On Dorset Street, Council Pushes Forward with Regeneration of a Long-Neglected Housing Complex

On Dorset Street, between St Mary’s Place and Dominick Street, there’s a council housing complex, where many homes are boarded up and covered with sheets of metal, some silver, some rusty.

Some homes are still lived in.

Last Friday, the deputy city architect gave councillors a look at what it has planned to replace the complex, which is one of 29 across the city slated for regeneration.

The plans show 163 homes, made up of 151 apartments, seven houses and five maisonettes. Currently, there are 113 apartments.

The proposed complex – which the council plans to hire a builder to construct for it – would reach seven storeys at its highest point and would be built around two internal courtyards.

One block fronting onto Dorset Street would hold facilities for the local boxing club as well as room for shops, a cafe and a creche.

Councillors at the local Central Area Committee meeting welcomed the plans. They look “absolutely fantastic”, said Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam.

Said independent Councillor Cieran Perry: “This is such a high-quality design compared to some of the rubbish that has been proposed by the private sector.”

The plans are due to go before a full council meeting in January for a vote.

A Long Wait

In 2017, Fianna Fáil’s local representative, Mary Fitzpatrick, now a senator, said that this St Mary’s Place complex had been selected for regeneration since at least 2012.

At the time, a tenant of St Mary’s Place said he thought the council had stopped maintenance because of plans to demolish the complex. He was keen to move on, he said, as many of his neighbours already had.

Some of the homes were built in the 1960s, said the area housing manager Sean Smith, at the time. “Effectively they are not fit for purpose for the 21st century.”

Since then, more homes have been boarded up. Some people still live there, though.

The new homes planned for the site would mostly be for households who have moved out, but there would also be some extra homes for other households on the housing list, said Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan on the phone after the meeting.

The Plans

The current design of St Mary’s Place lacks clarity and a sense of enclosure as it is open to the street, said Owen O’Doherty, deputy city architect with Dublin City Council, at the Central Area Committee meeting.

The new development would be built around two enclosed courtyards. A pedestrianised street with trees would run between the two complexes, he says.

“The key frontage is Dorset Street Upper, which is a busy city centre thoroughfare,” he says.

Designs for St Mary's Place. Courtesy of Dublin City Council.
Designs for St Mary's Terrace, courtesy of Dublin City Council.

Originally, the buildings on Dorset Street and St Marys Place North would have faced onto the streets, says O’Doherty, but in the 1960s, the flat complex was designed and built perpendicular to the streets.

The new complex is designed to face the streets again, he says, and to link up visually with the fire station beside it on Dorset Street which has had its facade restored recently.

O’Doherty said that changes had been made to the plans for the regeneration of the housing complex, after earlier public consultation.

One of the apartment blocks has been nudged back from the boundary of the site to create more distance between it and the homes on St Mary’s Place, he says.

The houses will also be moved back and get larger back gardens, he says, although that will reduce the width of the street.

Some neighbours raised concerns about being overlooked by one of the apartment blocks, said O’Doherty.

As a solution, the council design team agreed to remove some windows to non-habitable rooms, he said.

In the corridors, they will incorporate glass blocks to allow natural light to enter without compromising the privacy of neighbours, he said.

Welcomed Homes

Councillors welcomed the fact that 94 percent of the new homes will be “dual aspect”, meaning that they have windows on at least two walls facing in different directions.

That means more daylight. “That is one of the first things I look at,” says independent councillor Cieran Perry. “That is really impressive.”

Independent Councillor Nial Ring said that the new development will be “world-class”.

Labour Councillor Joe Costello said that much of the complex “was lying derelict for such a long period of time”.

But he said, residents of St Mary’s Place and Mountjoy Street have concerns about how close the new development is to their homes.

Why step up to seven storeys instead of staying at four storeys throughout? Costello asked.

O’Doherty said the plans needed to go higher to get the number of homes in.

Said Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan: “We want to have enough units to accommodate those that are in need of housing across the constituency.”

O’Doherty says the plan as it stands is to deliver the new development in two phases, and the Department of Housing has approved funding for the first phase.

But he says the council intends to apply to the Department of Housing for permission to contract one builder to do it all at once, instead.

“That would have an advantage of delivering this housing earlier and would also reduce costs,” says O’Doherty.

The sooner the council builds the better, he says, because construction costs are rising.

The plan should come before the full council in January for approval, says O’Doherty and the team hopes to tender for a builder in the next year.

Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam, who chairs the local area committee, said it is good to be able to show the plans for Dorset Street to residents of other complexes in the area scheduled for regeneration.

Across the city, the council has regeneration projects working their way through the pipeline that amount to 2,150 social homes, shows a recent council report.

“This gives me huge encouragement and excitement when you consider the upcoming projects in Dublin Central,” said McAdam.

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

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