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Lots of land in the city is suitable for housing but councillors are reluctant to rezone industrial land at the moment, says Social Democrats Councillor Catherine Stocker.
They want assurances that homes built on the rezoned land would be affordable for ordinary people, she says.
In 2018 councillors rezoned a large industrial estate in Coolock, on the understanding that it would be swiftly developed for affordable homes. In a presentation that listed the upsides of the plan to develop the site, the developer said it would be “Excellent PR for DCC and for councillors”.
But councillors have seen neither homes nor excellent public relations, and the land – known as the Chivers site – was recently back on the market for far more than the owners paid for it. Local councillors say they felt duped and some said they were angry.
Councillors had also worried in 2020 when they rezoned 16 industrial other sites across the city that they wouldn’t get the results they were hoping for. It’s yet to be seen what will happen with those sites.
“Underused industrial sites absolutely should be used for much-needed housing, but the issue is that situations like the Chivers site have created a chilling effect around zoning,” says Stocker.
“If we rezone we have no control over the accessibility, affordability and suitability of the housing that will go on the site,” she said.
So, backed by the other Social Democrats on the council, plus Sinn Féin, People Before Profit and independent Councillor Cieran Perry, Stocker is proposing one potential solution, she says, to create a new zoning so that some land in the city could be set aside for a higher proportion of affordable homes.
The land would be developed for 40 percent social and affordable homes, 30 percent employment uses with some private homes and community and recreational space too, says Stocker’s motion, submitted as part of the process of drawing up a new development plan.
What Is the Problem?
In his response to Stocker, Dublin City Council CEO Owen Keegan said that zoning is not supposed to prescribe the housing tenure mix, ownership or rigid percentages for land use.
“The purpose of land use zoning is a spatial exercise to set out the appropriateness of a land parcel for a particular land use,” says Keegan in a response to Stocker’s motion.
Still, Stocker says that land is zoned for affordable housing in other EU countries, so she is seeking legal advice from the council’s law agent.
In Vienna, around 62 percent of residents live in high-quality public housing.
The Vienna City Council designates swathes of land for affordable housing and in those zones, two-thirds of the residential floor space has to be used for subsidised housing.
If other city councils in the EU can stipulate that land be used for affordable homes, then Dublin City Council should be able to do that too, says Stocker.
Speaking in October, Fiona Cormican, director of new business at Clúid Housing, a housing charity, says that land prices are one of the main obstacles to developing cost-rental homes (a type of affordable housing) in many parts of Dublin.
“I don’t believe certain areas should be the echelon of the privileged,” says Cormican. “People should be able to live close to family, friends, work and where their children go to schools.”
At the moment, when the council rezones land, it creates a windfall profit for landowners, said UCD assistant professor of architecture, Orla Hegarty.
As soon as land is rezoned the value of it goes up, benefiting the landowner.
If the land was zoned as “affordable” residential, the land value would go up less.
So zoning land for social and affordable homes could help to control escalating land prices, says Hegarty. “You don’t inflate the land value in the first place.”
A New Zoning
The new Z16 zoning that Stocker is proposing would stipulate that the land it applies to be used “to seek the social, economic, and physical development and/or rejuvenation of an area with mixed-use, the primary objective of which would be the delivery of affordable housing and employment”, says her motion.
Under the new proposed zoning land should be used for 40 percent social and affordable homes, 30 percent employment uses, 10 percent private (market-price) homes, 10 percent recreational open space and 10 percent community use.
Stocker says the percentages above are based on the council master plan for land at Jamestown Road in Finglas that was formerly an industrial estate. The only change is that the majority of the homes would be affordable, she says.
In a written response, Keegan said the motion cannot be included in the city development plan that the council is now writing, for 2022 to 2028 because the proportions of social and affordable homes to be included in new housing developments are laid down in Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
“The Development Plan cannot circumvent national legislation in this regard, to require a higher level of provision of social and affordable housing on privately owned land,” he says.
Says Stocker: “My understanding is that Part V is the minimum requirement.”
Keegan also says the motion isn’t appropriate for inclusion in the city development plan because it “may undermine the broader objectives of the Draft Plan to promote integrated communities with a broad range of tenures and housing mix”.
But Stocker says the whole point of the new zoning is to create mixed communities because that is what you get when people with average incomes can afford to buy and rent the homes.
A recent announcement by the Minister for Housing, Fianna Fáil TD, Darragh O’Brien, indicates that he is giving councils powers to stipulate one tenure type in some cases, by introducing an “owner occupier guarantee”.
This will allow local authorities to say a proportion of the homes in a development should be reserved for owner-occupiers, the announcement says.
Stocker has also tabled motions that the new affordable housing zoning, were it to come in, should be applied to four large industrial estates in Dublin.
She points to Newtown Industrial Estate/Malahide Industrial Estate, the Dublin Industrial Estate in Glasnevin, the Kylemore Road – Naas Road lands and the old Chivers site in Coolock.
It could also be used to protect existing communities in areas of regeneration, she says.
In areas of the city where land is very expensive, such as the Docklands and Ringsend, the council sometimes doesn’t buy the 10 percent social housing in that area. Instead,they take homes elsewhere.
In another motion, Stocker called on the council to buy industrial land before it is rezoned. “There is no reason why the council couldn’t be buying up land that is potentially suitable for residential development like developers do all the time,” she says.
That’s something that independent Councillor Sophie Nicoullaud has called for in the south-west of the city, saying that the council has to become proactive in finding land that could be developed for Traveller housing.
The council’s previous housing manager, Brendan Kenny, repeatedly told councillors that the council would run out of land by 2025, says Stocker.
If that is true, it will leave the council completely reliant, when it comes to delivering new homes, on renting homes, through leasing schemes and the Housing Assistance Programme, she says.
Dublin City Council hasn’t responded to a query sent at the end of September, asking whether it had bought any industrial-zoned lands in the city since January 2020, and whether it was considering acquiring any more.
Stocker says she doesn’t think the council managers are motivated to develop large sites they already own, so she doubts they will be interested in acquiring new land.
“The council management have a definite preference for delivering through private mechanisms,” she says.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said it has a significant delivery programme on its own sites.
Homes on that land will be delivered in all the ways that are open to the council, said the spokesperson. “At all times Dublin City Council is committed to delivering social housing and getting the best use from DCC land available for housing.”
That includes AHBs delivering the homes, public private partnerships, buying what are known as “turnkey” homes and Part V, they said. “Working with developers plays a critical and valuable role in meeting the challenging social housing delivery as targets as set out in Housing For All.”
[UPDATE: This article was updated on 16 November 2021 at 7am to include comments from the council on the different ways it delivers homes.]