Council Briefs: Mysterious Delays for Social Homes at O’Devaney Gardens, Speeding up Retrofitting, and More

Delays at O’Devaney Gardens

In June 2018, a council report said it expected 56 social homes at O’Devaney Gardens in Stoneybatter to be built by the end of March 2020.

They still aren’t finished.

The 56 homes sit to the northwest of the big site that is to be developed by Bartra. Dublin City Council directly contracted a builder to deliver these 56 homes.

Local councillors say they fear the homes might not be finished this year. Dublin City Council is likely in the coming years to fall short of its target for new-build social homes, figures suggest.

At the monthly meeting of the full council on Monday, 9 May, Labour Councillor Joe Costello said the homes have been under construction for roughly four years. “And we still don’t have a final date on them.”

Independent Councillor Christy Burke said that local councillors recently got a briefing about the site but that he couldn’t discuss the details for legal reasons. “By the looks of things now it will be lucky if it’s this time next year.”

Locals in that area have been let down by the council for 20 years, said Burke. “The developer is certainly rocking the boat on this one.”

“I’m not happy with that myself,” said the council’s housing manager, Coilín O’Reilly at the monthly meeting. “It’s taking far too long.”

O’Reilly has regular meetings with the developer and city architects, he said. If the homes are not going to be finished soon, he said, “we may just look to see can we take some action to speed it up”.

Dublin City Council hasn’t yet responded to queries sent Tuesday as to what is causing the delay.

Speeding Up Retrofits

Councillors at Monday’s meeting agreed that the council should accelerate its programme for retrofitting its social housing, which – if work continues at its current rate – is expected to take 12 years.

Independent Councillor Cieran Perry proposed a motion calling on the council to tap into national and EU funding pots, to speed up retrofitting, which includes insulating homes and changing windows, making homes cosier and slashing energy costs.

“This is the perfect example of a just transition – benefiting the less well off while also benefiting the environment,” said Perry. “It shouldn’t be a problem with a Green minister in office.”

Around 77 percent of council houses have been upgraded, he said. (Flats are separate.)

But there are 2,690 social houses in Dublin that still need retrofitting and the council estimates that will cost around €84 million, said Perry. At current funding levels, that would take around 12 years, he said.

“With the recognition of global climate breakdown, it is unacceptable that some of our tenants will have to wait 12 years to benefit from the retrofitting programme,” said Perry, reading from his motion.

The European Union and the national government have both declared that tackling climate breakdown is a priority, he said. “The climate crisis requires ambitious targets to be implemented.”

Most councillors who spoke said that they supported the motion.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney said the council’s retrofitting programme is progressing very well and that she is hugely supportive.

Heney said she doesn’t accept that funding is an issue. “I don’t think there is any shortage of money for the Energy Efficiency/Retrofitting Programme.”

At the meeting of the council’s housing committee in January, Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan had asked whether the council could speed up the process if it got more money.

“The short answer is yes,” said Shane Hawkshaw, the council engineer in charge of the programme. “Should funding increase that would reduce the time frame.”

Social housing tenants are at higher risk of fuel poverty, Doolan at the May monthly meeting on Monday, so the retrofitting programme should be accelerated, urgently.

“I know residents who I represent in Ballyfermot are living in fuel poverty,” he said. “It is cold, it is moving into debt, it is borrowing to pay for heating.”

Several councillors said that with the Green Party in government there shouldn’t be a problem getting money to retrofit social housing.

“There has been unprecedented investment in retrofitting in the lifetime of this government, €366 million last year,” said Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne.

However, the Department of Housing – headed by Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien – funds the social housing retrofitting programme, Byrne said, not the Department of the Environment headed by the Green Party’s Eamon Ryan.

The government has allocated €85 million to retrofit social housing recently, said Byrne. “It’s incredibly difficult to retrofit our flats,” she said. “It’s incredibly costly.”

But it’s also very important that the council retrofits the flat complexes, she said. “There is full commitment across government to deliver that.”

Council to Invite Planning Regulator to Discuss Build-to-Rent

Dublin City Council is to write to the Office of the Planning Regulator inviting it to attend a meeting of the council’s planning committee, to explain its position on the council’s proposals around build-to-rent housing.

Dublin City Council is currently working on its next city development plan, the council’s planning bible, which lays out a vision for how the city should develop from 2022 to 2028 – including what can be built where.

Compiling the development plan takes two years and three rounds of public consultation.

Dublin City Council wants to introduce rules in the new plan to curtail the dominance of build-to-rent housing in the city.

On 9 February, at an online panel discussion hosted by Trinity College Dublin, the council’s chief executive, Owen Keegan, said that nearly all planning applications being filed for apartments in the council’s area were build-to-rent schemes built to minimum national standards.

Build-to-rent has a role to play, Keegan said. But “the near-total dominance of this typology has adverse long-term consequences for the creation of sustainable communities”.

The council has proposed new rules in its next development plan that new housing complexes should include 40 percent of homes for sale and that smaller build-to-rent complexes, of fewer than 100 homes, should not be permitted.

The Office of the Planning Regulator has said that the council cannot curtail build-to-rent housing that way, because the proposed caps would conflict with national regulations allowing 100 percent build-to-rent complexes.

At their monthly meeting on Monday, Fine Gael councillors proposed an emergency motion calling on the council to write to the Office of the Planning Regulator and ask it to attend a meeting of the council’s planning committee before the deadline for amendments to the draft development plan on 27 May 2022.

The Office of the Planning Regulator’s new powers are significant, the motion said, so “elected members must be given a chance to question the OPR on its written submission in City Hall to ensure public confidence in the City Development Plan”.

The Lord Mayor, Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland, said at the meeting that the issue was not an emergency, so the motion wasn’t voted on.

But she said the council would write to the Office of the Planning Regulator and invite t it to attend a meeting of the planning committee to discuss build-to-rent.

Author:

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

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