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Selling off Council Land?
If councillors want to fund all the culture and recreation projects on Dublin City Council’s capital programme, they’ll have to sell off council land, said council Chief Executive Owen Keegan, at Monday’s monthly meeting at City Hall.
The council expects to spend €2.6 billion from 2020 through 2022 on capital projects – the big projects, such as housing, roads, bridges and libraries that create assets for the council.
For most of that – 77 percent of the money – the council will be dependent on grants from the central government and state agencies. That’s topped up, though, with council income from sources like development levies and borrowing.
Culture and recreation projects in particular will also, said Keegan, be dependent on land sales. “The council will be dependent on disposal of land and sites if it is to fund those projects.”
Councillors have already approved land sales worth €9 million, the capital programme report says. They’ll need to approve a further €91 million, the report suggests.
Críona Ní Dhálaigh, the Sinn Féin councillor, said it’s good to see the projects. But “I really am concerned about the volume, about how heavily dependent we are on disposals”, she said.
Among the projects listed is the North City Operation Depot, planned for Ballymun, where officials plan to move 600 staff from workshops around the city, which, the report says, would make services more efficient.
To part fund that, Keegan’s plan is to sell off some of, or part of, the vacated depot sites – including land at Marrowbone Lane in the Liberties, and part of Gulistan Terrace in Rathmines, the report says.
(Keegan said later that the bit of Gulistan Terrace land earmarked for sale was for a public health facility for the HSE.)
Sites zoned for housing would be sold to an approved housing body (AHB) to build social and affordable housing, the report says. “Other sites will be sold on the open market.”
Some councillors objected to these land sales. Labour’s Mary Freehill said the council had already agreed that it wasn’t going to sell the depot sites – yet the manager kept coming back with this idea. (It’s a plan the council has been teasing out for some time.)
Keegan, the council’s chief, said that he had understood that councillors wanted the land to be used for social and affordable homes. He had raised that with the Department of Housing and the only way to do that was for AHBs to do it, he said. “That’s not my choice, that’s just the reality,” he said.
Ray McAdam of Fine Gael said it would have been better to link the disposals and the projects that they would fund. “It would have been more beneficial, and hopefully would have lessened some of the questions that have been put tonight,” he said.
Councillors have to agree all land sales.
Proving a Priority
People Before Profit Councillor Hazel De Nortúin said she was dismayed by the meagre mention of plans for Traveller accommodation in the council’s capital programme.
“There’s been two sentences given to the Traveller accommodation,” she said.
“I don’t think we have ever reached the full budget that was allocated to this council,” said De Nortúin, who chaired the council’s Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee last term. The capital report suggests a budget of €3.9 million in the coming year, and €14.4 million the year after.
De Nortúin said councillors should be aware that, under the last of the council’s five-year plans for Traveller accommodation, it didn’t build a single new home.
Councillors voted at December’s monthly meeting against overturning a vote to sign a deal with Bartra Property Residential Holdings to develop hundreds of homes on a council plot of land at O’Devaney Gardens in Stoneybatter.
The motion from independent Councillor John Lyons – and co-signed by Sinn Féin, People Before Profit, and some other independents – called on members to rescind the vote, for a few reasons.
Among them was late delivery of the report, the “misinformation” which they said preceded the vote, and the chaotic scenes at the meeting, which ended abruptly as protestors began to chant in the chamber.
Lyons said the parties to the Dublin Agreement – Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, Labour and the Social Democrats – had a mandate for public housing on public land.
“This is a red line,” he said, of the plan to sign a deal for Bartra to build a mix of social and private homes at O’Devaney Gardens. There are similar decisions coming down the line, with land rezonings, and depot sites and so on, he said.
Also “we’re not getting the true value for the land”, said Lyons. The council should just build out the site itself, he said.
A month earlier, the majority of councillors had backed the deal for 192 social homes, 165 “affordable”-purchase homes, 164 private market-rate homes and – perhaps – 247 homes on some kind of “affordable”-rental or “cost-rental” model.
Debate on the night had been fraught, with councillors sparring over whether it was the best value for the state that they could get, the role of the Department of Housing, and fears of delays.
On Monday, Fianna Fáil’s Mary Fitzpatrick said the council is working within limits imposed by a national government that will not fund 100 percent public housing on public land.
“What we are trying to achieve here is homes for people,” Fitzpatrick said. “If you vote for this motion, you’re voting against 800 homes, you’re voting for dereliction.”
Some of the debate focused on the deal that the ruling Dublin Agreement coalition had struck with Bartra, which agreed in a letter to sell up to 247 of the homes to an approved housing body for “affordable” rental.
“We don’t live in an ideal world, and we have far from an ideal minister, and he won’t fund this, but we will do all we can to ensure that that minister is taken out of office, that he is replaced, and that we will fund this deal,” Fitzpatrick said.
(Fianna Fáil is currently in a confidence-and-supply arrangement with Fine Gael at a national level, and its TDs abstained in the vote on last night’s no-confidence motion in the Dáil against Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy.)
Two Social Democrats councillors who backed the O’Devaney deal the last time it was up for a vote, Catherine Stocker and Patricia Roe, voted Monday to rescind. Green Party Councillor Janet Horner, who abstained from the earlier vote, on Monday also voted to rescind.
“I question whether it is possible to achieve affordability,” said Stocker, adding that it looked as if the minister wouldn’t back that part of the deal and grant the necessary funding. She was worried about the precedent too, she said.
Labour’s Alison Gilliland, who chairs the housing committee, said councillors basically disagreed over whether a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. If they didn’t go ahead with the Batra deal, it would take four or five years to get back to the stage they were at now, she said.
“It is a horrible deal, we are horribly constrained, but to me, we have a bird in the hand here,” Gilliland said.
Cieran Perry, an independent councillor, said the deal with Batra to sell some of the homes to an approved housing body (AHB) to be used for affordable rentals was just a vague promise with an AHB, and an unidentified source of funding. “No rubbish or scam will convince people otherwise,” he said.
In the Dáil in mid-November, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy had said that councillors hadn’t asked the Department of Housing for funding that would be needed for an AHB to buy the homes for use as affordable rentals. Buying them would be expensive, too, and repaying any loan “would likely mean rents at, or very close to, market rates”, he said.
At the council’s monthly meeting on Monday, a report from assistant chief executive Brendan Kenny said his team is currently putting together a brief to go out to see expressions of interest from approved housing bodies. “We expect to be in a position to do this within the next two weeks,” he wrote.
Horse Carriages and Welfare
At Monday’s meeting, councillors backed a motion from Fianna Fáil’s Deirdre Heney calling for the council to make “every effort” to make sure animals in the city – including carriage horses – are protected, and that their owners follow existing laws.
The council also needs to make sure that legislation to regulate carriage horses is put in place, said the motion, which was seconded by Sinn Féin’s Críona Ní Dhálaigh.
Dublin City Council was regulating horse-drawn carriages as recently as 2016, requiring drivers to pay for annual licences, and get insurance and a certificate of equine handling competency. But by 2018, the council and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport had concluded that the council did not actually have the legal power to do this.
There needs to be legislations so that carriage horses can be brought under a licensing system, said Heney. “Can we please, please, please put pressure on the Minister [Shane Ross] to move forward on that issue?”
Heney said there are issues around welfare for horses and dogs, and that the council needs to do more to enforce the licensing bylaws that are in place for keeping animals.
Green Party Councillor Janet Horner said she supported the motion, but that it is important that supports for welfare are looked at too, before the council goes in too punitively. “And engagement with the communities who are looking after particularly horses but all animals in that regard,” she said.
Hazel De Nortúin, of People Before Profit, backed it as well and said that the council needs to take a two-pronged approach. “If we’re going to provide horse ownership and stables for those who are fairly taking care of their horses, then we should also tighten up legislation to make sure that those who aren’t, aren’t given an opportunity to neglect equines within the city,” she said.
Fine Gael’s Ray McAdam said he understands Minister Shane Ross had said he plans to bring proposals for legislation around horse and carriages to the Dáil before the end of the year.
In July, Dublin city councillors voted that waste collection in the city should be remunicipalised – taken back from the private players and operated by the council. After that, they set up a working group to talk about how to move that forward.
A report at December’s monthly meeting set out what that working group has decided so far. They need to work out a clear picture of the legislation needed, looking at how other countries have done it, and show that improvements can be provided to Dubliners in the meantime by expanding services, it says.
Ideas for pilots include specialist trucks for different kinds of waste going around the city on set routes, and community composting. “Such services would not require legislative change,” the report says.
It also suggests more modern waste receptacles and collection systems – whether communal bins or underground storage. “The concept is to bring this type of service much closer to householders,” it says.
The report recommends that the council work with a university to chart a path to remunicipalise waste. The working group should continue to look into it, after a call out through media for volunteer expert advisors, it says.