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At a recent meeting of Dublin City Council’s housing committee, councillors discussed mooted plans to rip down old council complexes, fire-safety on Traveller sites, and more.
What Next for Big Complexes in the City?
Deputy Chief Executive Brendan Kenny set out a few brief options in the first step in a debate around how to regenerate or refurbish older social-housing complexes in the city.
Of the three options listed in the discussion document – a comprehensive refurbishment programme; widespread demolition and rebuilding; and land swaps – Kenny said he favours the last two.
Refurbishment – which some have argued is at least a temporary way to ease the affordable housing crisis – was less attractive, Kenny’s report said.
It would be expensive, lead to reduced density as bedsits were knocked into larger homes, and would be limited by the fact that central government is prioritising funding for new homes rather than refurbishment, said Kenny. “It would take decades for us to do that.”
Kenny said the demolition plan would involve building first, before moving people out of old complexes and knocking them down – a programme he estimates would increase the number of homes on the existing sites from 10,000 to 30,000. Council management is not not looking for a reduction in social housing, he said.
Some councillors said they were wary of this strategy, because of past examples of demolitions destroying deeply rooted communities.
“You’re demolishing 50 years of a community,” said Sinn Féin’s Críona Ní Dhálaigh. She said that she regrets what the loss of community around St Teresa’s Gardens when it was regenerated, and said that the council needs to consider the human costs of its housing policies.
Independent Councillor Cieran Perry said that the second approach – demolition and new builds – would be the most logical if there were funding available from the central government. But he said it wouldn’t be a good idea to bring in funding from the private sector.
“I don’t think we need that,” Perry said. “These are public lands and I think we should be consistent that central government should fund public housing on public lands.”
Councillor Éilis Ryan of the Workers’ Party said it was wrong to decide which strategy to pursue based on the fact that the central government is giving more funds for new builds. “We have to push back against that,” she said.
The issue of the regeneration of apartment complexes will be on the agenda at housing committee meetings for the foreseeable future, the councillors and officials agreed.
Fire-Safety and Homes
There is overcrowding on Traveller-accommodation sites, yet a report given to councillors didn’t mention specific fire-safety measures around that, said Sinn Féin’s Anthony Connaghan.
“Are we doing anything about the fire-safety in that regard?” he asked council officials, at the housing committee’s meeting last Thursday.
Pat Teehan, administrative officer with the council’s Traveller Accommodation Unit, said that the council is looking at how to remove some caravans from halting sites to reduce overcrowding. “Because there isn’t really an alternative,” he said.
The real solution is to build new accommodation in the area, either expanding the accommodation on an overcrowded site, for example, or finding new sites, he said. “Yes, they are a fire-safety hazard, they are also a planning hazard.”
But if the council took steps to, say, put in electricity connections, then it would contravene fire-safety and planning legislation, as the extra caravans shouldn’t be there, he said.
“What I’m actively trying to do […] my longterm goal is to try to look at housing […] 187 pieces of accommodation around the city, and I’m working really hard on that,” he said.
Said Connaghan: “To be honest, that’s not good enough.” He said he would rather see the council break a planning law, than face having another Carrickmines – where a blaze killed 10 people in October 2015 – on their conscience.
Buying from Developers
Council Housing Manager Tony Flynn told councillors on the housing committee that the only places in the city where apartment are being built are “in affluent high-value areas”.
That has knock-on effects for the kinds and costs of homes that the council is getting under the provisions known as “Part V”, whereby developers have to offer 10 percent of any scheme with 10 or more homes to local authorities for social housing.
So far this year, Dublin City Council has bought three homes from developers under the Part V provisions, according to an update given to councillors on the housing committee. Some have raised concerns about the high cost of others that are in the pipeline.
Flynn said that the council has to make a policy decision to either take those high-cost units, or to “go elsewhere” because if the council buys them up in expensive neighbourhoods, it’s going to cost money.
“That has to be recognised by all concerned,” he said.