Whither Council Zoning?
In late June, Bartra Property (Broombridge) Limited applied for permission to build 142 apartments next to the Royal Canal, northwest of the Broombridge Luas stop.
But unusually, the site in question – which is on the edge of an industrial park – isn’t primarily zoned for housing. It’s what’s known as “Z6” which means it’s there for jobs, although it can have a small bit of housing too.
The proposal hasn’t sat well with councillors in the area.
“I believe this application is the definition of developer-led planning,” said Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam, at a meeting of the Central Area Committee on 22 July.
It contravenes zoning and should be rejected, he said.
Dublin City Councillors have long complained about how national government has eroded their powers to shape the city, issuing diktats that override local rules on heights and apartment standards.
Bartra’s application, and push to breach the zoning set out by councillors in the city development plan – which is a blueprint for how the city should grow – was portrayed by some as a further attack on their role.
It’s a complete two-fingers to the whole city development plan, said Cieran Perry, an independent councillor. “It’s not just incidental.”
“It does beg the question, what are we doing with the development plan? Should we just not bother if it’s been disrespected to this level,” said Labour Party Councillor Declan Meenagh.
If developers are going to be picking off bits of this industrial estate, and the council’s going to have to come in with a masterplan later to work around what has snuck through, it’s appalling, he said. “I’m going to object to it fully on this basis.”
In its application, Bartra argued that it would be creating more jobs than currently on the vacant site, through managing and maintaining the homes, and through a cafe and commercial property.
“This will provide employment at the site above the existing zero provision of employment at the site at present,” they said.
It might not match what’s called for in the development plan for Z6 lands, in that the vast majority of the space would be used for homes rather than jobs, Bartra said in its application.
But, if you cast a wider net, and count the wider area, then the homes are “ancillary to the primary use of the wider employment lands”, it says.
At the meeting, councillors asked whether Bartra has to say in its application if it were planning to lease the homes back to the council for social housing. (That’s an arrangementit has struck elsewhere in the city.)
Rebecca Greene, a council official at the meeting, said she wasn’t sure about that.
There were details in Bartra’s application, though, as to the “agreement in principle” it has struck with the council for 14 social homes that the council would buy under what’s known as Part V.
If it were to go ahead as is, the council would pay an average of €371,000 for each home, the costings show, of which €44,000 is allocated to cover the cost of the site based on “existing use value”.
That’s a higher site value than in Dalkey, where in January 2020, Winterbrook Homes’ estimated costings for social homes to sell to the council included €41,000 per site for land that was zoned for homes. (Residential land is generally worth more than industrial.)
It’s down to An Bord Pleanála, rather than council planners, to decide whether to approve Bartra’s application.
Change to Meath Street a Step Closer
The council is pressing ahead with its plans to do up Meath Street, showed a presentation to the South Central Area Committee on 21 July.
A key feature of the project is wider footpaths to make space for pedestrians, new outdoor seating and existing street markets, said Stephen Coyne, Dublin City Council’s economic development officer for the Liberties area.
At the meeting, Labour Councillor Darragh Moriarty asked about the possibility of creating car-free market days along the street, considering the historic links between Meath Street and street trading.
“My own view is that it might be more event days, or much more organised structured markets rather than ongoing trading,” said Coyne.
“But it’s open to the council to put it into the casual trading by-laws down the line if that’s how things develop,” he said.
Most of the trading on Meath Street is quite informal, said Coyne. “I don’t propose to change that under this scheme.”
“But I do want to try and create an environment where we can organise really good quality markets on the street,” he said.
The street will keep its current one-way 30 km/h traffic system, said Coyne. The plans include 13 on-street car-parking spaces, 2 accessible car-parking spaces and 30 bicycle-parking spaces.
They also foresee an upgrade of street lighting, traffic signals and drainage.
The plans show 16 new trees too. These trees will complement the 20 new trees going in on Francis Street, and the 1o to 12 new trees to be planted at Carman’s Hall, between the two streets, said Coyne.
It will “substantially increase the amount of green coverage on these streets”, he said.
The Meath Street plan follows on from similar projects on Thomas Street and James’ Street, part of a wider push to revitalise the main streets in the Liberties, says the report.
The next step is what’s known as the Part VIII planning process, which councils have to follow for their own projects, and includes public consultation.
Dublin City Council and lead designers Haslam & Co. Architects began the consultation process around what to do on the street with Meath Street residents and businesses in 2018.
At the South Central Area Committee meeting last week, Coyne said he expects the project to reach the design and construction phase in 2022 or 2023.