On 6 October, Dublin City Council applied for planning permission to build 578 new homes in Inchicore, together with a community hub, a creche, a library, a supermarket, five retail spaces, two cafés and a plaza.
Announced in July 2018, the redevelopment of the St Michael’s Estate site is set to be the council’s flagship public housing project, with a mix of cost-rental and social homes.
Last week, Dublin City Council officials said they had dropped plans to privatise some housing on the site, after backlash from councillors and local residents who are keen to ensure that all homes are affordable.
The new development, currently called Emmet Road, would be three to seven storeys high and sit beside the historic Richmond Barracks and just across the Grand Canal from the Drimnagh Luas stop.
Every home would have a terrace or a balcony and the plans include 106 car parking spaces and 1,285 bicycle spaces, says the report.
This week, local councillors welcomed that the planning application has been submitted, but some queried whether the number of studios is too high, and whether those homes are suitable for permanent housing.
Living in one room is not ideal for people’s mental health, says Sinn Féin Councillor Máire Devine. “We want living breathing space for people.”
Funding Community Facilities
In July 2018, the then minister for housing, Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy, launched the redevelopment of the St Michael’s Estate site.
All the council information since then, including council info sheets, the council website, and reports for the extensive public consultation, have said that all the homes would be social and cost-rental.
So councillors and local residents on the regeneration forum were blindsided at a meeting on 26 September when council housing manager Coilín O’Reilly said that 91 of the new homes could be private rentals.
This was necessary to fund the community facilities for the development, he said.
The council has since said it will find another way to fund the community facilities, says Labour Councillor Darragh Moriarty, and planning documents submitted to An Bord Pleanála last week say that all the homes at Emmet Road will be social and cost-rental.
“The proposed development provides a mix which includes 24% social housing units (137 no. units) and 76% cost rental units (441 no. units),” it says.
Another council site beside it has plans for 52 social homes for older persons, giving a total mix of 30 percent social housing and 70 percent cost-rental across the two sites, it says.
Cost-rentals are those with rents set to cover the construction and maintenance of the homes, at a rate at least 25 percent lower than market rents, and where tenants have increased security, according to legislation introduced last year.
Moriarty says he was relieved that council management has apparently dropped the privatisation plan. “It took a much quicker turn than I expected.”
Council managers have said that they can find another way to fund the community facilities, says Moriarty. “They are confident they can make it up elsewhere.”
Dublin City Council didn’t respond in time for publication to queries about how it will fund the community infrastructure, the estimated costs of those facilities or whether funding is in place for the new library.
The Department of Housing has not yet responded to questions about why it doesn’t fund all the community facilities in public housing developments.
The Quality of the Design
Since the council announced the redevelopment of the St Michael’s Estate site in July 2018, progress has been slow.
In December 2020, a council spokesperson said: “We hope that the planning application will be ready in April 2021, it may take longer.”
Then the application was set to be submitted in December 2021 then it was pushed back to May 2022.
In July 2021 a council spokesperson said that Covid-19 had impacted the timeline for the project and “it is a very big and complicated project that requires very significant consultation with the various stakeholders including the local community.”
The timeline for completion of the homes is beyond 2026, according to the council’s Housing Delivery Action Plan.
Councillors welcomed the fact that plans have finally been submitted. “I’m just pleased that we are getting this far and let’s get it done,” says Devine, of Sinn Féin.
Almost half of the proposed homes in Emmet Road are one-bedroom apartments and studios, which is in line with the demand for one-bedroom homes in the city, says Moriarty.
The majority of households on the main social housing waiting list are singles and couples waiting on a one-bedroom home, according to a recent Dublin City Council housing allocations report.
But 19 percent of the development is studios, which Devine says she thinks are most suitable for young adults. “If it’s cost rental, you are still entitled to space,” she says. “Yes it may be cheaper but we are not looking at the student market per se.”
The council should be developing cost-rental homes for students separately, she says.
Devine says she would expect a lot of observations submitted by people to the council about the plans to examine whether that proportion of studios is appropriate.
“Is this the model we will be rolling out in all our public housing developments?” says Moriarty. “I would be concerned about that.”
The planning application says that there is a shortage of studio flats, which results in single-person households having to share larger apartments with other households.
“The provision of studio accommodation will allow single tenants to rent a property without having to share,” says the application. “There is a significant segment of the population that would welcome this configuration.”
There is huge demand from single people and couples and very little social housing available for them, says Moriarty. “There is nowhere to put those people.”
That said, most of that demand is from people who are middle-aged or older, he says, so studio flats might not be the best solution. “Can anyone really live longterm in a studio?”
It is not clear that studio flats are suitable as permanent homes, says Angela Rolfe, a member of the Inchicore Regeneration Consultative Forum (which was established to give a voice to community groups and residents on the redevelopment) and an architect. “That is an issue that should be raised.”
The scheme “is supposed to be lifetime adaptable housing”. That means that older people should be able to downsize into them from houses and so the mix of homes should include 1.5-bedroom homes, which include a small room for a carer to do sleepovers, she says.
Devine, who is also a nurse, says the same. “People want to stay at home,” she says. “We are all going to have a need for a visitor or a carer at some point in our life.”
Council managers were keen to maximise the number of homes on the site to help bring down the rents for the cost-rental homes, says Moriarty.
The planning application says that, metering off market rents and factoring in the need for affordability, the cost rents should be between €1,021 and €1,546 per month, depending on the type of apartment.
Moriarty says the rent rates won’t be known until after the tenders are back and it won’t be finalised until the building is completed.
“They are working off 70 percent of market rate,” says Moriarty. “But in a market that is mental, 70 percent of market rate is still going to be unaffordable for a lot of people.”