Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam says he wants a formal review of what is being built in the Strategic Development Zone in the Docklands, which stretches from South Lotts Road on the southside to Sheriff Street on the northside.

“Quite simply, it’s failing in respect of [public] housing delivery,” says McAdam.

Planning applications for 1,600 apartments or homes had been lodged or granted within the SDZ, Deirdre Scully, a senior planner with the council, said at last week’s meeting of councillors for the central area.

“We’ve quite a lot granted and quite a lot under construction down there,” Scully said.

But little social housing has come on stream there yet.

Losing Out

Economic recovery, and with it rising apartment costs, has had an impact upon “Part Vs”, said McAdam, referring to the legal rule that means developers have to sell 10 percent of homes in larger developments to the council for social housing, or make some equivalent arrangement.

As a result, the local community has “lost out”, said McAdam, who helped to draw up plans for the SDZ in 2013, which included a blueprint for what should be built on land there – including ratios of apartments to office space and hotels.

Dublin City Council has said it prefers to take social housing on site, within the same complexes and estates as the private homes. But it is being priced out of the Docklands SDZ area, unable to purchase the homes on offer in new complexes there.

In April, Executive Housing Manager Anthony Flynn said the council was talking to five developers about other options for how to get that Part V social housing.

Independent Councillor Christy Burke says there are “grave concerns” around social housing within the Docklands SDZ and that he wants to review that, too. “Otherwise we’ll have failed again,” he said.

Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe says he’d like to see affordable dwellings  within the Docklands.

“Obviously, there are a lot of factors that are outside the SDZ’s control. But nonetheless planning is a very important function,” says Cuffe.

The Role of Planning

When councillors get updates about the Docklands, council planners often brush off queries relating to housing provision, Workers’ Party Councillor Eilís Ryan says.

When they “are pushed on housing they don’t actually claim any responsibility for it”, Ryan says.

As Ryan sees it, any review of the SDZ should come clean as to the lack of social and affordable housing, and therefore recommend a shift in policy.

“That’s what a review should do,” says Ryan. “There needs to be a pause on private housing in the Docklands.”

A review might not help though, says Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey. Instead, it could lead “to four more years of talking, four more years of procrastination”.

The government should just increase the amount of social and affordable housing required in new developments within the SDZ, he said.

That would be up to the Department of Housing, though, said Lacey. “And long-term what you need to do is control the value of building land.”

Using publicly owned land is important to being able to provide affordable housing, researchers at the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) have said.

The council doesn’t own any lands within the Docklands SDZ, said a council spokesperson.

Córas Impair Éireann (CIÉ) used to have land in the north-east corner, but sold it for student housing at Point Campus, off the eastern end of Sheriff Street Upper in 2016.

CIÉ still has land just outside the SDZ, off Oriel Street Upper in North Wall, and also off Clanwilliam Street on the other side of the river – for which it has recently signed development agreements.

Some say there are smarter, more sustainable ways to use land, which could combine affordable housing and the revenue streams that CIÉ needs for public transport.

Cuffe of the Green Party says that a review of the SDZ could include the Department of Housing and the council putting “soft pressure” on NAMA, which has “significant land holdings”.

Says Cuffe: “We have seen a lot of cranes in the Docklands but not a lot of homes. Particularly affordable homes.”

Cónal Thomas is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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