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Last week, Dublin city councillors voted to rezone sprawling industrial lands on Jamestown Road in Finglas, a few minutes walk from the village centre.
The 43ha of land could fit around 2,200 homes, together with business, community and recreational uses, says a council report.
The land is split between several owners. One group of them, the Finglas Employers Group, says it will deliver an affordable housing scheme on its land.
Another, Jamestown Village Ltd, applied to An Bord Pleanálain May, ahead of the rezoning, for permission to build 400 build-to-rent apartments and a creche.
At the meeting, council officials made clear that a master plan would be drawn up for the area.
This should involve all the major land owners working together on a plan for “sustainable” and “coherent” development, dealing with issues such as housing, surface water, transport and more.
But with the land now rezoned, some councillors are unclear on whether all the landowners will stick to any master plan that is drawn up.
Independent Councillor Noeleen Reilly, who backed the rezoning, says that you have to have faith in people.
“People have a right to housing and to live somewhere close to where they are from,” says Reilly, who says she is trying to represent people who are homeless and aren’t heard.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Keith Connolly says the lands need to be developed. But he voted against the rezoning because he thought it should be done as part of the new city development plan – which is currently being drawn up – to tie in the delivery of amenities and tackle issues like traffic too.
“There are so many different business owners up there I’m not sure that a masterplan will be agreed,” says Connolly.
With the land rezoned, he worries property owners could start submitting planning applications, he says.
What the Changes Mean
With last week’s vote, the 43.11ha site in Finglas changed from industrially zoned land to mixed-use, meaning different parts of the site could be built out with different kinds of things – shops, homes, offices.
Technically speaking, the rezoning changed the area from a Z6 objective, which is employment and enterprise, to a Z14 objective, which is a strategic development and regeneration area (SDRA).
Half the land will be used for homes, and the rest for business, community and recreational uses, says a council report.
Some landowners didn’t want a masterplan and said it could be hard to agree it, but the council chief executive recommended that it was needed.
Any master plan drawn up by landowners would have to conform to the rules laid down for strategic development and regeneration areas.
An issue that came up a lot during public consultation was the question of building heights, says the report.
“Building heights in the range of 4-6 stories will be encouraged in order to provide a coherent street of structure, with an appropriate sense of enclosure,” says the council report.
Some higher buildings might be included in certain locations where it is appropriate, says the report.
Many of those who had submitted to the consultation process around the rezoning raised concerns that national guidelines issued by the Department of Housing and allowing for greater heights supersede any heights in the masterplan.
The rules around strategic development and regeneration areas include that a housing needs assessment be completed, which would decide how many one-beds are needed, how many two-beds and so on.
Sinn Féin councillors had submitted that the mix of housing should be stipulated in the master plan and that should be one-third private, one-third social and one-third affordable, says the report.
But the master plan can’t stipulate a housing mix in that sense, it says.
The housing needs demand assessment, done to inform the master plan, will recommend what housing mix there should be. But “the council cannot legally enforce this requirement”, says the report.
Of the 201 submissions sent to the council ahead of the rezoning, the majority opposed it, says the council’s report.
Locals are worried about plans for 2,200 new homes adding to traffic problems in the area, says Connolly, the Fianna Fáil councillor.
Traffic on Jamestown Road is often at a standstill, and it can take half an hour to drive down, he says.
There’s a plan to extend the Luas Green Line past Broombridge and through Finglas.
But Connolly says that is currently scheduled for after 2027, which means it could be 2031 before it is completed.
The project may be brought forward under the new national development plan and the council should have waited for clarity on issues like that, says Connolly.
“We are weeks away from knowing what is happening with the Finglas Luas extension,” he says.
If that gets brought forward and there is a stop near the Jamestown site then that would be a gamechanger, he says.
Social Democrats Councillor Mary Callaghan, who voted against the rezoning, said: “We want housing and amenities but we need safeguards, which we didn’t feel were in place.”
There are serious issues with traffic and transport in the area, she said. “If we put in more housing there we need a really good infrastructure upgrade.”
Likewise, there are issues with water, sewerage and schools, she says.
Council officials promised all those things would be looked at as part of the master plan. But “There wasn’t a sense of trust in the community that what was being promised would be delivered,” Callaghan says.
What Kind of Housing?
At the council meeting, Social Democrats Councillor Catherine Stocker said councillors should wait to rezone the lands until after the strategic housing development (SHD) legislation lapses at the end of 2021.
That is the alternative planning process, whereby developers building more than 100 homes can apply directly to An Bord Pleanála, bypassing council planners and cutting out a stage of community consultation and access to appeal decisions.
There are a lot of different land owners on the site so what happens if they cannot agree on a master plan? says Connolly, the Fianna Fáil councillor, who voted against the rezoning.
“My big fear is that a master plan won’t be agreed on and one of them will lodge an SHD, which bypasses the council and goes straight to An Bord Pleanála,” he says.
That’s what Jamestown Village Ltd has already done with its application to An Bord Pleanálafor approval to build the 400 build-to-rent apartments and the creche.
Objectors to the plans also pointed to other national legislation that councillors should wait out.
According to the council report, Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall submitted an observation saying that the apartment standards should be improved before the lands were rezoned.
In 2018, the Department of Housing brought in different design standards for new apartments, which among other changes, allows developers to build to a lower specification if the apartments are for rent rather than sale.
SHD developments are usually sold to institutional investors, says Stocker, so why not wait for the city development plan to be in place before rezoning lands.
But Reilly, the independent councillor, who voted for the rezoning, said the city development plan won’t be finalised until December 2022.
“I actually can’t believe people would go against this in a housing crisis,” she said at the council meeting.
After the meeting, she says she has faith that a group of local business people, the Finglas Employers Group, will deliver affordable homes. “They say they are going to behave in an ethical manner,” says Reilly.
Andrew Griffith, the project manager with the Finglas Employers Group – a coalition of four local businesses that controls 8.4 hectares of land on the site – says his group controls much of the vacant land there.
Some other owners still have tenants with leases on their lands, he says.
The Finglas Employers Group will develop that land according to a master plan to be drawn up by Dublin City Council, he says.
Some in the community fear that the rezoning would mean the site is to be developed as private housing with few other amenities, he says.
“The local employers pledged that they will not get themselves involved in the planning process ahead of the master plan,” Griffith says.
The master plan will provide for 50 percent residential development, a greenway, a large public park, business premises, a primary school, a secondary school and other amenities such as a proposed community hub for older people, he says.
“That is the beauty of the master plan and why it is important that it is done very quickly,” he says. “So the people who supported this are vindicated and everyone sees that there are processes that can be trusted.”
The Finglas Employers Group is working with Clúid, an approved housing body, to develop social and affordable homes. “A large element of that will be affordable housing,” says Griffith.
The council needed a two-thirds majority to approve the zoning, which was narrowly achieved when 42 voted in favour, 17 against and 2 abstained.
“We do need the housing and we do need the master plan,” says Callaghan of the Social Democrats. “What we need to do now is heal the divide and work together to deliver on the promises made.”