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A planned social-housing complex on a long-derelict site at Fishamble Street in the heart of the city should be named after Dr Noel Browne, councillors have proposed.
Browne, a former Minister for Health and doctor, played a major role in improving the treatment of tuberculosis in Ireland in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
He is also known for trying to introduce free healthcare for all mothers and babies, an initiative that destablised the government after doctors and religious leaders opposed it.
A TD for the south inner-city, where Fishamble Street is, as well as other parts of Dublin, he stood as a representative of five different political parties and was active in politics until 1982. He passed away in 1997.
At a meeting of the council’s South East Area Committee on Monday, independent Councillor Mannix Flynn suggested naming the housing complex for Browne.
“Because it is such a historic place and because it is social housing and a joint venture between Dublin City Council and the Peter McVerry Trust, you might consider naming the building Dr Noel Browne House,” said Flynn.
“It would be an ideal opportunity to honour an extraordinary individual in this community … who did exemplary work,” he said.
The committee supported the proposal.
Third Time Lucky?
The site, at 29–30 Fishamble Street, is opposite Dublin City Council’s Civic Offices and is owned by the council.
The Peter McVerry Trust, a housing and homelessness charity, proposes building 10 social homes there, at an estimated €4.3 million.
Gerry Folan, who works for the Peter McVerry Trust, said the cost estimate dates from July 2022, when the charity got stage 1 approval for the project from the Department of Housing.
Browne said that the McVerry Trust will deliver the homes “using capital assistance funding.”
Under the Capital Assitance Scheme (CAS) housing charities get funding from the Department of Housing to build homes. It has a four-stage approvals process.
The Department of Housing approved this proposal last year at stage 1. Now that the project is ready to go out for planning permission, the quantity surveyors in the department will examine the scheme again – which is stage 2.
If the department approves the plans, the McVerry Trust can apply for planning permission.
If it gets permission then the Department of Housing staff will check the costs again before the scheme goes out to tender (stage 3) and then check the price again once the tenders come in (stage 4) according to the Minister for Housing, Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien, in a parliamentary question in 2022.
This is the latest in a series of attempts to develop the site.
“This is a long derelict site with a long and chequered history of attempts to try to develop housing on it,” council administrative officer Aisling Browne said at the meeting of the council’s South East Area Committee on 8 May.
There are technical and financial challenges to building on a small infill site in the city centre, Browne said.
In 2013, a proposal for co-housing on the site fell through. In 2018, a council plan to build five modular homes also didn’t proceed because it was too expensive, said Browne.
In 2021 the council approached the Peter McVerry Trust, she said.
Said Fine Gael Councillor Paddy McCartan: “Hopefully this will be third time lucky on this project.”
At the committee meeting, Architect Richard Averill of Fitzgerald Kavanagh and Partners said that the current proposal is to build eight one-bedroom homes and two studio apartments with balconies facing Fishamble Street.
All the proposed homes are dual-aspect, said Averill, meaning they have windows on more than one side of the building. The ground floor would include bicycle parking and a large communal room for activities, he said.
The proposed development “will make a positive contribution to the streetscape and character of Fishamble Street”, says Averill. “Bringing further activity and life to a historic part of Dublin City as well as contributing to the intense need for housing in the city centre.”
“Fantastic,” said Flynn, the independent councillor. “I very much welcome housing here and I welcome the design.”
The benefits of the scheme justify the costs involved, said Right to Change Councillor Pat Dunne. “People are going to have an opportunity to live in the historic centre of the city.”
The project’s contribution to rejuvenating the city has to be taken into account when examining the cost, said Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey.
Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne asked why there are two studio flats included in the design, instead of all one-beds.
Browne, the council administrative officer, said that including studios meant 10 homes could fit into the development, bringing down the cost per home. “To make it more attractive funding-wise.”
A complex with fewer homes would be more expensive per home and so the Department of Housing might not agree to fund it, she said.
The proposed scheme will go through the ordinary planning permission process, said Browne.
“It’s a bit more of an open transparent process,” she said, so if neighbours want to make submissions they can.
The council can build housing without consultation, following changes introduced earlier this year.
Local councillors on the committee supported Flynn’s proposal to name the complex after Dr Noel Browne.
The council’s Commemorations and Commemorative Naming Committee has been looking at options for remembering him, said McCartan, the Fine Gael councillor.
Dunne, the Right to Change councillor, said he is in touch with Dr Noel Browne’s daughter and would consult the family about the idea.
Folan, of the Peter McVerry Trust, said he would discuss the idea with the charity’s board.