agree.

Councillor Gilliland (who I understand works closely with families affected by homelessness) said that the new family hostels will be better for those families she represents, for the reason outlined above. Particularly the fact that they will be able to stay there until they get a house, whereas at the moment they can be asked to leave the hotel with little notice.

Two Fianna Fail councillors and the Fine Gael councillor present also backed the position that the new family hostels will be an improvement on current conditions.

Three Sinn Fein Councillors, one from Solidarity and one from People Before Profit took a position that “hubs” are not the answer and resources would be better spent building housing for families rather than moving them around into another form of emergency provision.

For more on “hubs” please see our recent article also which outlines that the new family hostels will not be inspected, audited or regulated by any external agency.
[https://www.dublininquirer.com//2…

Thanks
Laoise

Laoise Neylon
at 22 June 2017 at 17:11

I should have said as well that the councillors have no power to stop the hubs from going ahead. They are being rolled out under emergency legislation, so normal procedures for objections don’t apply.

Thanks

steve white
at 22 June 2017 at 17:16

so what did the Council management say? Are they going to ignore the Councillors as always.

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