New Plans for Housing on South Circular Road Propose Smaller Towers, but Residents’ Groups Still Sceptical

The developer Hines applied for planning permission in July to build 345 homes in blocks two to seven storeys high, on land on the South Circular Road that was previously the Bailey Gibson factory site.

The same developer had already secured planning permission to build something bigger on that same parcel, back in September 2020: 435 build-to-rent homes, in blocks of up to 16 storeys.

But in 2021 a local residents’ group, known as Player’s Please and the Dublin 8 Residents Association, sought a judicial review of the permission from the High Court, and Justice Humphreys referred this to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

That matter has yet to be adjudicated and Hines has not withdrawn the original plans. But in the meantime, it has put in these new ones, and residents again have ample reservations.

“While certainly on first looks it looks like a more modest proposal we still feel there is an awful lot wrong with this one,” says Joe Clarke of the Player’s Please and Dublin 8 Residents Association.

It’s still dense, he says. And daylight and sunlight analysis, submitted as part of the planning application, says that the majority of kitchen-living areas and bedrooms in the development wouldn’t meet minimum requirements for daylight.

A spokesperson for Hines declined to comment on the matter as it is now under consideration by An Bord Pleanála.

What’s in the Plans?

On 24 August, Kiaran Sweeney, a senior executive planner with Dublin City Council, presented the new plans to councillors.

The new development would consist of 341 apartments and four houses. Most of the homes would be build-to-rent standard, but 53 of them would be built according to the for-sale standards and so could potentially be bought by homeowners, he said.

These plans form part of a wider development, including another Hines project on the next-door site, the former Player Wills factory site, and a Land Development Agency project on the St Teresa’s Gardens site.

The proposed development on the Bailey Gibson lands would include spaces for a creche and shops. Forty-two percent of the homes would be dual aspect, said Sweeney, meaning that they would have windows on more than one side.

“It is disappointing the level of dual aspect,” said Green Party Councillor Michael Pidgeon. Temperatures are rising and having windows on more than one side helps to get a cross breeze through a home, he said.

The density – which is 250 homes per hectare – is to be welcomed in a city centre location though, Pidgeon said. “Overall I’m positive and I wish the developer had done something like this sooner.”

Labour Councillor Darragh Moriarty said that the previous plans were too dense and that had lead to delays. “Had we just gone ahead with plans along these lines originally we could have workers on site there now and be much much closer to delivering housing for the city.”

He thinks that if Hines were to secure planning permission for the original plans it would go ahead with those instead of the new ones, he said. This is back-up, he said.

Some councillors queried the lack of family homes in the development, which is made up of 10 percent studio apartments, 57 percent one-beds, 31 percent two-beds, and 2 percent three-beds.

But Pidgeon said that there are a lot of family homes in the area, and a shortage of homes for single people.

There is a huge demand for single-person accommodation, said Moriarty, however most single people can’t afford the rents in build-to-rent developments.

Build-to-rent is not needed in the proportion that it is being offered, said Sinn Féin Councillor Máire Devine, who wondered if the homes developed to the build-to-sell standards could be protected to ensure they are bought by homeowners rather than corporate landlords.

The Price of Social Homes

For big projects like this one, under a legal provision known as “Part V”, the developer has to strike a deal with the local council to sell, or lease, 10 percent of the homes to the local authority for social housing.

The developer offers the council a discount on the homes based on the existing use value of the land when it bought it.

In 2017, Dublin City Council splashed out €480,000 on apartments in the Marianella development in Rathgar. Councillors asked if that was the best use of public money.

Still today that is at the top end what Dublin City Council spends buying from private developers. According to the response to a parliamentary question this year, the most the council should spend on buying a two-bedroom apartment is around €474,000.

The Part V proposal from Hines for the Bailey Gibson site suggests that Dublin City Council could use its discount to purchase a two-bedroom apartment for €753,000.

That doesn’t mean the council has to pay that amount though, says architect and housing commentator Mel Reynolds, who has researched Part V agreements. “That’s the initial pitch” from the developer, the seller.

The council can negotiate with the developer, decide to buy homes from Hines somewhere else in the city, or lease them instead of purchasing, Reynolds says.

So far this year, Dublin City Council has leased significantly more social homes under the Part V provision than it has purchased.

Still, even for a starting pitch, the price tag seems inflated, says Reynolds, when compared to the cost of building an apartment as outlined by the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland (SCSI) in January 2021.

The SCSI report found that in 2020 the average cost of building an apartment was around €411,000, all-in.

Adding 20 percent for inflation would bring that up to around €500,000, says Reynolds, which includes full land costs and is still €250,000 short of the Hines Part V proposal for the Bailey Gibson site.

“What is exceptional about this site that would make it cost an extra €250,000?” he asks. If the Part V discount results in a price of €750,000 then the market price must be around €850,000, he says.

Still Questioning

Clarke, the representative of the Player’s Please and Dublin 8 Residents Association, said that the lowered heights and density initially look good, but this is still a very dense development.

The group has put together a submission to the planning authority, outlining other issues of concern too, including the proposed development’s impact on neighbours, and that many of the new homes wouldn’t meet minimum standards for daylight.

According to the planning statement, 42 percent of the homes proposed are dual aspect. The residents’ group argued that some of those apartments shouldn’t be counted as dual aspects though, because the windows on one side are facing a wall.

Also, the proportion of build-to-rent is too high, Clarke says. Dublin City Council’s CEO, Owen Keegan, has said that there is too much build-to-rent housing already approved in the city, says Clarke.

So Clarke wonders why the council is supporting these proposals. He feels they are trying to pressure locals to accept them too, by linking them into the delivery of a much-needed sports pitch, in an area that does not have a full-sized sports pitch.

“It really has to be questioned why [Dublin City Council] is determined to link the provision of the pitch into this development,” says Clarke.

But beyond all that, it is unclear whether the developer intends to build the proposed development, says Clarke. “We don’t think they want to build this. They haven’t withdrawn their original proposal.”

The Daylight Dilemma

“Access to daylight is vital for our health and daylight is the only true source of sustainable light,” says a Dublin City Council appendix to the upcoming city development plan. It sets out to explain the various confusing sets of guidance and standards for daylight in new homes.

The Player’s Please and Dublin 8 Residents Association says in its response to the planning application that, “The daylight studies demonstrate that a very significant proportion of the proposed apartments fall short of the required daylight metrics.”

The daylight and sunlight analysis for Hines’ proposed plans for the Bailey Gibson site says that 84 percent of the rooms meet the standards in old guidelines, measured in average daylight factor. It had filed a report at pre-planning to show this, it says.

But, even though the scheme hasn’t changed since pre-planning, new versions of the guidelines have since been published which have changed how many now meet the standards, the document says.

Now, 65 percent of rooms in the proposed scheme fail to meet the new minimum standards for daylight, says the analysis.

The report says that there is another minimum illumination allowed for “dwellings situated in a dense urban area”. It says that 68 percent of the relevant rooms in the proposed development met that lower minimum target.

However when the combined kitchen/living areas are assessed, the majority of those (53 percent) failed to meet that lower minimum too, according to the report.

It justifies thisby highlighting measures that, it says, compensate for the lack of daylight.

Those include communal outdoor areas with high levels of sunlight, and that some homes overlook high-quality parks and outdoor spaces.

All the proposed homes have balconies, which is not a requirement for build-to-rent apartments, it also says. The report says that providing the balconies has reduced the natural light entering the living area of the apartments by around half on average.

The Dublin City Council document doesn’t mention a lower daylight requirement in high-density locations. Rather it stresses the importance of conforming to minimum daylight requirements, which it notes do not produce well-lit spaces.

“It is noted that both BS 8206-2 and BS EN 17037 present minimum values for residential developments, rather than best practice values,” it says. “These minimum values will not produce spaces that are well daylit or be considered predominantly daylit.”

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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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