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Sam Moore waited two years for an allotment plot.

Since he got one five years ago at Weaver Square community garden, just off Cork Street, he has planted onions, peas, chard, and raspberries – ably assisted by his four-year-old son.

His two kids basically grew up here, he said last Thursday afternoon. He waves a hand at his crop of thriving chard and dwindling raspberries.

“My four-year-old is just as happy digging in the dirt here as he is playing in the playground across the street,” he says.

But this land is now earmarked for “rapid-build” social housing, and the council says the gardeners will need to pack up and leave.

There were 1,133 applicants on the social-housing waiting list for this part of the city, according to a council spokesperson – and the allotments, when they were set up, were meant to be temporary.

Councillors in the area are now campaigning to find a new patch for the community garden. Or asking if there’s space for it in the new development, too.

Other Options

Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan last week put forward a motion that no allotment-holder in Weaver Square should be moved until the council finds somewhere else nearby for them to go. Other councillors agreed.

Under the Liberties Greening Strategy – which aims to improve amenities in the under-served neighbourhood, which is short of green space – the allotments were supposed to move to a patch north of Chamber Street.

But “there are no alternative allotment sites available at present”, said a report sent to councillors from the council’s local area office and the council’s housing department.

Moore wrote to the council to ask why this space wasn’t available.

Council official Hugh Considine replied that both sites are being developed for rapid-build housing. “It’s a prime location with a new park right beside […]. The office has looked for any alternative sites in the area but nothing has turned up as yet,” he wrote.

Ivanna Chovgan, another allotment-holder in Weaver Square, says she spoke to council officials and they told her that unless the community garden is long-term, it’s not worth investing in, since they can be expensive to set up. (A council spokesperson said it’s impossible to say how much it costs to set up an allotment.)

In his email to Moore, Considine said that gardeners can keep their licenses until the end of the year. In the meantime, the council will be doing some surveying work. “But this will have no impact on the allotments,” the email said.

It would be unfair to ask allotment-holders to surrender their sites mid-season, before crops are harvested, said the council spokesperson.

Moynihan says she has asked council architects if they can make allotments part of the new housing. As roof gardens, for example.

A council spokesperson said it would not be “feasible to provide roof gardens in this development”.

Needed for Housing

When the allotments were opened in 2011, the council said it was a temporary move, says Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh, who was part of the campaign to get them.

“We always said that as soon as funding was available there would be housing built on the site. […] It was a great win at the time but it was a temporary licence,” says Ní Dháilaigh.

A council spokesperson said work on social housing is expected to start in mid-2019.

It’s a reactionary approach, says Moore. “We have a housing crisis and we need units, but there’s no vision.”

“What sort of city do we want Dublin to be? Apart from [that] we need housing, how do we build communities?” he says. A lot of his friends have moved away from the area, because of rising house prices.

Says Chovgan: “There’s nothing happening at St Teresa’s Gardens. That was demolished three years ago. Instead of starting somewhere else, why not continue what they started?”

The plan is to build about 1,000 homes on the 10-hectare St Teresa’s Gardens site, eventually, but there have been delays because of soil contamination.

On 20 September, Minister Damien English launched the “St Teresa’s Gardens Regeneration Board Strategic Plan 2018–2021”, with construction of the first 54 social homes due to start in the coming months.

“I totally understand we need housing,” says Barbara McCullagh, who has gardened at Weaver Square for three years. “But I’m disappointed there’s no dedicated space [for allotments].”

Waiting List

Once the Weaver Square allotments are closed down, Moore and his allotment neighbours will be back on a waiting list for another plot. They don’t know how long for.

There are 85 people on the waiting list for allotments in the south-west inner city, said a council spokesperson.

Demand “far exceeds supply”, so it’s impossible to predict how long someone might be waiting, they said. The council will continue to “investigate possible alternative allotment locations”.

Allotment-holders in Weaver Square will be put at the top of the waiting list from January 2019, said a council report. There are 28 of them.

It was an awful hit being told they had to leave, says McCullagh. But jumping ahead of others on the list doesn’t seem fair, she says.

Liz Harper was on a waiting list for four years before she got a spot at Braithwaite Street – and then she later moved to Weaver Square, where she has an allotment now. “I can’t bear the idea of going on another waiting list,” she says.

Ideally, Moore says he’d like to stay on the site rather than move to another. But he knows that might not be possible.

Like his allotment neighbours, he’s found the community garden to be a boon for his mental health. He wants his kids to know where their food comes from, too.

Now, though, there just isn’t the same motivation to keep going, he says. On the ground, there are a straggle of weeds and some discarded shovels and gardening forks.

Zuzia Whelan

Zuzia Whelan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer.

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