“We are moving away from demolition,” says Coilín O’Reilly, housing manager with Dublin City Council.

The council plans to renovate and deeply retrofit those flat complexes that need substantial work going forward, instead of demolishing them, unless it can build a lot more homes on the site, O’Reilly said, at a special council meeting on Monday 22 May.

The council is assessing all of its 199 flat complexes across the city, said O’Reilly, to work out which ones are most in need of renovation and retrofitting.

“We can use facts and data to make decisions on what we do and how we do it,” he said

Around 60 percent of the council flat complexes were built in the last 30 years, says O’Reilly, and he hopes that most of the newer ones won’t require as much work.

Dublin City Architect Ali Grehan said at the meeting that the council is cracking ahead with a couple of demonstration projects in the city centre, at Dominick Street and Constitution Hill.

The council is building on what it learned when it did a deep retrofit of two homes in Ballybough House, a protected structure, where the renovations finished last year worked out cheaper than demolishing and rebuilding the homes.

“The core objective is to develop an exemplar climate-resilient housing solution to renovating DCC housing blocks which addresses current questions about retrofit,” Grehan says. “And informs other renovation projects – public and private.”

Renovating, not demolishing

Grehan said that the council started trying to construct near-zero energy buildings (NZEB) ahead of regulations requiring them to do that.

Thirty new apartments on North King Street last year met the grade, she says. “I think that development is a brilliant example of how to sustainably re-make a street.”

The council has planning permission to redevelop Constitution Hill – a five-storey council complex in Broadstone – which will serve as a demonstration project it can learn from, she said.

There, the council plans to knock together bedsits to create one-bedroom apartments, add floors to existing buildings and build two new blocks as well as a mews development at the back, said Grehan.

“It’s going to be a very sustainable development,” she said. The council will measure the carbon released over the lifetime of the building, she said.

That project will feed into plans to retrofit 2,000 other similar homes in the city, she said.

“It’s our first deep-retrofit of existing five-storey blocks and this is very much a type within Dublin City Council so the learnings from this retrofit project will apply to other blocks that need deep retrofitting,” she said.

Dublin City Council has an opportunity to learn from the renovation of an existing vacant flat complex at Dominick Street in the north inner-city too. All the tenants have moved out, as the council has built a new complex opposite.

Council housing complexes at Dominick Street. Credit: Laoise Neylon

Regeneration projects face particular complexities – re-housing existing tenants, phasing building, and accommodating the needs of existing families, she says.

“We have an opportunity to do a demonstration project at scale without the issues that we face in our other, tenanted flat blocks,” she said.

“The project can explore best practice in water management, SUDs [sustainable urban drainage systems], greening, circular economy and positive energy,” she said.

The council’s in-house architects and quantity surveyors will lead the projects and will consult specialists as required, she said.

“We are very conscious we need to proceed quickly,” said Grehan. They hope to start on-site on Dominick Street in the middle of 2025.

The council will continue to work on renovating and retrofitting other complexes at the same time, she said.

Dublin City Council has been working up plans to redevelop or renovate flat complexes since at least 2018.

A council housing report from April 2023 says that 2,039 homes across the city are scheduled for regeneration.

Two housing complexes are set to start soon as the council is at the stage of tendering for a builder. It has plans to redevelop a further 26 complexes, says the report.

O’Reilly said the council will stop calling the redevelopment of its flat complexes “regeneration”. “We are going to start talking about what we are calling an enhanced works programme,” he said.

He has discussed the idea with the Minister for Housing and staff in the Department of Housing, and they are supportive, he says.

The council needs to demonstrate that it can achieve a high standard of housing without demolishing the blocks, O’Reilly said.

Calling time

Shane Hawkshaw, a senior council engineer, gave an update on the council’s current retrofitting programme, under which it has upgraded 9,186 council houses – rather than apartments – since 2013.

That work has included cavity-wall insulation, attic insulation, draft-proofing, ventilation and supply of lagging jackets that insulate hot presses to homes, he said.

Of those homes, 1,129 also got other works done, such as external wall insulation, heat pumps and new windows and doors, he said.

In 2021, the Department of Housing increased the amount of funding available to councils for retrofitting social houses. The council now aims to bring its council houses up to B2 or the cost-optimal equivalent.

(The cost-optimal equivalent is when the home gets all the correct measures, which would bring a normal house up to B2, but for some reason, they cannot achieve the rating.)

The council upgraded 201 homes last year, said Hawkshaw and 79 percent of council houses have had retrofitting work, but that doesn’t include council flats.

It will take eight to 10 years to complete that programme at current funding levels, he said but he expects funding to increase further.

“It’s a good programme, we drive on,” he said to councillors. “It is important the support that we receive from yourselves as it’s a city-wide programme.”

Councillors at the meeting welcomed the work. Some called for the retrofitting programme to be sped up.

Said Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland: “I’m conscious of energy costs going only in one direction and the profile of our social housing tenants.”

Some councillors said that central government should release more funds to speed up the retrofitting programme.

Right 2 Change Councillor Pat Dunne called on Green Party Councillors to put pressure on their party leader, Eamon Ryan, the minister for the environment, to release funding so “that our tenants don’t have to live in damp conditions with mould and so forth”.

Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne said that she would relay concerns to Ryan but that the Minister for Housing, Fianna Fáil TD Darragh O’Brien is responsible for funding for social housing retrofitting.

“I understand the need and the urgency but there is unprecedented funding for retrofitting in this country to the tune of a total of €8 billion,” she said.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney said she doesn’t think that there is any issue with funding for social housing retrofitting works.

Several councillors asked why the works on Dominick Street West won’t begin until mid-2025.

“Unfortunately 24 months is what it takes us. I won’t go into the four-stage process,” said O’Reilly, referring to the famously drawn-out process councils have to go through to draw down funding from the Department of Housing.

“Optimisations and reviews, cost-benefit analysis, procurement design teams, design to planning and everything else,” said O’Reilly.

Social Democrats Councillor Mary Callaghan said that some council tenants live in horrific circumstances, battling damp and mould.

“Nobody should be living with damp and mould,” said O’Reilly. The council can intervene in those cases regardless of when an apartment complex is scheduled for renovations, he said.

There could be different causes behind damp and mould but the council will work with tenants to try to fix those issues, he said. “There are things we can do in the meantime, especially around mechanical vents.”

Laoise Neylon is a reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at lneylon@dublininquirer.com.

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1 Comment

  1. I absolutely love these ‘fly on the wall at councils meetings’ style articles. It really gives an insight into all the moving parts behind the scenes.

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