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In early January, councillors brushed aside a decision on whether to sell a big site in Ballymun.
The land in the heart of the suburb has room for 300 homes, and the proposal at the full council meeting on 6 January was to sell it to developer Winterbrook Homes for €3 million.
The general election now over, it is likely to soon be back on the agenda and put before councillors, who will have to decide what the best way forward is.
To sell the land, perhaps, and use the money for much-needed community facilities in the neighbourhood. Or to vote to keep the land, with the idea that it could be used, say, for much-needed affordable or social homes.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says the idea behind the sale is that the council wants to create a better mix of income levels in Ballymun. Money raised could go towards public projects that need funding, they said.
Duck and Weave
When the sale came up at the council’s January monthly meeting, the lord mayor, Fianna Fáil Councillor Paul McAuliffe, proposed deferring it.
Concerns had been raised at a meeting of the leaders of the different political groupings on the council, and the council official there had agreed “to try to improve the proposal and bring it back to us”, McAuliffe said.
This prompted independent Councillor Noeleen Reilly to question whether the council manager knew the date of the next general election.
There was no point bringing the land sale forward until after the election, because it would not be agreed, Reilly said.
Sinn Féin Councillor Anthony Connaghan said he wondered what the problem was, since the sale had already been agreed by the councillors for the local area, before being sent to the full council. He didn’t get an answer.
“There are a few issues that I don’t want to air here that we need to iron out,” said council Assistant Chief Executive Richard Shakespeare.
Two councillors who were at the group leaders’ meeting ahead of that debate said voting on whether to sell public land in the run-up to the general election had been deemed controversial.
So, it was decided to defer the decision, said People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh, who was present for the discussions.
Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan agreed with that assessment of the leaders’ meeting. Sinn Féin backed the sale of the land, but some others didn’t want to proceed with it in the run-up to the election, Doolan said.
At the January monthly meeting, Reilly, the independent councillor, said she backed the delay: “I think the people of Ballymun have waited long enough for investment, but I’d rather see it deferred than voted down.”
Details of the Deal
The site in question is spread over 3.8 acres and sits in the heart of Ballymun, behind the old shopping centre.
The council’s preferred bidder to buy it was Winterbrook Homes, says a council report. The site would host a “mixed-use scheme, comprising 301 apartments, 40 senior citizens’ homes, a crèche and community open space”, it says.
Local councillors agreed to the sale at a meeting of the council’s North West Area committee on 10 December.
They also agreed “that community-based projects would be funded on the adjacent shopping centre site, to a total value of circa €3m, which would represent the community gain from the development of the Silloge site”, says the report.
Councillors from outside the area aren’t all on board, though.
MacVeigh of People Before Profit, who represents the south inner-city, says she hopes the sale of the land in Ballymun will not proceed. The site should be used for social and affordable homes, she says.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said the council’s proposal is in line with the plans councillors agreed for the area. “Previously Ballymun was in effect a very large single tenure housing estate,” the spokesperson said.
But the regeneration master plan sought to create a new town, with all the necessary retail, commercial, community, office facilities, they said. “As well as a better mix of housing and income levels.”
The proposal is in line with the Ballymun Local Area Plan, which city councillors approved, the spokesperson said. And the money from the sale will be used to fund public infrastructure projects that otherwise would not be funded.
MacVeigh says the deal on the table offers a very poor return to the council in terms of value. “There is nothing in this for the council except to get rid of the land.”
The council shouldn’t sell off any public land until after the next government is formed, she says.
Affordability and Mix
Among the other questions around the possible sale is the price tag.
Architect and housing commentator Mel Reynolds queries why the land value is so low. Especially since the council’s own vacant site register valued a much smaller 1.8 acre site in the same area at €4.5 million in 2018.
Said a spokesperson for the council: “In relation to land values in the Ballymun area, it is important to note that actual value is very much connected to what type of development that can be achieved on a site.”
“The site at Sillogue was put on the market and the best offer received was for €3 million,” they said.
Reynolds suggested that affordable homes could go on the site. After all, €3 million would only build around 10 homes at the rates the council says it is currently paying to build new homes. But housing co-ops seem to be able to do it cheaper, he says.
Perhaps the council could even save money by buying back the social homes from the co-op while also using the land for the public good – in other words, affordable housing, he says.
The council “has already ‘given away’ some sites in Ballymun for the provision of affordable housing and a number of other sites are being earmarked similarly,” says a spokesperson.
Reynolds says affordable housing is private housing and so it does contribute to creating a social mix and mixed-tenure communities – since every purchaser must be employed to get a mortgage and must have a deposit. “You cannot have too much affordable housing,” he says.
That issue, and whether a swap of land for money for community resources is worthwhile, is for the councillors to decide and they will likely see this proposal again in the coming weeks.
“It is proposed to place the disposal on the agenda for the March council meeting,” says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.