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Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council says it no longer has plans to sell off land at Mount Anville – but the site has still been excluded from the council’s draft Traveller accommodation strategy for the coming years.
Plans for Traveller accommodation on the site are said to date back to 1985, while the provision of five homes for Travellers has been included in Traveller accommodation programmes since 2005.
Last year, several councillors and local politicians said the land should be sold off instead, to raise money for the council’s capital programme.
Councillors are due to vote on the next Traveller accommodation strategy (for 2019 to 2024) in September, and may approve it as is, or put forward motions to change it.
A spokesperson for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council said they couldn’t address queries as to why the site hadn’t been put back on the list, and who had decided it should be removed.
“We cannot make any comment on the Traveller Accommodation Programme during the consultation period which ends on Friday 31st May,” they said.
In October last year, council officials had presented a list of ten sites to councillors, recommending that some of them be sold to fund the council’s capital programme – which, they said, was facing a shortfall of around €17 million.
Motions to remove the Mount Anville site from the list, and other motions to remove all sites zoned for housing from the list of potential sites to be sold, were defeated.
But a spokesperson said on Monday 13 May that “the council has no current plans at this time to dispose of council assets”.
“So the council’s Executive is not seeking any further current valuations for that purpose for any of its assets at this time.”
Only the Mount Anville site had been valued ahead of that October meeting. Councillors were told that, without the Traveller accommodation requirement, the land could fetch up to €15 million.
That, though, wasn’t the first valuation that the council had gotten done, according to records released under the Freedom of Information Act. An earlier valuation had given a lower figure.
A Long Saga
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s plans to sell the Mount Anville site had been based on a commercial valuation of €15 million.
But just months earlier, the Dublin City Valuer had valued the same site for less than half that amount, placing a price tag of €6.5 million on it.
Both those values were for commercial sale if the Traveller accommodation requirement was removed.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said this was because the valuer had decided the site could be used for apartments while the original €6.5 million valuation had assumed it would be used for houses.
“By March 2018, apartment type schemes had become more feasible through increased availability of funding for ‘build to rent’ apartment developments,” they said.
Also, new market information became available that supported a significantly higher value of the site, she said.
Late last year, a spokesperson for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council said it had two commercial valuations of the site.
It would be worth €15 million if sold privately with no conditions and it would be worth €3.5 million if it were sold privately with a stipulation that Traveller accommodation be provided by the developer, the valuation said.
It turned out that the lower valuation was not a commercial valuation at all but was a purely “hypothetical” estimate of the value of the land if it were to be developed for 100 percent social housing.
Sinn Féin housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD says the idea of comparing the commercial value of a site with that hypothetical value is “gobbledegook”.
A council spokesperson said that the Dublin City Valuers office “was of the view that at the date of valuation, an Affordable Housing Body would be the most likely purchaser of a site reserved entirely for social housing and Traveller accommodation”.
Ó Broin says that, obviously, every piece of land owned by a council would be worth more if it were sold off for private development.
But given the severe housing crisis, the council’s responsibility to end homelessness and “the desperate need for Traveller accommodation in the area”, the council should use the land it owns in the public interest, he says.
“The provision of Traveller accommodation is a statutory obligation on local authorities,” says Ó Broin.
“This idea that more affluent areas, because the open market value of the land would be higher, that they can use that to be exempt from their social and legal responsibilities, I actually think that is quite obscene,” he says.
Emails released under the Freedom of Information Act also show that the valuer phoned the council and asked them to make it clear that the lower value was based on 100 percent social housing on the site.
The site, a former council depot, was the subject of publicity in 2014 when the then culture minister, Fine Gael TD Josepha Madigan – a local election candidate at the time – distributed a leaflet in the area saying that building homes for Travellers there would be “a dreadful waste of taxpayers’ money”.
Ó Broin says Madigan and local Fine Gael councillors are hiding behind these valuations to disguise their prejudice. “Well-heeled residents and conservative politicians are trying to use the land value to justify their anti-Traveller prejudice,” he said.
It appears that the council’s management is colluding and assisting those politicians by misrepresenting the facts, he says. “Mount Anville is the very worst example of prejudice-based decision making.”
Fine Gael Councillor Barry Saul, who favours the sale of the site, said he disagrees with Ó Broin, calling these criticisms “Trump-like slurs”. “People don’t want his and his party tactics of dividing communities,” he said.
“We need to build more housing but more importantly we need to build communities,” he said. “He should concentrate less on sound bytes and more on persuading the Sinn Féin-run councils to deliver more houses and build new communities, as that is what the people want.”
Not for Sale
The existence of the commercial valuation of €6.5 million, arrived at by the Dublin City Valuer in September 2017, just six months prior to the €15m valuation – was never mentioned to the councillors, said Green Party Councillor Ossian Smyth.
People Before Profit Councillor Hugh Lewis, who chairs the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee, said the existence of multiple valuations hadn’t been clear to him.
“The numerous valuations for the Mount Anville site were not brought to councillors in any level of detail nor was any coherent argument to dispose of the site other than we need the money for capital projects,” Lewis said.
Motions to remove the Mount Anville land from the list of sites potentially for sale were defeated. In March 2019, the council decided to remove the Mount Anville site from its new 2019–2024 draft Traveller accommodation programme.
Lewis says he’ll table a motion to request that the Mount Anville site is put back on the Traveller accommodation programme when it comes before councillors.
Geraldine Dunne, coordinator of the Southside Travellers Action Group, says she is currently working on a submission to request that the Mount Anville site be included in the Traveller accommodation programme.
Given the severe housing emergency, the site should be developed for social, affordable, and Traveller housing, says Dunne.
If the council does decide to sell the Mount Anville site, she sees no reason why they cannot stipulate that the developer provide Traveller homes as happened in another nearby site, in Bird Avenue, she says.
She worries that blocking Traveller housing at Mount Anville could set a precedent for other projects in the county, she says. “The real problem is that there are no timescales for delivery on any of the sites listed on the Traveller accommodation programme.”