The site next to St Anne’s Park that has for years been the subject of planning applications for housing, and court battles objecting, should be rezoned to make it easier to get the housing built, Dublin City Council’s chief executive has recommended.
In his report on the draft city development plan for 2022–2028, Owen Keegan says the “institutional use” zoning on the lands owned by Crekav Trading GP Limited bordering the park should be eliminated. Instead, it should just be zoned for housing, and for recreational use, he says.
“The lands are well serviced and located in close proximity to existing public transport connections and established social and community infrastructure,” his report says.
“It is considered by the CE [chief executive], that their development in part for some residential development, would contribute to the 15 minute city and principles of compact growth,” it says.
Independent Councillor Damien O’Farrell who opposes rezoning of part of the site to allow for housing, says there is a shortage of sports pitches in that part of the city. The site hosts five, though they have not been in use for some time.
“There is an urgent societal value to protecting green open space and sporting fields,” he says. “Which goes far beyond any monetary or speculative value.”
Five of the local councillors have submitted a motion that the site be rezoned Z9 in the next city development plan, a category which protects recreational and open space uses.
“A Z9 zoning is necessary to preserve, provide and improve recreational amenity and open space as well as contributing to the biodiversity and ecosystem services,” says the motion.
Back and Forth
The site is on lands formerly part of St Paul’s College in Raheny. It is bordered to the north, east and south by St Anne’s Park.
In 2015, the Vincentian Order sold the land to Crekav, a subsidiary of the developer Marlet.
In 2017, the new owners closed the five sports pitches on the site, and the following year, they stopped cutting the grass, says a high court ruling.
In April 2018, Crekav got planning permission for 536 homes on the land. In August 2018, that decision was quashed following a judicial review.
In February 2020, An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for 657 apartments, as well as a gym, a cinema, and a crèche.
In a May 2021 ruling, Mr Justice Humphreys overturned the board’s decision to grant planning permission as the site’s zoning for “institutional use” didn’t allow for the proposed residential development.
In November of that same year, Dublin city councillors were surprised to learn that council management had included more than 200 rezonings in the proposed new development plan for 2022–2028 – including one affecting the St Paul’s site.
“This is an attempt to slip this past us,” Social Democrats Councillor Catherine Stocker said at the time. “No one would have agreed to it.”
Now, six months later, despite the pushback from area councillors, Keegan continues to recommend that the site be rezoned to make getting – and keeping – planning permission to build homes on it easier.
What is Happening Now?
The site is now zoned Z15, for “institutional use”.
The draft development plan proposes keeping that, as well as zoning some of the land Z9, which is meant “To preserve, provide and improve recreational amenity and open space and green networks.”
The landowner has asked the council to rezone the site to Z1 and Z9, says Keegan’s report. And that is what Keegan is asking councillors to do.
“[A] balanced approach should be taken to its future development where residential development would be appropriate on part of the site and a portion retained for Z9 use, where open space/amenity/playing pitches etc. could be accommodated,” says Keegan’s report.
The Marlet Group didn’t respond before publication to questions about its current plans for the site.
But if the landowner doesn’t get the rezoning it wants, it may take the issue to court, according to a submission to the draft development plan from law firm A&L Goodbody on behalf of the Marlet Property Group.
“In circumstances where the Councillors’ amendments are retained, such that the majority of the Lands remain zoned as Z15, and absent good and sufficient reasons for the retention of this proposed amendment, our client will consider all available options open to it, including seeking to judicially review the Development Plan, once adopted,” it says.
O’Farrell, the independent councillor, says that the existing playing pitches in St Anne’s Park are oversubscribed.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that sports clubs across the city have told them they are struggling for space. “There are insufficient playing fields in St Annes Park and other parks throughout the city to cater for all of their requirements”.
O’Farrell says that the council has to protect the use of the land for sports facilities.
As more homes get built in Clontarf and Raheny, the neighbourhoods will need more recreational space and sports infrastructure, says O’Farrell.
A Z9 zoning for the entire site is the most appropriate, he says.
Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney says that the proposed Z9 zoning is in line with the council’s stated aim of creating a 15-minute city.
“There is a need to protect the local amenity of these playing pitches so the needs of local people (football, hurling, soccer and rugby teams etc) can be accommodated locally, thus avoiding their having to travel outside the area for amenity space,” she says.
Says Fine Gael Councillor Naoise Ó’Muirí: “Before those pitches were taken out of commission they were in active use.”
Green Party Councillor Donna Cooney says she thinks that the playing pitches site should remain zoned as Z15, which is institutional land. “As the new objective of that zoning now reflects correctly the meaning after the last St Anne’s Park judgement.”
Last November, Cooney asked for a list of all the proposed rezonings of land in her area, as the maps given to councillors were hard to read. Council officials refused to give it to her.
Since the Covid-19 lockdowns there is increased demand for outdoor recreational space and amenities, he says. So the council should protect the future recreational uses for the community, he says.
Social Democrats Councillor Catherine Stocker and Labour Councillor Jane Hogan-Jones have also signed the motion, which says that the Z9 zoning “will provide for the most sustainable use of the land”.
[UPDATE: This article was updated at 9am on 2 June to include comments from Green Party Councillor Donna Cooney, and that she had asked last year for a list of zoning changes.]