Kaethe Burt-O’Dea invited others around to her Stoneybatter store Monday night ahead of the “Next for O’Devaney” workshop on Wednesday.
They sat at a table in the back of Bí Urban, with the plans for O’Devaney Gardens spread out, and tried to decipher what exactly Dublin City Council intends for the land.
There was a plan to redevelop the 1950s social-housing complex here back in 2008, through a public-private partnership, but that fell through.
In 2015, the council moved to revive the effort as part of its housing land initiative. Buildings on the site were torn down in 2016.
The redevelopment of the O’Devaney Gardens site is one of its biggest planned housing projects in the city. There is room for 594 homes, with half of them private and market price, and 30 percent of them social housing, and another 20 percent affordable, according to a feasibility study in January 2017.
“You know the number [of homes at O’Devaney] is gone up from 584 to 700,” says Jenny O’Leary, an architect and a member of the O’Devaney Gardens Consultative Forum, addressing Burt-O’Dea and the recently arrived Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe.
“That was just dropped in at the last meeting [of the forum] and nobody was involved in these decisions,” O’Leary said.
Burt-O’Dea and O’Leary both have concerns about how things are headed. There’s opacity around the plans, a lack of community voice, and the possibility that Wednesday might might be the last chance to weigh in, they say.
If what locals want doesn’t feed into the plans, there’s a risk that whoever wins the tender to develop and build the project will get to dictate what goes on the site, they said.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said Wednesday wouldn’t be the last chance for people with a stake in the site to talk about its future.
There would be “ample opportunity for community input during the planning process which will precede any future development”, they said.
O’Leary wonders, however, with the short window between awarding the tender, and beginning construction, there will be much time for more public consultation.
There is a “Next for O’Devaney” workshop planned for today to look at what should go on the site. It’s hosted by Dublin City Council and the O’Devaney Gardens Community Consultative Forum.
The aim is bring together residents, community groups, and others to see what they want for the site, an event notice says. That will “inform the brief” for developers who are chosen for the project.
“Public consultation” can mean all sorts of things, says Grainne Foy of the North West Inner City Network. “I don’t think a once-off in a hotel on an evening is true consultation. […] For meaningful consultation, it needs to happen over a period of time,” she says.
Ten years ago, when there were first plans to pull down and rebuild the state, there was consultation, says Foy. “But they weren’t taken on board either.”
Back then, former residents asked for sports facilities, she says. They are absent from the current plans in the feasibility report.
Cuffe, the Green Party councillor, said there is a 30-year history of community participation in decision-making in the city. “Where people have battered down the doors to say treat us as equals. But now we’re being treated as babies.”
He thinks the registration process for the workshop, with a general questionnaire and few cold, hard details is telling. “It’s crystallized in my mind now that we really don’t know what’s going to happen there,” says Cuffe.
Cuffe says he wants to know for sure how many homes will be built on the site. How high the buildings will be. What size the apartments will be. He wants to know what space will be open to the public, and where the community centre and gardens are in the plans.
Burt-O’Dea was involved in discussions around another recent big development in the area, DIT’s Grangegorman campus. It was “such an aggressive and unpleasant experience”, she says.
Many of the meetings became stages for people to vent their anger at how Smithfield square had been redeveloped, she said.
O’Devaney Consultative Forum
Three years ago, Burt-O’Dea and O’Leary were involved in the O’Devaney Community Gardens. Through that, they got involved in the umbrella task force for the O’Devaney regeneration.
The task force was made up of community and residents groups. They were to be given a role in the planning process, to sit down with planners and developers to make sure their needs were met.
They had a wish list: “a mix of housing options to promote a balanced demographic, diversity and equality”, an ecological design, as well as sports facilities and a community facilities that include a community centre, garden, creche and playground.
In a 10 August 2015 letter to councillors, the task force said: “We ask that this role be a meaningful one; we do not want to be presented with a set of plans and drawings at a stage in the proceedings where it is too late to effectively interject the community’s hopes for the site.”
The umbrella task force was disbanded though, says Burt-O’Dea.
Head of Housing Brendan Kenny floated the idea of a community consultative forum, she says. The council felt it had “achieved its goal of community involvement in the development”.
The key “misdirection was ‘consultative'”, says Burt-O’Dea.
Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam, co-chair of the Consultative Forum, says that’s not what happened. He had told senior officials and Kenny, that O’Devaney Gardens couldn’t be redeveloped “in isolation from the rest of Stoneybatter”, he says.
So Kenny set up the consultative form. Who sits on the forum? “We have residents who used to reside in O’Devaney, as well then as those residents who live in the vicinity of O’Devaney,” he says.
There is no information online about who is part of the O’Devaney Community Consultative Forum, how often they meet or what is discussed at meetings. McAdam says this needs to be addressed.
Past minutes for the forum list who is involved. McAdam, Kenny, Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan, council housing manager Dick Whelan, council senior executive officer Hugh McKenna, and residents from North Circular Road and Montpelier Gardens. It wasn’t clear if any of these were former residents of O’Devaney Gardens.
Eight people attended the meeting on 6 June 2018.
One of the worries going forward is that the forum does not have the same statutory powers that previous regeneration boards had, says Cuffe.
Those who once lived in O’Devaney Gardens are now dispersed. Past community associations are fragmented, leaving the voices of some past residents out of discussions.
“Once they removed the tenants, a huge voice was removed in terms of affordable housing,” says Foy of North West Inner City Network, who has been active in the area for many decades. “The forum that is there at the moment is not statutory and has no powers as such.”
Sixty-five people have signed up so far for the “Next for O’Devaney” workshop, says McAdam.
The meeting takes place tonight at the Aisling Hotel on Parkgate Street. The successful tenderer for the O’Devaney site is due to be decided before the end of this year.