Dublin City Council needs to make it clear in its next development plan what land it will use for new-build Traveller housing, the Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR) has said.

The council’s current Traveller Accommodation Programme (TAP), which runs until 2024, proposes building 47 new homes and seven new halting bays just for Travellers.

Some of the zoning categories dictating what can be built where in the city that the council has in its draft development plan could be used for new-build homes or halting sites, but there are no specific sites marked up, the OPR has said.

Under Section 10(2)(i) of the Planning and Development Act, the council has to show where it will provide such accommodation, says the OPR’s submission to the council’s draft development plan for 2022 to 2028, which is currently being made.

It recommends the council show that on its zoning maps.

“It is considered that the inclusion of a policy of general support for the TAP does not serve to communicate clear and implementable objectives for the provision of accommodation for Travellers,” it says.

Members of the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee say they have been pushing for ages to get the council to make it clear what land it will use to make good on its promises of new-build Traveller homes in the coming years.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said the team working on the development plan is busy assessing more than 3,200 submissions that came in as part of the consultation that just closed.

They will next prepare a report from the council’s chief executive, Owen Keegan, they said, “which will respond to the issues raised”. That report will then be considered by councillors at a meeting scheduled for 5 July, they said.

A year ago, councillors and council officials held a special meeting on Traveller housing, pledging to back the development of new sites and speak out against any opposition from settled Dubliners that may arise. Despite that big “reset” though, some say little has progressed.

Tracking What’s Planned, Where?

Bernard Joyce, director of the Irish Traveller Movement, says there hasn’t until now been planning oversight at a national level and TAPs across the country largely failed to identify planned new builds.

A June 2019 report drawn up by an expert group into Traveller housing recommended that the OPR review Traveller accommodation policies in development plans.

The Irish Traveller Movement welcomes the OPR’s intervention, Joyce said, “and expect this will be a first of many similar recommendations to local authorities where Traveller accommodation has not been identified in their plans”.

The OPR makes a good point, says Sophie Nicoullaud, an independent councillor who sits on the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee. “Where is it on the maps?”

The council’s TAP does commit to looking at sites where new-build Traveller housing can be developed.

In July 2021, Pat Teehan, the head of the council’s Traveller Accommodation Unit, gave a presentation to the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee on the sites that, since 2019, the council had looked at for Traveller housing across the city and why they weren’t suitable.

Members of the committee were told they were all inappropriate, says Shay L’Estrange of the Ballyfermot Travellers Action Project. “They haven’t come back with anything since.”

L’Estrange says the council’s efforts to pinpoint land should include talking to people in the Traveller communities, but while they can give a general idea of the areas that would suit people, it’s ultimately down to the council to find sites.

“We’ve no idea of what land Dublin City Council has access to,” says L’Estrange.

Nicoullaud, the independent councillor, says that where would be suitable in her area should be discussed with Travellers living around there.

But the council should also be looking at the City Edge lands – swathes around Naas Road in the west of the city, which it is working on plans to develop and densify – and seeing what might be incorporated into plans there, she says. “That’s where there’s brownfield.”

Industrial land will be rezoned and developed there, she says. “To me, it’s the time to plan, it’s the time for orders, to buy to provide.”

Councillors haven’t had any update on lands for Traveller accommodation since the July 2021 presentation on what had been ruled out, Nicoullaud said. “We are yet to be proposed a proper list.”

L’Estrange, of Ballyfermot Travellers Action Project, says he doesn’t buy the argument that there isn’t land anywhere for Traveller accommodation.

The council has done deal after deal with private developers for its land, with proposals that include space for private homes, he says.

If land can be found for that, L’Estrange says, “why can’t it be found for Traveller homes?”

The OPR is responsible for assessing all plans to make sure that they provide for proper planning and sustainable development, said an OPR spokesperson.

First the OPR makes its recommendations or observations to a council – as it has with the Dublin city development plan. The next step is for the council to outline how it will address those, said the spokesperson.

If the adopted plan is not consistent with any statutory recommendations, the OPR may issue a notice to the Minister recommending that they use their powers to compel a council to address the matter.

“The Minister then ultimately decides whether or not to issue the draft direction to the planning authority compelling them to take action,” said the spokesperson.

Mismatched Plans

In July 2019, the expert review of Traveller accommodation highlighted several local-level planning issues around Traveller accommodation.

Among them, it pointed to a lack of integration between councils’ TAPs and their development plans, and a misalignment of the times and cycles of the two kinds of plans.

Dublin City Council’s TAP runs from 2019 to 2024, expiring before the end of the development plan, which covers 2022 to 2028.

Currently, the council’s draft development plan has a short section covering Traveller accommodation that commits the council to doing what it has promised in its TAP.

The TAP says that as of 30 November 2018 there were 293 Traveller families in need of accommodation, with 73 households asking for Traveller-specific homes.

It promises 47 new-house builds, and 7 new halting bays in the city by the end of 2024. (That’s alongside providing housing for Travellers by other means, such as refurbished homes, mainstream social homes, and private rentals.)

Of those new-build Traveller homes, 23 homes and 2 new bays were due to have been built by now, show targets in the plan.

A spokesperson for Dublin City Council hasn’t responded to queries sent Friday as to how many new-build homes and bays the council has built so far.

While the TAP does give a wordy breakdown of plans for different sites, it is hard to tally with new-build plans.

It is also hard to match those 47 new-builds with the 71 Traveller homes listed in the pipeline to be built in theDublin City Council’s housing supply update, a regular report given to councillors on the housing committee.

At least 46 of these 71 homes are part of regenerations, among them 16 in a redevelopment of Labre Park halting site in Ballyfermot – a number that is being revised again after long-thrashed-out plans were scaled back because, the council has said, of flood risk – and 30 in the redevelopment of the St Margaret’s site in Ballymun.

Nicoullaud, the independent councillor who sits on the Local Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee, said there’s a real lack of clarity around Traveller accommodation figures and targets.

“Even with good intentions, to understand the figures, you need a computer programme to work it out,” she said. “It’s extremely blurry, still so blurry.”

She also has questions about whether regeneration projects such as Labre Park, in her area, will result in fewer homes or more. “Here, we have new homes, but it’s less.”

Nicoullaud says that the council’s TAP should be more ambitious than 47 new builds over the five years.

Travellers make up a disproportionate percentage of the homeless population, she said, and it’s important to preserve community and identity. “By not dispatching it everywhere.”

A review by the OPR in November 2021 of development plans and Traveller accommodation noted the potential of the in-depth study of housing need that councils have had to do as part of their processes of drawing up housing strategies and development plans.

This Housing Need Demands Assessment (HNDA) has to address special categories, including Traveller accommodation, the review notes.

“This will require that an estimate of the numbers and types of housing for the relevant period will, in turn, inform the housing strategy and influence the land use zoning objectives in the development plan,” it says.

The HNDA for Dublin City Council does mention that in Dublin city in 2020, there were 95 households seeking Traveller-specific accommodation, citing Housing Agency figures.

But it mostly summarises what is promised in the council’s current TAP, including the 47 new-build Traveller-specific homes, and recommends that the council plug that into its next development plan.

Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general-assignment reporter. Want to share a comment or a tip with her? Send an email to her at lois@dublininquirer.com.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *