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The Land Development Agency (LDA) plans to build around 1,000 social and affordable homes, together with a 23,400 sqm commercial development, on two sites right beside the Park West and Cherry Orchard train station.
At a recent special meeting of Dublin City Council’s housing committee, councillors got a brief update of the LDA’s plans. It hopes to submit a planning application by the end of June to build between 900 and 1,095 new homes in a development that reaches 18 storeys at the highest point.
So far the LDA has not consulted local people in Cherry Orchard, says Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan, so he worries that the designs won’t include what the area needs.
“They are running ahead with delivering housing and that is great, but at the same time there is no discussion about the delivery of services and that is a deep concern,” he says.
There’s an urgent need for housing in the area, but services are so overstretched, it’s hard to see how they could handle the new families, says Fiona Carney, interim CEO of FamiliBase, a youth and children’s centre, in Cherry Orchard.
Early years interventions are crucial to successful education in disadvantaged areas, she says, but all the creches in Ballyfermot already have waiting lists.
“Primary care, psychology, OT [occupational therapy], speech and language and CAMHS [child and adolescent mental health services],” she says. “We have children sitting on waiting lists and problems are building up.”
In October last year, Dave O’Donovan, a council manager for Cherry Orchard, said too that the neighbourhood desperately needed more social supports and community facilities before housing.
A spokesperson for the LDA says that it has appointed a design team, with plans set to be completed in the coming months which will then go out for public consultation.
The LDA didn’t respond before publication to queries about what services and amenities will be provided in the scheme.
A Village Centre
The sites are directly beside the Park West and Cherry Orchard train station, and it is bounded by Park West Avenue and the M50.
The LDA plans for the new development to include around 700 cost-rental apartments, which would be mixed with 219 social homes in high-rise apartment blocks.
A low-rise scheme would provide 168 affordable purchase homes at a maximum of three storeys.
It’s unclear so far how affordable these homes will be, says Doolan, the Sinn Féin councillor.
The LDA defines affordability as relative to market prices, he says. He says he’d like to know how much they will cost to rent or purchase.
The LDA plans to build 23,400 sqm of commercial space together with the homes, according to the presentation. But it doesn’t say what that will be.
Locals in Cherry Orchard want a village centre, with shops, opportunities for enterprise and places for people to meet, says Carney, the interim CEO of FamiliBase.
“That stuff matters in terms of your physical environment,” she says. “If it feels run-down and the community constantly feels not listened to, that all matters.”
People need somewhere to meet and mix casually, says People Before Profit Councillor Hazel de Nortúin.
They also need shops they can walk to, she says, because lots of people living in Cherry Orchard don’t have cars.
So far, additional homes being built in the area – including private housing in Cedarbrook and Park West – hasn’t led to any new shops opening, says de Nortúin.
The original plans for the apartments in Park West included shop spaces, she says. But once built, many lay vacant and were never used as shops.
The public housing project should be managed to ensure that the retail units are used successfully, says de Nortúin.
“If they are not working with the community before they go in and develop retail units I don’t see them being a full success,” she says.
The LDA spokesperson didn’t answer a query as to whether the new plans will include a village centre for Cherry Orchard.
“The initial development proposals for the site will be in compliance with the planning and legislative environment,” he said.
Community Space and Amenities
The presentation at the housing committee meeting said that 5 percent of the land in the new development would be used for cultural and community space.
The new plans need to include a lot of creche space, says Carney, of FamiliBase.
At the moment, every creche in the Ballyfermot area has a waiting list, and FamiliBase has a hundred children on its waiting list for early-years places, she says.
“In areas of high deprivation those early years are so important, preparing them for transition to primary school,” she says.
If that is successful, their transition to secondary is likely to be successful, she says. Preventing early school leaving starts in the early years, she says.
There should also be improvements to local amenities for residents already living in the area, she says.
“There is a fabulous boxing club which is fantastic,” says Carney. The local running club is popular too and it needs a running track, she says.
De Nortúin says building that running track should be the council’s top priority.
“We need hard wins, to win the community over,” she says. “A quick win would be the running track, that should be done first before anything comes into the area.”
The council has plans to upgrade the park and the playground, says Carney.
Extensive public consultation was carried out a few years ago, for the Making Cherry Orchard Better local action plan, she says, but very little of that has been implemented.
“We have it on paper but we are not actioning it,” says De Nortúin. “We are shouting from the rooftops about what is needed and nobody is listening.”
The LDA doesn’t have any experience in designing public housing projects like this one in areas like Cherry Orchard, says Doolan, the Sinn Féin councillor.
“If they fail to deliver it will be a huge disaster for that community and could undermine a community that is already fragile and disadvantaged,” he says.
The LDA should look at what the council – which does have experience with this kind of project – is planning at St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore.
That project looks comprehensive and well-integrated, says Doolan. “St Michael’s includes a library, plaza, community centre, playground, creche, everything.”