Council Briefs: A New Plan for Housing on Oscar Traynor Road, Fire Safety in Homeless Hostels, and More

Spotlight on Costs

Councillors were surprised, they said, at some of the projected costs in a report on the council’s capital programme, which came up at March’s full council meeting on Monday night.

The capital programme 2021-2023 outlines the big building projects the council plans to do in the next couple of years.

A price tag of €750,000 to fix leaks in the roof of the council’s Civic Offices “seems extraordinary”, said independent Councillor Nial Ring.

He asked if he should bring an umbrella with him next time he visits.

That budget is for “essential maintenance works for repair and replacement of the glazing of the atrium at both Wood Quay and Christchurch”, said Eileen Quinlivan, assistant chief executive for HR and corporate services.

The glazing is extensive and elements of it are 30 years old and “showing some signs of failure”, she said.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Keith Connolly queried the cost of replacing an aviation light on the Spire in O’Connell Street, which was estimated at €400,000.

He asked what type of light it was and whether the work will go out to tender.

Independent Councillor Christy Burke said that that money could be enough to pay to build two one-bedroom bungalows.

City Engineer John Flanagan said that work “is essential maintenance particularly in relation to the aviation light at the top of the Spire”.

The work will go out to tender and is funded through the roads budget, he said.

It is expensive because works need to be carried out on the outside and the top of the Spire is 120m above ground, he said.

A Public Housing Plan

Councillors agreed on a new plan for lands at Oscar Traynor Road in Coolock, which if it happens would see the site built out with social and affordable housing.

The council agreed a tenure mix of 40 percent social housing, 40 percent cost rental housing and 20 percent affordable purchase.

Last October, councillors voted down a previous plan for a public-private partnership with the developer Glenveagh.

Across the city, the council is currently running consultations on its plans to develop a large site on land it owns in Inchicore at St Michael’s Estate off Emmett Road.

The new plan will model that one could be modelled on that one and borrow from the European Investment Bank for the cost-rental scheme, says the report.

Some Fine Gael councillors said at the meeting on Monday that they didn’t agree with the plans, but that they didn’t want to vote against a housing development, so they abstained.

Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam said that by rejecting the previous plan the council “has blocked the delivery of 853 homes”. The new plan has “no timeline [and] provides no certainty”, he said.

Said Fine Gael Councillor Paddy McCartan: “I think it’s very unfortunate that those who hoped to move into homes on the Oscar Traynor site are now going to have to wait years, if ever this proposal comes to fruition.”

McCartan said the plan was a return to “segregated housing” and “it was not going to work”.

Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O’Toole said the city is in the worst housing crisis since the early 1960s. The Oscar Traynor Road scheme is an opportunity to provide good quality social and affordable homes, he said.

People are sleeping on sofas and families are living in one room in overcrowded situations and in B&Bs and family hubs, he said. “If we turn our backs on this we would be letting those people down.”

It is entirely up to the Minister for Housing whether the project takes years to get off the ground, says O’Toole. If the minister backs it it could happen very quickly, he said.

O’Toole rejected the idea that social housing is “a failed model”. “What does that say to the people who were born and reared, and reared good families in social housing throughout this city?” he said.

Some Fianna Fáil councillors said they would prefer to see more affordable purchase homes on the site, but they voted in favour of the report.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Keith Connolly said he would favour “a better mix” of 33 percent social housing, 33 percent affordable rental and 33 percent affordable purchase on Oscar Traynor Road.

He recently met with a constituent who earns €45,000 per year but can’t afford to buy a home, he said.

The report envisages that the Department of Housing will fund the social housing on the site and the affordable-purchase housing. It also envisages that the department will increase the Serviced Site Fund from €50,000 per home to €100,000 per home, it says.

Affordable-purchase homes will be offered back to the council if they are being sold on, it says.

Tracking Fire Safety

At Monday’s monthly meeting, Green Party Councillor Janet Horner and independent Councillor Anthony Flynn tabled a motion calling for a full report into fire-safety standards in all homeless hostels.

At least six privately run hostels in the city don’t have valid fire-safety certs for their current use as homeless hostels.

The motion asked that all facilities be brought up to fire-safety standards and that residents living in the facilities should be informed of their fire-safety status and accommodated elsewhere where possible.

“Dublin City Council calls on the Minister for Housing to urgently mandate HIQA to inspect all emergency accommodation in the city to ensure that basic levels of safety are in place,” says the motion.

The housing manager, Brendan Kenny, said that the council has carried out a detailed report in conjunction with the fire brigade and that it will inspect every hostel in the city for fire safety.

The report says that work is underway to try to achieve fire-safety certs for a number of privately operated hostels in the city that don’t currently have them.

“The DRHE is currently and actively engaged with Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB), on an ongoing basis to ensure a high standard of fire safety in our homeless facilities,” it says.

It outlines fire safety improvement plans underway in a number of hostels. “These properties were risk assessed and a schedule of upgrade fire safety works was planned,” says the report.

The report says that there was always regular and ongoing interaction between Dublin Fire Brigade and the DRHE but that has “been put on a more formal basis with meetings every two weeks chaired by the Deputy Chief Executive,” says the report.

“We have liaised with DFB throughout the whole process and they have investigated and confirmed that fire safety upgrade works are ongoing in these properties.”

The report says: “It is not unusual for buildings across the city, not to have a fire certificate.”

Needing a fire certificate came in with the Building Controls Act, for new developments or when a material change of use or alterations takes place, it says.

“This is a common miss-conception and is central to the current debate on standards in relation to temporary emergency accommodation,” says the report.

Dublin City Council didn’t respond in time for publication to a request for them to clarify what misconception they are talking about and whether all homeless hostels require fire safety certs.

The report says that the owners of Watergate hostel on Ushers Quay, completed improvement works in 2018 but it doesn’t explain why they haven’t applied for a fire-safety certificate since then.

“We do not have assurance that people are safe in the facilities that are provided for the most vulnerable people in this city,” said Green Party Councillor Janet Horner.

People living in those facilities should be moved out into other accommodation until those buildings are brought up to meet the safety standards, she says.

Independent Councillor Anthony Flynn asked at how many locations Dublin Fire Brigade are currently bringing enforcement action against homeless hostels?

Kenny said: “We are not aware of Dublin Fire Brigade having any enforcement order against any hostels in the city at the moment.”

Dublin Fire Brigade said on 19 February that it was “currently undertaking enforcement proceedings” in relation to 9 North Frederick Street and 13 North Frederick street, both of which are homeless hostels.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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