Council Briefs: a Question Mark over O’Devaney Gardens, Vacancy in Phibsboro, and Making Next Year’s New Year’s Eve More Fun

Doubts and O’Devaney Gardens

Private developer Bartra should start construction on homes at the large council site at O’Devaney Gardens before the next full monthly council meeting, the council’s housing manager Coilín O’Reilly has said.

That means by early February.

“If it’s not, I think we probably do need to revisit where we’re going with the whole O’Devaney project,” he told councillors, towards the end of January’s full monthly council meeting.

O’Devaney Gardens, where 1,047 homes are currently planned, has been one of the council’s flagship housing schemes, signed off on by councillors in November 2019 after lengthy and fractious debate.

At the time, batting back opposition, council manager Brendan Kenny indicated in a report that the developer would start to build within roughly a year.

But it is yet to start. Some councillors have said the ongoing delays are unacceptable, and called for the deal to be axed.

At Monday night’s meeting, O’Reilly said that renegotiation of the contract – ongoing since last year – was far along. “At this stage we have the outline of an agreement on cost increases. That’s on a burden-share basis.”

He didn’t give any hard figures.

The plan is for the 1,047 homes to be a mix of social housing, cost-rental, affordable purchase, and market-rate private housing.

The council has now agreed to forward-fund the affordable purchase homes, O’Reilly said Monday. “And we’ll come back to the councillors with information on that in the near future.”

Also, a significant amount of the private homes have now been offered as cost-rental homes, he said. “We just need to agree costs on that and work out how to make it happen.”

On Connaught Street

At their monthly meeting on Monday, Dublin city councillors approved plans to partly demolish and rebuild two derelict Victorian houses on Connaught Street in Phibsboro.

Residents in the neighbourhood have campaigned for 20 years, they have said, to get the council to act on the homes.

In 2019, the council bought the homes using compulsory purchase orders. But by the end of last year, residents were growing increasingly frustrated, they said, that works had yet to start to do them up.

The plans approved on Monday night are to partially demolish the existing buildings, save for the front external walls, which builders will repair. Then they would rebuild two two-storey homes, each with four bedrooms.

Donna Cooney, the Green Party councillor, said she was worried about the carbon emissions from the demolition. “Why was it in so much disrepair that they couldn’t have been repaired and made habitable then?”

Cieran Perry, the independent councillor, said he would jump in to answer that.

Overall it’s a good news story, he said. But the length of time this had taken did highlight how derelict sites legislation and processes have not been not up to par, he said.

He started to campaign around the buildings, asking for compulsory purchase orders, in 2009, he said. “That’s over 13 years.”

Dublin City Council has upped its game since, he said. But if they had acted sooner, maybe they could have saved the houses as were, he said. “Without having to demolish them and rebuild.”

A New Year’s Resolution

Growing up in the West of Ireland, the celebrations in Dublin at New Year’s were always where you wanted to be, said Social Democrats Councillor Tara Deacy. As kids, they would watch them on TV with envy, she said.

This year, she brought her family into the city. But she was puzzled, she says, about where to go.

The only thing she could find was the ticketed New Year’s Festival event put on by Fáilte Ireland, which was sold out weeks prior. “There was absolutely nothing on our public streets for the average family,” she said.

Thousands of tourists and locals left Dublin that night really disappointed, Deacy said. Businesses that had anticipated a big night were disappointed too, she said.

That triggered a debate at the monthly meeting, which centered on what role the council should play in organising events at New Year’s. “Surely we have a role here,” said Deacy.

Deacy said she was asking that the council reinstate an event next year, or that – at a minimum – they collaborate with those responsible, she said.

Part of the discussion circled around fears of an expensive ticketed event being the only show in town.

“I think the most appalling aspect of this is that the council executive facilitated a private event, by actually blocking off, and in my opinion, desecrating public spaces in this city,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha.

Councillors also threw out ideas for how to make next year different.

Labour’s Alison Gilliland also said she agrees that the council needs to coordinate with other bodies to plan an accessible, family friendly, affordable celebration in the new year.

Also, people like to have stuff in their communities, not just in the city centre, she said. “And family-friendly is really key.”

She said she had often thought that the wonderful pre-Christmas activities could be extended from the holiday period into the new year.

“Because we do have a lot of people that are off work who wouldn’t normally have the time to come in and visit the city centre,” she said.

And people off school and training and college, she said, stressing the need to give them a chance to get away from screens and out and about in the city.

A few councillors mentioned how more people used to head into the city centre to hear cathedral bells ringing on New Year’s Eve, and the idea of tapping into that tradition in future years.

“There was great excitement and great fun,” said Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney.

Said Green Party Councillor Carolyn Moore: “I don’t think it needs to be expensive or flashy, even if it’s as simple as just providing a focal point where people can gather together and share in that moment together.

Vincent Jackson, the independent councillor, honed in on how the city council doesn’t lay on an ice skating rink anymore at Smithfield, he said. “Perhaps that could be looked at as well.”

Council assistant chief executive Richard Shakespeare said that all the council did was licence the Fáilte Ireland event. “We did not fund it.”

It wasn’t the first time that it had run, said Shakespeare. It’s happened three or four times since he joined the council in 2017, and has always been paid. The matinee show is more financially accessible, he said.

He said the council had spent more than €1 million on its Winter Lights programme this year. “That is for 25 days, roughly speaking. If we want to extend it out to new year, there’s another quarter of a million at least.”

For next year’s new year, they are looking at how they will animate the Liffey, he said. “And that will be light and water, and see how we can do that.”

But what they do comes down to budget, he said. “Lest I be cheeky enough to suggest that you know, you might consider the [Local Property Tax], and not taking 15 percent off it, and partially fund it.”

Each year, when councillors set the Local Property Tax rate, council managers urge them to set it higher, and tempt them with a list of all the things the council could do with the extra millions. Each year, the majority of councillors vote to set it as low as possible, saying that’s the fairest thing to do for residents.

Said Shakespeare: “If you want to do something serious, you have to put serious money behind it.”

Deacy, the Social Democrats councillor, said she was practical and has no issue with some ticketed event, and appreciates the budget constraints.

But there should be something alongside this for people who can’t afford a ticket, to attract them into town, and have them leave happy, she said.

“I’m practical and I’m a realist,” said Deacy. “I’m not expecting Sydney Opera House fireworks.”

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Author:

Lois Kapila: Lois Kapila is Dublin Inquirer's editor and general assignment reporter. She covers housing and land, too. Want to share a comment or a tip? You can reach her at [email protected]

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