Councillors Overturn Earlier Vote Not to Sell Off Patch of Land

Councillors have overturned their earlier vote not to sell off a vacant plot of council-owned land at the corner of Harcourt Road and South Richmond Street.

The 210sqm site should, after all, be sold to Charledev Properties DAC for €1.4 million, councillors agreed at Monday’s monthly meeting of Dublin City Council.

Charledev Properties DAC also owns land around it, where developers have plans for offices, shops, and cafes on a stretch cleared of small businesses earlier this year.

Council had voted down the proposed sale in May, just before the election – with 23 voting against it, 14 for, and 2 abstaining. On Monday, the vote was 43 for the sale, 5 against, and 1 abstaining.

Many of the councillors who switched their votes between May and September said at Monday’ meeting that they did so after assurances from the council manager that the site wasn’t suitable for social housing.

Others, though, argued that if it wasn’t suitable for housing, it may have been suitable for other community uses – and that the council shouldn’t be selling off its land to plug funding gaps elsewhere.

Backtracking

Labour’s Dermot Lacey, whose name topped a list of 13 councillors who put forward the new motion to sell, said there had been confusion over which site councillors had been talking about when they voted before.

He would support keeping any land suitable for affordable and social housing, he said.

But he voted for the sale of this parcel, “given the work that’s been done, given the fact that this isn’t suitable for social housing, given the need to redevelop the city, in this part of the city.”

Fianna Fáil’s Paul McAuliffe, the lord mayor, said he had sought assurances that it was not a site they could use for public housing. “It’s a very simple test which we should apply to all disposals that come before us.”

The Dublin Agreement among by the ruling coalition of councillors includes a promise to “reject any selling off of publicly owned land to private developers” unless there was a clear “evidence-based justification” that the money they’d get would outweigh any benefit foregone by selling the land.

Empty shopfronts on South Richmond Street.

Many of those who voted in favour pointed to the assertion by council officials that it wasn’t suitable for housing.

They could do with more detail in future cases, said Labour’s Alison Gilliland – so that they weren’t just relying on the word of the manager.

Daithí Doolan of Sinn Féin said the same. They’re often told land isn’t suitable for housing but they need to have detail. “All too many times, we get one sentence […] That’s just not good enough,” he said.

There could have been more detail in the report and they’ll work on that, said Richard Shakespeare, the council’s head of planning. “Our wording of why they’re not suitable for housing needs to improve.”

Taking the Money

In May, council Chief Executive Owen Keegan warned that voting against the land sale could mean cuts in funding for capital projects, such as parks.

After the vote, some councillors said the developer had been in touch with them.

A Freedom of Information Act request for correspondence between council officials and representatives of Charledev following the vote came back blank – aside from the terms and conditions around the sale, withheld for reasons of commercial sensitivity.

“My information is that there have been telephone conversations between Charldev and the Planning & Development Assistant Chief Executive but there was no written correspondence or formal meetings,” said a council administrative officer, by email.

Some of those in favour of the sale on Monday pointed to the €1.4 million that the council would get for the land.

Each land sale should be treated on its merits and it would be folly to have a blanket policy against public land sales, said Fine Gael’s James Geoghegan, who voted for the sale on Monday. “There’s €1.4 million up for grabs.”

People Before Profit’s Tina MacVeigh, who voted against the sale Monday, said that “If the land isn’t suitable for public housing, then surely, it is suitable for other public purposes, such as for example, cultural community civic centres, parks, open spaces?”

Fine Gael’s Geoghegan called for a discussion around what that money could now be spent on. (Some have already a suspicion that it’s tied, at least in part, to the plan to build a park on Bridgefoot Street.)

Independent Councillor Christy Burke, who abstained on Monday, called for it to be ring-fenced for housing on another site.

Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne, who voted against the sale on Monday, said similar. “There’s no alternative arrangement.”

Shakespeare, the council’s head of planning and property, said he didn’t support that idea. They get money for housing from the Department of Housing, he said.

But there are funding gaps for doing up voids – council homes that become vacant – or the “softer side of the house”, such as parks projects, he said.

“While you wouldn’t necessarily nail it to any particular projects at this point in time, I think as we go through the capital programme as part of the budgetary process, you’ll see that the funding gaps are there,” he said.

MacVeigh, of People Before Profit, said: “It should be the job of central government to ensure that we are funded to provide the sorts of public services that we need to provide.”

Said Sinn Féin’s Críona Ní Dhálaigh: “It’s terrible that in order to get a sustainable city where people can live, work, grow, or play, that we need to sell off our jewels.”

The Full Picture

Doolan, of Sinn Féin, said the debate around the site had opened up a wider question.

“Does the city council know, or have a list, or an inventory, of all its empty sites in the city? What is their worth? And how can we use those assets to further our capital budget?” he asked.

Doolan asked when they would get that, as too often a sale comes up, and they have a knee-jerk reaction.

“We’re held to ransom for the development of some park, or play area, which is very important, but it’s not how we should do business,” he said.

Land is the greatest asset the city has, he said. They need to make sure they deal with it strategically, he said.

Shakespeare said officials have drawn up lists of significant land in three areas of the city, and are working on the other two, which would be with councillors soon.

UPDATE: This article was updated at 18:48 on 9 Sept. 2019 to include an image of a Dublin City Council map showing where the site is located.

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Lois Kapila: is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general assignment reporter. She covers housing and land, too. Want to share a comment or a tip? You can reach her at lois@dublininquirer.com or info@dublininquirer.com.

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