Council Briefs: On Selling Council Land, and the Future of DublinBikes

Trying Again to Sell a Council Site

Some Dublin city councillors want to look again at selling a site at the corner of Harcourt Road and Richmond Street South.

Not long before the election in May, the full council voted 23-14 against selling the site to Charledev Properties for €1.4 million.

Charledev wants the site for a planned development that would include office space, retail and restaurants, and reach up to nine storeys high, between Richmond Street and Charlemont Street.

Dublin City Chief Executive Owen Keegan told councillors at the time that not selling the 210 sqm plot would mean not getting the money, and that would lead to cuts in the council’s capital programme.

Back in May, councillors had said they wanted to see if the site could be used for housing.

Then-Workers’ Party Councillor Éilis Ryan said at the time that it was “an absolute disgrace” that the council was considering selling off public land, and that it couldn’t find other uses for the site.

She said the land was in “a prime location” and had “enormous opportunities”. Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan had also asked to look for alternatives uses.

But at Monday’s meeting of the South-East Area Committee, the new committee chair, Labour’s Dermot Lacey, proposed that a vote to sell the site be put on the agenda again. Labour Councillor Mary Freehill seconded the motion.

Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn said he supported it too. “I would be in favour of disposal,” Flynn said. He said he wanted to see the money from the sale used for area improvements.

Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne said it wasn’t for them to put the sale back on the agenda. “It was a majority decision made by a full council who rejected disposal,” he said.

The Dublin Agreement setting out the policies aims of the group of parties leading the council – Fianna Fáil, the Greens, Labour and the Social Democrats – commits them to not selling off public land to developers, but with a caveat: unless the financial benefit to the council outweighs the social and economic benefit of having social housing and other public uses on the site.

Selling this site to Charledev wouldn’t go against the Dublin Agreement, Lacey said on Tuesday. That’s because, as he sees it, the financial benefit of the sale to the council would outweigh an opportunity for housing.

Due to the small size of the site, it wasn’t suitable for housing, he says. “You’ll get three or four units at most.”

He had contacted someone he knew “personally” to give an estimate of the cost of building housing on the site, he said. “He said he thought it would cost in the region or €300k or €400k.”

Councillors had been contacted by the developers about the sale after the vote against it, said Lacey.

“There’s nothing wrong or unusual about that,” he says. “I thought it had been rushed through at the last council meeting and wanted to see it revisited.”

The committee agreed Lacey’s motion by voice vote. The council will discuss the sale again during the September council meeting, he said.

Greening a Pocket of the South Inner-City

A small pocket of land around Bride Street in the south inner-city wasn’t getting any attention in plans to make the city greener.

A recent study highlighted problems in the area, which sits around the old red-brick Iveagh Trust buildings, Council Landscape Architect Gareth Toolan told councillors at Monday’s South East Area Committee meeting.

It suffers from high emissions coming from the three main roads: Christchurch Place, Nicholas Street and Bride Street, he said.

There’s little vegetation here, he said, so it risks becoming an urban heat island, leading to stress and low productivity. When it rains, the area floods.

Tarmac and concrete footpaths mean the site retains heat, he said. “There’s nothing that can grow on the areas,” he says, calling them “dead zones”.

The report, by council intern Rob Zaaijer, highlights places around the Iveagh Trust area where trees and swales – shallow, grassy basins – could be put.

The site’s gable walls could be used for green walls, also known as vertical gardens, and a garden area could be placed in the car park of Liberties College, the report says. This would increase biodiversity and look better, said Toolan.

The aim is to reduce the impact of climate change, Toolan said. Trees would capture the water. Plantings would reduce the impact of exhaust fumes.

Councillors at the meeting were largely supportive of the proposal.

Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne said the council should begin consulting with residents, and seek funding for it. It would make the area prettier, she said.

Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn said: “This is very heartening. The city is lacking in this kind of approach.”

Tenants in nearby complexes such as McDonagh House, Golden Lane and New Street Gardens are “suffering” from a lack of greening, Flynn said.

Toolan said that consultation with residents would be next. “Many of these projects are fairly low cost with high benefit. We have to do some ground research.”

First Planning Application for Poolbeg SDZ

Councillors at Monday’s meeting got a look at the first planning application for infrastructure for a large-scale housing development in Poolbeg.

The development, known as the Poolbeg West Strategic Development Zone (SDZ), will sit on the old Irish Glass Bottle site, on the Poolbeg peninsula. It also includes a smaller plot of land known as the Fabrizia site.

An Bord Pleanála approved plans for the SDZ in April, which include 3,500 apartments, with 900 homes to be a mix of social and affordable housing.

NAMA controls large parts of the site and appointed receivers to work with developers Becbay Limited and Fabrizia Developments Limited.

Becbay and Fabrizia, through receiver Ken Fennell, applied for permission to put in the public amenity spaces, streets and temporary landscaping for a school site.

They have proposed to build a central boulevard from Sean Moore Road to a proposed coastal park. A coastal promenade would run from Sean Moore Park to the Irishtown Nature Park and Poolbeg Lighthouse. They’re seeking permission for a village green too.

The developers have asked for a 10-year planning permission.

Fine Gael Councillor Anne Feeney asked: “Is that the norm, given that the council department has waited a long time for this start? [It] seems like a long time.”

Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne asked if other landowners within the SDZ would follow suit and begin the planning application process.

“There are other sites as well in the SDZ that will be providing infrastructure,” Byrne said. “I was just wondering if there’s a delay in those applications going in, are we going to end up in a situation where half of the SDZ is developed and other half is kind of lagging behind?”

Myles Farrell, senior executive planner for the council, said there was no requirement for timing for the applications to come in.

But they were expected to be submitted in a sequence, and this would be “fairly swift”, Farrell said.

When it comes to seeking a 10-year planning permission, there’s nothing that precludes someone from doing that, he said.

The council can look at the complexities of the application if they want to assess its timeline, he said.

As to concerns about the SDZ being left half-completed, Farrell said that there were strict requirements on phasing and implementation in the SDZ.

“Hopefully, the advantage of the area is that ownership is not split and fragmented so much,” he said.

New Bike-Share Company Moby

Moby is likely to soon join the mix of bike-share schemes on offer in the city, said Kevin Meade, a senior executive officer in the council’s environment and transport department.

Meade and his colleague Michael Rossiter were briefing councillors on the likelihood – or not – of any expansion of the DublinBikes scheme to Ballsbridge.

At the moment, there’s too much uncertainty around how schemes such as these will evolve, said Rossiter. The council, therefore, doesn’t envisage expanding the scheme in the near future.

“We just can’t say what the best model to go for when two private operators are introducing their own schemes,” he said.

So, they’re spending a year or more looking at how the landscape changes, to make sure any investment would be prudent.

Meade said the council would work in partnership with bike operators Moby and Bleeperbikes and expects operators to work with each other.

“We have no plans to have more than two operators,” he said, adding that they would avoid “predatory pricing”, or competition that would mean the end of another operator.

Rossiter, the manager for the DublinBikes scheme, said that if the council wants to talk seriously about expanding the project, they need to ensure they can remain cost-neutral to the council.

Phase 1 of the DublinBikes scheme was paid for by advertising, while phases 2 and 3 were paid for by National Transport Authority (NTA) capital grants, with operational costs covered by membership and journey fees, brand sponsorship, and advertising.

Rossiter said any expansion would likely mean an increase in annual membership by €5. It’s currently €25 a year. The NTA would have to foot the bill of the capital works, he said.

Councillors said they didn’t think the increase in the fee would be a problem. But “we can’t really say what the future timeline is for expansion”, said Rossiter.

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