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Of the 741 apartments promised as part of the big “Connolly Quarter” development in the north inner-city, plans call for 75 to be social homes.
Rather than selling those homes to the council, though – the most common arrangement – developers Oxley Holdings and Ballymore plan to lease them to Dublin City Council for 15 years, planning documents say.
“The rent will be based on the market rate at the time of the agreement,” says the developers’ planning application to An Bord Pleanála.
This means there’s the possibility that, after 15 years, none of the homes in the complex – which would be built on public land owned by the semi-state Córas Iompair Éireann (CIÉ) under a development agreement – would be social housing.
“I wouldn’t agree with that. That would be absolutely ludicrous,” says Gerry Fay, of the North Wall Community Association.
At a recent meeting of local representatives for the council’s Central Area, councillors voiced more fundamental opposition to the make-up of the scheme, arguing that it should be fully public housing.
“We need to be fundamental about this,” said Fianna Fáil Councillor Mary Fitzpatrick, who proposed an emergency motion. “Tipping around the edges of the housing problem is not going to fix anything and we have to stop with that pretence.”
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said the council hasn’t yet agreed with the developers how they will provide the 10 percent of homes, or land, that by law must be set aside for social homes in any large development.
“It is at a very early stage and we will get into active negotiations once costs and valuations are clarified. A final decision on whether we buy or lease will be made in due course,” they said.
A spokesperson for CIÉ said that “the development does meet legislative requirements in terms of social housing provision”.
A spokesperson for Ballymore said the company had no comment. Oxley Holdings didn’t respond to queries sent by email.
To Lease or Buy?
Under Part V of the Planning and Development Act, councils can buy 10 percent of big housing developments to use as social housing.
But there are other options that the developer can be used to satisfy that requirements of the law – including, since 2015, striking an agreement to lease homes to the council instead of selling them.
Still, councils should aim to buy the homes, say guidelines from the Department of Housing. Leasing was made an option to allow for cases where there isn’t enough money available to buy the homes, it says.
Because the homes may go back to the developer at the end of the lease period, and so be removed from the social-housing stock, the aims of the government’s housing policy will be better achieved by buying, not leasing, the guidelines say.
In their planning application – which was approved by An Bord Pleanála subject to some conditions earlier this month – Ballymore and Oxley put forward plans to lease 36 studios, 16 one-bed apartments, and 23 two-bed apartments as their Part V quota of homes.
The application also includes a letter from a Dublin City Council housing officer – addressed to Jim Keogan, head of planning at the council until late 2016, and now a planning consultant working on the scheme for Oxley Holdings – saying that an “agreement in principle” has been reached around the Part V arrangement.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council reiterated that no agreement is in place and it is still early stage negotiations. Leasing up to 25 years is allowed under the act, but “acquisition will continue to be our preferred option”, the spokesperson said.
The apartments, shops and offices of the Connolly Quarter would cover 2.8 hectares next to Connolly Station, and abutting Sheriff Street Lower, Oriel Street Upper and Seville Place.
The overall plans include 741 build-to-rent apartments, 20 spaces for shops or amenities, a hotel, and two office buildings, the planning application says.
Fay, of the North Wall Community Association, said there are elements of the plan that he welcomes.
The developers have committed to building two fully fitted-out units for the local boxing club and the GAA club for example, he says. The deal is for a lease in perpetuity for them, he says.
Also, they’ve been open to hiring from among those who might need work in the area, says Fay. “They actually asked me if there was anyone interested in apprenticeships and all that.”
But at the recent Central Area Committee meeting, councillors backed an emergency motion from Fianna Fáil’s Fitzpatrick calling for a substantial rethink of the plan.
The constituency’s just-elected TDs – former councillors Gary Gannon of the Social Democrats and Neasa Hourigan of the Green Party, along with Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald – have “to stop the give-away of this state-owned site”, the motion says.
(It doesn’t mention the constituency’s fourth TD, Fine Gael’s Paschal Donohoe.)
Instead, the state should directly develop the site “to create a sustainable urban inner-city residential community with social and affordable homes”, said Fitzpatrick’s motion, which was backed by area councillors. (It’s unclear what the legal implications of that route would be.)
A spokesperson for CIÉ said that its priority for the Connolly Quarter – and for land around Heuston Station that it is looking to redevelop too – is what’s known as transport-oriented development.
In other words, to build more around transport hubs, so fewer people have to use cars to get around. That’ll also lead to more demand for public transport, and greater viability for that transport, they said.
CIÉ also gets ongoing revenue from its deal, which it can funnel into helping to pay for public transport.
For the Connolly Quarter, CIÉ would get an annual fee of €2 million, and then a “premium rent” of either €3.5 million, or 10 percent of the annual rental income from the development, Oxley Holdings has said.
Some have criticised CIÉ’s approach of just squeezing as much cash as it can from the land – and point to the model being pursued by Transport for London in the UK, where 50 percent of land across its portfolio has to be used for affordable homes.
Will CIÉ’s planned redevelopment of Heuston Station – across the city – include more social and affordable homes? And can the agency, with existing powers, demand greater levels of affordable homes under development agreements?
A spokesperson for CIÉ didn’t directly answer those questions. “We will of course ensure development agreements are in line with legislation and guidelines governing social or affordable housing,” they said.
It’s unclear what role the Land Development Agency (LDA) may play too in guiding the development of CIÉ lands in the future, now that it’s been formed, and given changes in government.
The LDA “has a strong working relationship” with CIÉ, but isn’t in a position to comment on specific situations other than what has already been released, said an LDA spokesperson.
Current government policy for state lands “controlled by government ministers and non-commercial state bodies” is that 30 percent must be affordable housing, and 10 percent social homes, they said.
Councillors, though, say they struggle to get information or feed into what the plans are for lands around these major transport hubs.
“Any time we try to discuss lands with CIÉ, for the last number of years, including even now, here’s what you get: no decisions on that but it’s long-term planning,” says independent Councillor Christy Burke, who chairs the council’s Central Area Committee. “But they never tell you what the long-term planning is.”
He says that he intends to invite CIÉ in to the next meeting of the area committee to talk about their plans.
Said Fitzpatrick on Tuesday of the Connolly Quarter lands: “Why the state wouldn’t already have been driving the regeneration of this site is shameful.”