Council Updates: Debating the Delivery of Social Homes, a Park Cafe, and More

On Delivering Council Homes

Dublin City Council directly built 90 social homes in 2019 and 124 in 2020, say its own reports.

At a meeting of the council’s housing committee last week, Dublin City Council’s director of housing delivery, Dave Dinnigan, gave a run-down of how the council is trying to up that number – and why it opts for other routes to get homes too.

Dinnigan told councillors that similar-sized city councils in the UK are building even fewer social homes than Dublin.

In 2019, Manchester city council built 22 social homes, says a presentation that Dinnigan gave to councillors.

“Sometimes we can be very hard on ourselves,” he said. But by comparison to this and other English councils, Dublin City Council is performing well, he said.

Dublin City Council is “nimble and flexible” and “open to different ways of delivering housing”, said Dinnigan.

Meaning buying and leasing social homes, and depending on approved housing bodies to build and buy too, he said.

In 2019, 1,173 new social homes were delivered via all these routes in the city.

To get that number of new social homes requires partnering with other agencies, companies and semi-states and using initiatives like leasing and acquisitions, he said. “We want to stay relevant.”

Several councillors rejected the idea of comparing Dublin to English cities. “Thatcherite policy in place since the 1980s has destroyed public housing over there,” said independent Councillor Cieran Perry.

Social Democrats Councillor Catherine Stocker said that comparisons with northern European countries would be more helpful.

Comparisons with Edinburgh, Toulouse, or Utrecht might be more interesting, said Mike Allen, director of advocacy with Focus Ireland.

“Direct build will always be our key platform,” says Dinnigan, but working with partners means that the council is not as reliant on direct government funding.

That means that building programmes can continue even if “national funding is tightened or constrained”, which could potentially happen after Covid-19, he says.

Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan says the council has been let down by private developers in previous recessions, so relying on them is risky. “Over-dependence on the private sector is delusional.”

In working with partners, the council’s reputation was damaged as a result of the Oscar Traynor Road deal with Glenveagh not going ahead, said Dinnigan.

Stocker, of the Social Democrats, asked that the management acknowledge that the private housing in that deal was probably going to be purchased by investment funds.

“We sought reassurances on both sites that the private components of them wouldn’t be bought by REITS or institutional funds,” she says.

They didn’t receive those assurances and instead were told that the private homes at Oscar Traynor Road would likely be sold to a fund, she says.

Speedier Timelines

Dublin City Council managers are aware that the timeline is slow for delivering homes, says Dinnigan.

The council needs to improve on technology, training and development, project management and their review process at the end of projects, he says.

A new IT system that they plan to introduce will help, he said. “What the IT system will do is it will identify those repeat issues that are getting us stuck in the mud.”

Council management know that they need more project managers, he said, meaning the people who are responsible for keeping the entire project on track and on budget. “They live and die by the timeline of their project.”

A centralised procurement section within the housing department could help to speed things up, he says.

Another factor causing delays is community consultation, he said. Consultation is good, but it needs to be proportional to the size of the scheme.

On one project where the council was building less than 70 homes for older people, they ended up having 15 community meetings, he says.

Consultation is slowing down progress in building. “We consult more than any other organisation in Ireland,” he said.

He hopes to work with councillors to agree a template for communication and consultation, he says.

Several councillors said community consultation shouldn’t amount to a veto on what gets built.

But also, if what the council is doing is sharing information rather than consultation, then it should be very clear about that from the beginning, said People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh.

The Other Raheny House

Councillors on the North Central Area Committee rejected plans to name a new apartment complex in Raheny after the poet and author Jane Barlow, after the local historical society discovered a mix-up.

Earlsfort Centre Developments proposed the new development at Station Road in Raheny be named Barlow Hall, after the writer.

Barlow’s house, Raheny House, was next to the site, it said. Actually, it wasn’t, said a member of Raheny Heritage Society.

There are two houses known as Raheny House. One used to be called The Cottage, on the Howth Road, opposite the All Saints’ Church.

That’s where Barlow lived with her family, Joan Sharkey, a committee member of the Raheny Heritage Society, wrote to councillors. It’s now a nursing home.

The other house, beside the site in question, was called Raheny House in the early 19th century and was occupied by the Sweetman family, the well-known brewers, from 1810 to 1861, she said.

“As you can see two different houses were called Raheny House, but at different time periods,” said Sharkey by email.

Dublin City Council official Elaine Mulvenny read out part of another communication from the heritage society.

They suggested that the development should instead be named after the original townland on which it is built, she said.

Mulvenny read a reply from Charles Duggan, the council heritage officer, which said that local author Jane Barlow’s home was 600 metres away from the new development.

“It would be of great public interest to name the development after a national figure, local to Raheny, like Jane Barlow,” he said. “It should be noted that there are very few buildings in Dublin named after women.” He also supported the alternative proposal, he said.

Mulvenny said it was up to the councillors.

Green Party Councillor Donna Cooney, who chairs the committee, said it would be good to have an estate named after a female author.

“She wrote about ordinary people and she wrote about the Great Hunger,” said Cooney. “It would be good to have a woman for a change.”

Independent Councillor Damian O’Farrell and Fine Gael Councillor Naoise Ó Muirí said that they would rather go with the suggestion made by the historical society.

They had put a lot of work into their research. “We should really encourage that,” said Ó Muirí.

The committee rejected the Barlow Hall name. Cooney said the committee should keep Barlow’s name in mind as a suggestion for future developments in the area.

A Cafe for Sean Moore Park

Construction could start this summer on a new café, toilets and seating in Sean Moore Park in Irishtown, the council’s head of Park Services, Leslie Moore, told councillors earlier this month.

Plans show a 40-foot shipping container housing the café, which would face the playground, and two seating terraces looking out at Dublin Bay in front of the coastal path. Beside the café would be a toilet building, with two accessible toilets and baby-changing facilities.

“We’ll let you know on the likely date,” Moore told members of the council’s South East Area Committee on 10 May, of when works might start. It will depend on whether the construction of the buildings, and the container, is done separately or all at once.

The shipping container would provide a contemporary visual, said Christina Todd, an executive landscape architect for the council. “It would be painted, possibly with branding as well.”

Daniel Céitinn, a Sinn Féin councillor, said he likes the design of the container. “I think it fits with the history of the area, and the legacy of the historical commerce.”

“I’m not knocked out by this one because it’s a forty-foot container,” said Mannix Flynn, an independent councillor.

“I’m always bit concerned about the commercialisation of parks,” said Flynn. “It’s positioned right beside the playground to get as much business as possible.”

“The space and the seating should be accessible to anyone who uses the park,” said Carolyn Moore, a Green Party councillor, and families bringing a picnic should not feel pressure to spend money.

Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne said measures should be brought in to ensure against a monopoly in pricing at the cafe. “Someone can’t open up next door. There’s obviously dangers of overcharging.”

Céitinn would like to see a social enterprise take the café rather than a standard for-profit business. “We could look at maybe a different ethos of serving the community, something that could give back to the park and other parks.”

“In keeping with other tea rooms in parks, it is intended that the operation of the café/toilets

would be let by way of tender to a local artisan enterprise,” says a council report.

Moore, the head of parks, said he too is wary of over-commercialisation. “We get operators in who are local businesses, who do their own local produce.”

Carolyn Moore, the Green Party Councillor, raised concerns about people dumping coffee cups. “I have a big concern of a coffee shop on the periphery of a nature reserve.”

A bin at the end of the walk, and an obligation on the vendor to empty it every day, should be looked at, said Dermot Lacey, a Labour councillor. “People shouldn’t dump, but they do.”

“Certainly we would endeavour that all our operators are adhering to the highest standards in terms of the green credentials,” said Leslie Moore.

No park in the city should be left without access to public toilets, says Anne Feeney, a Fine Gael councillor. “I wish we had the same in Bushy Park and Eamonn Ceannt Park.”

Tara Deacy, a Social Democrats councillor, said parks in Kimmage in particular would also benefit from a similar facility. “I look upon it with envious eyes.”

A tea room in Palmerstown Park is in the council’s three-year plan, said Moore in response. Construction for tearooms and public toilets in Bushy Park is due to be finished in 2022, and Eamonn Ceannt Park is marked for a proposal soon, he said.

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

Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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