Council Briefs: Oscar Traynor Road Housing, Choosing a City Centre Tsar, Counting Vacant Homes, and More

A Delayed Vote on Oscar Traynor Road

At the November meeting of Dublin City Council on Monday, councillors postponed deciding whether to go ahead with a deal with developer Glenveagh to build 853 homes on a council-owned site at Oscar Traynor Road in Coolock.

Some still want more information about the proposal, they said. It’s due back on the agenda on 22 November.

Last year, councillors rejected a deal that would have meant half the homes were private. A majority of councillors say they want the whole site used for social and affordable homes instead.

Under a new proposal, the housing on the site would be made up of 40 percent social homes, 40 percent “Cost/Affordable Rental” and 20 “Affordable Purchase” homes, says a Dublin City Council report.

But some councillors are concerned about how much the affordable homes will cost to rent. The report has estimates of around €1,500 a month for a two-bedroom apartment and €1,275 for a one-bed.

At the meeting on Monday, Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland, the lord mayor, proposed deferring a decision until after the council’s budget meeting on 22 November.

“The discussion and vote will go ahead on that date and no further deferral will be acceded to,” she said.

Independent Councillor John Lyons said that “substantial issues remain to be resolved”.

Councillors should be allowed to see the development agreement for the project to understand the deal between Dublin City Council and Glenveagh, he said. “We need to be able to see the detail.”

Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney said she wants houses built as soon as possible but would support the deferral if it helped to move the process forward.

The Fianna Fáil group, which has 11 of 63 seats on the council, is proposing an amendment to the agreement that more of the homes be developed as affordable purchase homes rather than cost rental, she says.

The Sinn Féin group, made up of 8 councillors, wants the council to develop the site itself so they won’t support the latest deal, said Sinn Féin Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha. “Unfortunately from our point of view it doesn’t deliver affordability,” he said.

The Social Democrats, with five councillors, have said the same.

A City Centre Tsar

Dublin City Council will appoint a new manager with responsibility for the recovery of the city centre, says a report to councillors at the monthly meeting.

Council official Coilin O’Reilly has been acting as the director of city recovery.

“As we move towards more stable times there is still a need for us to promote the city,” he said, at the meeting of the full council on Monday.

So the council plans to appoint a senior executive officer to that post permanently, he said.

Several councillors said they would prefer to have a higher ranking council official assigned the job of managing the city centre. “I don’t believe the official level assigned is high enough,” said Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam.

O’Reilly said that public toilets, power-washing streets, and animation initiatives undertaken since the Covid-19 pandemic began will continue.

The council also intends to appoint a public-domain officer with specific responsibility for the city centre, and to develop a special internal group to focus on O’Connell Street, says the report.

City-centre businesses will not have to pay fees for street furniture until at least 2023, it says.

Independent Councillor John Lyons said that O’Connell Street, in particular, needs to be managed better. “It’s an absolute shambles.”

“Monstrous hotel” developments “looming over” Merchant’s Arch and the Cobblestone pub in Smithfield are “threats to the whole fabric of our city centre,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Mícheál MacDonncha,

Some older people don’t feel safe and don’t like coming into the city centre, he said.

Councillors debated whether anti-social behaviour and crime are major problems in the city centre.

Independent councillors Christy Burke and Vincent Jackson both said that more of a Garda presence is needed.

But others said that Dublin is still a safe city. “I find the city very safe and very exciting,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan.

He cautioned against assuming that groups of young people were engaging in anti-social behaviour. “Our young people are a credit to us and our city,” he said.

Trying to Capture Vacancy

Dublin City Council should create a list of vacant and derelict homes in the city, councillors agreed on Monday.

Green Party Councillor Hazel Chu proposed a motion calling on the council to “prepare an inventory of all the vacant and derelict properties in the city to identify opportunities for adaptive re-use”.

The council should engage with property owners to support them to turn the vacant building into homes, cultural or community spaces, she says.

Community groups could help to identify vacant buildings, she said.

There are only 75 buildings on the council’s derelict sites register, says Chu. Some buildings narrowly escape being designated derelict and those should be entered onto this new list, she says.

“Dereliction impacts housing, communities and it also impacts our local businesses,” she says.

The vacant sites register is used to tax large vacant sites, over 500 sqm, so the new list could also capture smaller vacant buildings, says Chu.

Council planning manager Richard Shakespeare agreed that dereliction causes big problems, but said that the council does pursue it and tries to get the owners to take responsibility.

As well as the 75 buildings on the derelict sites register “we have 400 active case files”, he says.

The council has compulsorily purchased 25 derelict sites in the last four years, he said.

But Chu said that too many derelict buildings in Dublin are not being designated as derelict. “The bar is far too high and too many are falling below it and not being captured.”

Dublin City Council has identified 157 sites that it wants to enter onto the vacant sites register and 45 sites are currently on it, said Shakespeare.

“Having a non-statutory list would be of little benefit because it won’t have any legislative provisions to actually do anything about it,” he said.

Not everyone agreed to the motion. There are a lot of people in nursing homes availing of the fair deal scheme whose houses are empty, said Fine Gael Councillor Paddy McCartan. “It’s a very complicated issue.”

But he understands that the central government is working on resolving those issues, he said.

“The intention behind this motion is very good and well worth discussing, said

Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey, but it should be discussed in detail at the council’s planning committee.

It needs more detailed analysis, he said. He proposed an amendment that the motion should be debated first at the planning committee. That didn’t pass.

A majority of councillors supported Chu’s motion and she agreed that the implementation of it should be discussed at the planning committee.

Speedier Social Homes

In 2019, Dublin City Council built 90 social homes itself, show council figures. In 2020, it built 124.

But Department of Housing targets going forward are for Dublin City Council to build roughly 9,000 homes by 2026, said Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan, at the council’s monthly meeting.

He asked how that was going to happen. “Can we ask the government to strip back bureaucracy?”

One barrier that councillors have said slows down the council as it tries to build social homes is what’s known as the “four-stage approval process”, the back and forth with the Department of Housing as it assesses council projects before it will release funds.

The Department of Housing is currently reviewing that process, said Dublin City Council Housing Manager Dave Dinnigan at the meeting.

The review is being headed up by the former chair of the housing agency, John O’Connor, and Dinnigan said he hopes it will be concluded by the end of the year.

Doolan, the Sinn Féin councillor, asked if the council has sufficient staff to meet the targets.

Dinnigan said it would be challenging, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. “We have to be open to all streams of delivery.”

Dublin City Council has enough staff, he said. “Our job is to deploy them properly and efficiently.”

Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey said that the Department of Housing is the greatest obstacle to the delivery of housing and that any review should be carried out independently.

“I’m not filled with enthusiasm or hope when the review is being conducted by the officials in the Department and the former head of the housing agency,” said Lacey.

“To ask those who have been responsible for housing and the chaos and the crisis and the bureaucracy to review their own structures to me is daft,” he said. “It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.”

The Department of Housing didn’t respond to queries sent Tuesday about the review.

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Author:

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

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