Photo by Laoise Neylon

There are four proposals on the table right now for what to put on the 12 acres of council-owned land at St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore.

In January 2017, Dublin city councillors voted through plans for the site, which lies just north of the Goldenbridge Luas stop and the canal.

A Dublin City Council spokesperson said it is pressing ahead with what was agreed then, which would mean 50 percent private housing, 30 percent social, and 20 percent affordable. The project is “due to go to tender […] in the near future”, they said.

But different community groups are pushing different visions of what they want to see developed on the vacant site – some of which might fit with the council’s current plan, some of which would mean changing direction. 

Ultimately, the final plan will need to fit the council’s requirements for social and affordable housing, which may or may not appeal to the private developers that the council envisions building the project.

Other Visions

In mid-April, St Patrick’s Athletic FC put forward a plan that would mean a sports stadium, retail, leisure and community facilities, and housing on the land.

Not long after that, the St Michael’s Estate Regeneration Team – a group of local residents and community workers set up in 2001 to represent residents in the regeneration – launched a campaign for all the proposed new homes to be “fair rent” or a “cost-rental” model.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin are talking to the council about a fourth vision, but they’re still hazy on the details. The focus would be on “maximising social and affordable housing”, says Daithí Doolan, a Sinn Féin councillor and chair of the council’s housing committee. “But we’re open to how it’s delivered.”

“Fair Homes”

The “fair rent” proposal from the St Michael’s Estate Regeneration Team is based on a long-term cost-rental model.

So, as those behind the campaign see it, the state should build the homes, own them, and levy rents weighted according to income, says Eilish Comerford, a regeneration worker at the St Michael’s Family Resource Centre.

“Half of the households would be from the social housing list, and the other half would be a new scheme for people over the social-housing threshold but stuck in private rental,” says Comerford.

(There’s a small pilot along these lines planned for a site in Sandyford in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.)

While the council’s current plan is for 420 homes, the “fair-rent” proposal allows for 120 fewer. It fits in 300 homes.

“We want to make sure that there’s a park area,” says Comerford. “The land shouldn’t be completely covered in houses. A lot of neighbouring communities don’t want huge high rises.”

Nicola Quinn sees support for the plan among overcrowded households in Inchicore, those above the threshold for social housing but unable to afford private rents.

“There are a lot of households in Inchicore with adult children,” says Quinn, who is on the regeneration team and lived in St Michael’s Estate for 19 years.

“To be honest, it feels like a complete let-down from the state,” she says. “There have been other plans, but they fell through.”

The debate over what to put on the land has been protracted. The idea to develop some of the council’s largest land banks in a programme known as the “land initiative” was first floated in mid-2014 – almost four years ago.

St Michael’s Estate was added to the list of development sites in early 2015. Before the January 2017 plan for that site, the Department of Housing and Dublin City Council had set aside the lands there for private housing.

In March 2014, the Department of Housing wrote to the council to say that funding for Thornton Heights – 75 homes on one patch of land there, which were opened in September 2014 – had been approved “on the understanding that the residual site would be available for private housing development, with a small element of land for use as recreation”.

The council asked about using a site for senior-citizen housing, too – and the department said that one site could be used for that, potentially, if the rest was private housing, according to a council report.

Comerford says she and her campaign held a meeting last Tuesday to try to spread their idea for “fair rent” homes.

“We have a Facebook page, and we’re beginning to lobby politicians,” she says. Through her work with the resource centre, Comerford has told other groups in the community about the plan.

People Before Profit Councillor Hazel de Nortúin says she supports the Inchicore Fair Rent Homes Initiative, by the St Michael’s estate residents. “They’re saying they don’t want people priced out of the area, and they’ve come up with a practical solution,” she says.

“All in all, Dublin City Council have a lot to say for this. They’ve been dragging their heels,” she says, adding that people in the area have been waiting for a redevelopment for fifteen years.

A Stadium?

The proposal from St Patrick’s Athletic FC could fit with whatever Dublin City Council needs, says Tom O’Mahony, the club president.

“We will go along with whatever housing mix they require, whether it is the model put forward by St Michael’s Regeneration Team, or some other model,” he said, by email.

The retail, community and stadium facilities in the development would be privately financed, says O’Mahony.

“The financing of the housing part, whether entirely public, entirely private, or a mix of the two, obviously depends on the housing model that Dublin City Council decide on,” he said.

The club would plan to engage significantly and actively with the community on this, says O’Mahony.

“The current land initiative doesn’t allow for the full range of retail and community facilities that we propose, so it would have to be changed. It’s still possible to include whatever housing mix and quantity that the council wants,” he says.

At this point, Doolan says he doesn’t know whether or not private housing would be included in the plan that Sinn Féin are trying to develop. But it will be “guided by social and affordable housing”, he says.

He says that the key piece necessary for the plan to go ahead is Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy reintroducing legislation on affordable housing – affordable-housing schemes were scrapped in 2011.

They can still go ahead with the plan, but legislation would make it that much easier, says Doolan.

Doolan says that Féin are looking for at least 70 percent social and affordable housing on the site – with 30 percent social and 40 percent affordable. “We may have to sell some units privately to offset the costs of affordable units, because we don’t have an affordable-housing model,” says Doolan.

“But, we could ensure they’re sold to first-time buyers, and make sure they’re not rented,” he said. They can ring-fence homes for that and set conditions because it’s council land, he says.

“We might look towards different levels of affordable housing,” he says, in three bands for example.

The St Michael’s Regeneration Board’s “fair-rent” model isn’t a million miles away from what Doolan wants to do, he says, but the number of homes differs.

Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne voted against the land initiative two years ago. “I don’t believe we should give basically two-thirds of our land to developers,” he says.

“I’m a long-time supporter of St Pat’s, and I understand and support what they’re trying to do,” he says, adding that maybe a land swap could work, where the land the current stadium is on could be used for social housing, and the St Michael’s land could be used for a new stadium.

But will all these changing plans not take up more time, and further delay the construction of housing?  “There’s nothing happening at the moment,” says Dunne. “There’s no real plan, just aspirations.”

The council is only going out to tender now, he says. “I don’t think anybody is talking to anybody right now. If they [the council] hadn’t gone through the land initiative, they could have gone to tender two years ago.”

Too Many Cooks?

“There are a few good proposals on the table,” says Sinn Féin Councillor Greg Kelly.

The St Patrick’s plan has the potential to bring new jobs to the community because it includes shops, he says.

“If I’m being greedy, I would like to see all four proposals developed, and to take the best from all,” he says.

“If [the council] go ahead with the land initiative, they could take the affordable-housing model from St Michael’s Regeneration Team,” says Kelly, but he adds that the current land initiative going to tender in the coming weeks is not necessarily the final plan for the council.

“It doesn’t mean they’ll go to tender for that particular document. They could amend it to include elements of other plans,” he says.

Kelly says that last week he spoke to Brendan Kenny, the council’s deputy chief executive for housing, and Kenny told him other plans were still being considered. “There are two or three affordable-housing models we could look at,” he said.

One model is the one proposed by St Michael’s Regeneration Team: the cost-rental model.

The other, says Kelly, is the affordable-home-buyer model, where housing would be provided at below-market prices, as the cost of the land is not included in the price. Home owners would then have to sell back into the scheme if they decided to sell the home.

Again, Kelly believes that a mix of the two could work best, with some homes for sale and others for rent.

Says Comerford: “We’d love somebody to take leadership on this. Inchicore has so much potential.”

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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