In a cramped caravan, sat on the left side of Labre Park lives a woman, who’s been here for 27 years and counting.
She’s overpopulated, she says. She shares the caravan with 10 members of her family – six daughters, one of her sons and three grandchildren.
There are three bedrooms. But “you couldn’t swing a cat in them”.
“The biggest part is the kitchen and the sitting room,” she says, leaning against the sink in her compact kitchen.
Her daughter, less than arm’s length away, chops heads of cabbage for tonight’s dinner. In the nearby sitting room, a gaggle of little girls sip on juice boxes and watch TV.
“And we’ve three more grandchildren on the way,” says the woman, gesturing towards the children.
Alongside issues of overcrowding, the living conditions in her mobile home are deteriorating. There’s mildew, damp, no central heating and unreliable electricity for a start.
She says she’s been waiting more than two decades to be offered permanent Traveller-specific accommodation in Labre Park.
After years of back and forth between Dublin City Council, approved housing body Clúid Housing and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, funding was secured for a major redevelopment on the site in 2016.
“They had us picking out our neighbours and all,” says the woman, who was offered a permanent home on the site where her caravan currently sits.
Then, just last week, she got the news that the redevelopment had been scaled back.
She and her family will no longer get to live on the site where the caravan sits. They may have to leave Labre Park entirely.
“They had our hopes up thinking our dreams were going to come true,” she says, “They’ve told so many lies […] I feel very sad and I feel very betrayed.”
A Flood Risk
Designs for the redevelopment of Labre Park included 26 new homes, a community centre, landscaped play areas, and refurbishing or adding extensions to existing houses.
Of the 26 new builds, about 12 or 13 of them were for families from mobile homes on the left side of the site, says Shay L’Estrange, coordinator of the Ballyfermot Travellers Action Project (BTAP).
Development on the left side of the site, however, was ruled out by the council’s Flood Risk Management Department by memo in early October, according to an internal flood risk timeline sent to councillors and council officials on 5 November.
The entire site at Labre Park is listed as a Zone A flood risk, under Department of Housing guidelines, because it’s near the River Camac.
Zone A means that there’s a high probability the area will flood. Development should be avoided or only considered in exceptional circumstances or in the case of essential infrastructure that cannot be located elsewhere, say national flood guidelines.
The new development in Flood Zone A “could not be supported because of the impacts elsewhere along the Camac”, said a council spokesperson.
But development of the right side of the site can be supported if “significant flood mitigations are included in the revised plans”, they said.
Was it not exceptional circumstances, the plan for the left side of Labre Park?
The area hadn’t been developed before and isn’t part of an urban centre, said the response through the spokesperson. “So in my opinion, exceptional circumstances do not apply. Any development here is very likely to cause extra flooding elsewhere in the Camac Catchment.”
On 13 November, a senior engineer at the council’s flood projects and water framework directive division wrote to the executive manager of the housing department.
“There should be no development at all in the Labre Park area, however as planning permission was granted previously for existing buildings, it would be difficult to object to their refurbishment,” provided all necessarily floodproofing is put in place, the letter says.
A Justification Test
Green Party councillor and member of the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee (LTACC) Sophie Nicoullaud says that the full development should still go ahead.
“We have [the council] saying it can’t go ahead because it is in Zone A, but in Zone A if there is mitigation it can go ahead so it doesn’t make sense,” she says.
In a flood risk assessment report, compiled by DBFL Consulting Engineers on behalf of Clúid Housing, the engineering firm outlines a range of flood mitigation measures it says will manage the flood risk to the site.
“The proposed mitigation measures do not result in an increased flood risk to surrounding properties but will reduce flood risk,” says the report.
Developments in Zone A flood risk areas can go ahead under exceptional circumstances, provided they pass what’s known as a justification test, according to the national flood risk guidelines.
According to the same flood risk assessment report, the entire site at Labre Park passed the justification test.
People Before Profit Councillor and LTACC member Hazel de Nortúin says it’s disappointing to get to this stage of the development and see Dublin City Council do a u-turn.
“It’s not very clear, but they [DBFL engineers] identify it through the report. They were able to justify the flood risk and that’s the green light for me,” she says.
Independent Councillor Anthony Flynn says there is substantial work that would need to be undertaken for that to go ahead, but the engineers report doesn’t state that it couldn’t or shouldn’t go ahead.
Flynn says that the Dublin City Council Development Plan 2016-2022 does state that developments with substantial flood risks would not or should not go ahead.
“But in saying that, there are a number of developments that are going ahead right within the region of Labre Park, just across the road,” he said.
A five-storey apartment complex on Bluebell Avenue, close to Labre Park, was granted planning permission by the council in January 2018.
According to a flood risk assessment carried out in 2017, the upper half of the site adjoining Kylemore Road is outside the flooding zone while the east section of the site is in Zone B.
Under national flooding guidelines, and according to the letter sent by the flooding engineer “dwelling houses […] would generally be considered inappropriate in this zone [Zone B].”
A spokesperson for the council said that Nos. 489 and 490 are currently estimated to be in Flood Zone C according to the Camac Catchment Flood Risk Assessment Study and therefore do not have any significant flood restrictions on their development.
Daithí Doolan, a Sinn Féin councillor, says he’s seen the area flooded really badly in the last 10 years. “The floods are getting more regular.”
The engineer’s report noted that while there are no historical flood incidents recorded on the Labre Park site, there have been numerous floods at the site associated with deficiencies in the underground flood infrastructure and blockages from illegal dumping.
“We need to steady our nerves, keep our eyes on the prize and get them moved into proper housing that suits their needs. To do nothing is not an option,” says Doolan.
A spokesperson for Clúid Housing says that there will be between 10 to 15 new homes built on the site.
Over the next 12 months, it will work with the council and the community to secure appropriate alternative accommodation for those affected by the update, says the spokesperson.
Those living in mobile homes in Labre Park will be expected to vacate the site towards the end of 2021 and the start of 2022 as it clears the site in preparation for the construction.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council says that they’ll work with residents who are open to moving by identifying “existing social housing, acquisitions and eventual development of new site Traveller group housing”.
L’Estrange from BTAP says that members are deeply concerned about the issue.
Bernard Joyce, director of the Irish Traveller Movement, says he is concerned that there is currently no alternative plan in place for those families included in the original scheme.
These families “may be denied their right to culturally appropriate Traveller specific accommodation”, he said.
The woman in the overcrowded caravan doesn’t know what’s going to happen to her or her family in the coming months.
She’s tried living in non-Traveller specific accommodation before but it didn’t work out, she says.
“I’m a grandmother now, I was planning to rear my kids and have a lovely house and be where I wanted to stay,” she says. “I wanted to live in Labre Park.”
[Correction: This article was updated on Wednesday 18 November at 3.40 pm. A previous version of this article stated that the woman would not be offered permanent accommodation at Labre Park. Currently, families are in consultation with Clúid Housing to see if some families wish to leave Labre Park, other families could replace them so it is too early to tell who will be allocated housing on the site.]