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Fiona Callaghan rests an elbow on her car roof. She wouldn’t say it would be better to demolish the existing homes behind her and build denser, she says. “Because I don’t want to have to move. But that’s obviously a selfish thing.”
Her housemate Orla Lynch stands at the foot of the steps leading up to their apartment in Harold’s Bridge Court, in a set of four duplex blocks off Harold’s Cross Road.
“It’s such a beautiful apartment complex, I think,” says Lynch. “It’d be really hard to like, let it go. I think that’d be the worst bit.”
On 21 July, Adroit Company Limited applied for planning permission to demolish the duplexes where Callaghan, Lynch and others live, and the handful of other houses on the site – 53 homes in total – as well as a warehouse housing the MART artists studios on Greenmount Lane, and ancillary structures.
It says it wants to build 194 apartments in four blocks of between two and nine storeys on the one-hectare site, along with a space for a creche, communal spaces for residents, a shop space, 22 artists studios and an exhibition space.
On Monday 12 September, at a meeting of the council’s South Central Area Committee, the council senior planner Eileen Buck gave a presentation to local councillors on the proposed demolition and development.
Councillors said that they didn’t think demolishing buildings would be good for the climate, and that the development might be too tall.
Said Carolyn Moore, a Green Party councillor: “I’m disappointed that there wasn’t a more, kind of, imaginative and sustainably-oriented approach to adding density on this site.”
What are the Plans?
The four duplexes at Harold’s Bridge Court duplexes are three storeys high, with a row of car parking in front of each, and a shed to the side for bike parking.
There’s a small green towards the west where the warehouse hosting the MART artists’ studios sits behind a fence.
Companies with similar names have been unsuccessful in three planning applications since 1993, when Adroit Ltd was granted planning permission to build Harold’s Bridge Court.
In 2000, Adroit & Co Ltd. was refused permission to build a four-storey block, and add a duplex apartment block to Harold’s Bridge Court, and a pedestrian entrance from Limekiln Lane.
In 2005, an application by The Adroit Company to build five apartment blocks between four and six storeys high next to Harold’s Bridge Court was rejected by An Bord Pleanála, who said the height would make them “visually obtrusive” and would constitute overdevelopment of the area.
In 2016, The Adroit Company was unsuccessful in a similar application to demolish the duplexes, the houses at Clare Villas, and the MART studio warehouse, in order to build six three- and four-storey apartment buildings on the same site.
At last Monday’s area committee meeting, Deirdre Conroy, a Fianna Fáil councillor, criticised the heights of the new proposal.
“This nine-storey building in a historic area overlooking the Grand Canal is quite frankly not acceptable,” she said.
Moore, the Green Party councillor, said the developer had had a previous planning application for tall apartment buildings rejected.
“This application was rejected in 2017 on the basis of its height and the impact on the landscape, and I just find it crazy that they’ve come back then a few years later with something that’s even higher, even more dense,” she said.
The build is too much density for Harold’s Cross, as it doesn’t yet have a local area plan, she said.
Adroit Company Ltd didn’t respond to queries sent Friday asking for its response to criticisms that the proposed building is too high.
Tara Deacy, a Social Democrats councillor, said it would be crazy to knock this amount of housing.
“If somebody was looking in from outer space at our current housing crisis in Dublin, and hearing that this level of housing is going to be knocked, I think they’d query that we’ve lost our minds completely,” she said.
The planner’s presentation ignored that people would be displaced, said Pat Dunne, an Independents 4 Change councillor.
“Are we going to end up with over 200 homeless people as a result of this desire to have greater density on the site?” he said.
The Residential Tenancies Board’s register has 13 entries for tenancies at either Harold’s Bridge Court or Harolds Bridge Court, and 63 entries for tenancies at Harold Bridge Court.
On Thursday, Callaghan, the Harold’s Bridge Court resident, said it would be tough to find somewhere new, as you just don’t hear of any new places. “So imagine everyone here going out looking for a place at the exact same time. Like, that’s terrifying.”
Bigger buildings on the site would mean fitting more people in, she said, and there obviously is a demand for homes in the city. “So I mean, a few extra, yeah, grand. But it’s resulting in us being thrown on our nose.”
Their place is more affordable than others she’s seen out there, she says. Callaghan and her housemates pay between €650 and €750 each for their rooms.
Agustin Pellegri, who also lives in Harold’s Bridge Court, says he pays €1,540 per month for a two-bed apartment. “It’s spacious.”
The city needs more apartments, he says. But there should be help offered to those who currently live there, he says. “You have to provide them with another accommodation in the meantime, or whatever.”
Adroit Company Ltd didn’t respond to queries asking if it would be finding alternative accommodation for current tenants if the application to demolish their homes is approved and they are displaced.
Moore, the Green Party councillor, said at the meeting that she couldn’t get past the fact that the developer is proposing to knock the homes.
“On a site that, albeit, is well located for higher density development, but it is not in keeping with our climate objectives or our sustainability objectives to actually knock down 50 dwellings,” she said.
Pat Barry, the chief executive of the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC), says new buildings could be more energy efficient than the homes there now.
But they couldn’t be energy efficient enough to make up for the loss of carbon from the demolishing and rebuilding, he says.
Activities related to construction make up about 11 percent of Ireland’s carbon emissions each year, according to the IGBC’s 2021 Carbon Roadmap for the Built Environment in Ireland.
“Mainly producing materials, transporting them, incorporating them into the building,” said Barry, and that doesn’t include the energy used to operate the building itself, which makes up 24 percent of Ireland’s carbon emissions.
If a building has been constructed to the latest standards, it uses as much energy to build it as it does to operate it for 50 years, he says.
Callaghan, looking up towards her Harold’s Bridge Court apartment, says the duplexes are really in need of upgrading.
Warmth from the storage heaters in each room escapes rapidly through poor insulation, she says. “They’re like class E, or something, they’re so bad.”
Lynch says they could be refurbished and maybe solar panels added, rather than knocking them.
“There wouldn’t have to be a whole knock and rebuild. But I suppose they want to kind of maybe rebrand, and up the prices,” she said.
Adroit Company Ltd didn’t respond to queries on whether it had considered refurbishing or upgrading the apartments at Harold’s Bridge Court, rather than demolishing them, nor to queries on its response to comments that to demolish would not be in line with objectives in reducing climate emissions.
Barry says in some cases, it could be more climate friendly to refurbish buildings to a high standard, than demolish and rebuild.
“Even though it might be slightly less efficient than a new building, it’s going to be extremely difficult to recover the carbon that you’ll expend in building it,” he says.
However, if more housing is needed, it could ultimately use less carbon to build higher density housing somewhere with good transport links, says Barry.
“You could triple the density, and it’s located somewhere with very good public transport. Well, then in that case it can make sense to take down the buildings and rebuild them,” he says, because you’re saving on the carbon people use for transport.
Declan Meenagh, a Labour Party councillor, said for the upcoming city development plan, which is the planning rulebook for the city, he argued for a motion against the demolition of buildings less than 30 years old.
“This requirement is intended to serve as an encouragement for people to build 200 year buildings instead of 30 year buildings,” said his reasoning for suggesting the motion.
However, the council’s chief executive said there were already policies in the development plan that substantially supported this.
Namely, policy CA5, which seeks ‘to promote and support the retrofitting and reuse of existing buildings rather than their demolition and reconstruction where possible’.
Meenagh said he still would have liked his motion to get into the development plan. “I accepted the advice of the manager that what was there was strong enough.”