Just off James’s Street, within sight of the Luas stop, and in the shadow of apartment towers under construction, there’s a small football pitch.
“That used to be full of football teams – floodlights, everything,” says Mick O’Rourke, sitting on a chair in the sun outside his home nearby on Thursday. But, over the years, the council “gave up on it”, he says.
The pitch is set below street level, and its paved surface is covered in moss and dirt, with the occasional sprout of green poking through a crack. Still, people sometimes play five-a-side on it.
Sitting in her car on the street next to the pitch, Martina Byrne scoffs at the idea that the council will fix it up. “If you’re waiting on the council to do it? No,” she says.
But that’s far from the most important maintenance issue at these council-owned Basin Street flats, anyway, Byrne says.“It’s not only outside,” she says, “it’s inside as well.”
Her daughter lives there, she says, and the flat she’s in with her kids has been inspected and “deemed unlivable” because of damp. “Water pours down the wall.”
Inside Frank Gibbons’ flat in Basin Street, the next day, Gibbons is sitting on his living room couch with Damien Farrell. The two are involved in advocating for local residents – have been for years.
Farrell has his glasses pushed up on top of his head, and a notebook full of the dates and content of meetings with the local area office on a table nearby. He says he doesn’t live in the complex, but his daughter does.
“Dublin City Council abandoned this community a decade and a half ago,” says Farrell, who has run for a seat on the council for the party Éirigi.
In recent months, though, something has changed.
The council is taking steps towards a regeneration of the Basin Street flats – knocking them down, rejigging the site, and building “100–174 approx” new social homes – due for completion in late 2026.
“It could happen very quickly,” said Labour Party Councillor Darragh Moriarty by phone on Thursday.
“I just want to welcome this with absolute joy for the people of the area,” Sinn Féin Councillor Máire Devine said at the council’s monthly meeting on 15 June.
Byrne, sitting beside the pitch in her car Thursday, had heard there was a plan to knock and rebuild the homes, but was sceptical. “You don’t know whether that’s going to happen in 10 years, or 20, or ever,” she says.
A council spokesperson has not responded to queries sent Monday on why it hasn’t maintained the pitch better, and on its view on Farrell’s statement that it has abandoned the community.
Back in 2021, Moriarty was asking the council when it was going to fix up the pitch.
In April 2021, the response he got was that the park and pitch “is rarely used and has suffered from anti-social behaviour mainly broken glass and fires. There is a lack of community leadership and involvement in Basin Street.”
In November of that year he asked again and was told, “The pitch currently attracts high levels of anti-social behaviour and was the location of a bonfire on Halloween night.”
The council was “currently in discussion in relation to improvement works for the Basin Street Flat complex”, the response said, including fixing up the pitch and “Additional planting and greening of the complex”, as well as improved lighting.
The pitch is still neglected though. And Moriarty said Thursday, “Maybe doing up the pitch isn’t the residents’ priority. They’d rather have their living standards raised.”
Well, now that is the plan – “a significant scale regeneration project, providing high quality new housing and a new public park”, as a council report dated 30 May calls it.
“After decades of neglect that fact that so much renewal is happening around Basin Street has kind of shamed the council into doing something,” said Moriarty, the Labour councillor.
To the east, there’s the nearly 600 apartments the developer Marlet is building in towers now well under construction – as well as developer Ballymore’s planned Guinness Quarter a bit further away. To the west, there’s the new national children’s hospital.
In the middle of all that is a really run-down, neglected flat complex with anti-social behaviour so bad that people will turn down offers of homes there to avoid it, Moriarty says.
A council spokesperson has not replied to queries sent Monday on why this regeneration is moving forward now, on Moriarty’s statement that renewal in surrounding areas has shamed it into acting, or on whether it has trouble finding tenants to live in the Basin Street flats.
Moving the park
The planners envision re-arranging the site – which has about 120 homes now, say Gibbons and Farrell, in four blocks – to move the pitch and playground at Basin View, called Oisín Kelly Park, from the northern edge of the site, to its centre.
Council staff presented a plan to “reorganise” the zoning of the site to allow for the relocation of the park, at the May meeting of the South Central Area Committee, and the June monthly meeting of the full council.
It’d involve re-zoning the land the park is now on as residential, and re-zoning the land it’s going to be – which is now residential – for use as a park.
Redesigning the site would open up walking routes east-west through the site, as well as north-south, it says.
Also, the changed layout would provide “housing within enclosed urban blocks, making defensible amenity courtyard spaces thus enabling passive supervision of public open spaces and prevention of anti- social behaviour”, says the report.
Farrell and Gibbons don’t think moving the park would get rid of anti-social behaviour, just relocate it.
Said Farrell: “Just moving that space two blocks down isn’t going to make a difference, it’d just put it closer to the schools.”
South along Basin View from the flats are several schools and a creche.
Wherever the green space is going to be located, they’d love to see the broader community brought in on a consultation on what to do with it to make sure it’s really well used and looked after.
“We’re going to push for a football pitch,” Farrell said, of plans for the 0.422 hectares of park/green space.
An April council report indicates that the council is mindful of the need to tackle crime in the area.
“A crime prevention assessment was carried out on the Basin street complex 7th March 2023 at the request of the Area Housing Officer,” it says. “We are reviewing the report received back from the Crime Prevention Officer with a view to implementing same.”
Over the past several months, Gibbons and Farrell have come to learn about the plan to knock down the flats, rejig the site, and build back new.
“It looks okay in theory, but we want to get into the nitty gritty of it,” said Farrell.
In their telling, Gibbons and Farrell had to pry each tidbit of information out of the council. At the council’s request, they say, they’ve formed the Basin Street Residents’ Regeneration Committee – including themselves and more than a dozen residents.
The group had to meet outside in November on a basketball court because they couldn’t get an inside space. Once people learned they were from Basin Street, they wouldn’t let them use local halls, Farrell says.
The committee has gone in to meet council staff at Eblana House nearby, where the South Central Area office is located, with Gibbons and Farrell and five others from the committee.
It’s been a frustrating process, as what is proposed or promised seems to change from one meeting to the next, they say.
At the meeting of the council’s South Central Area Committee in May, senior executive officer Bruce Phillips spoke about the council’s commitment to community engagement.
“The council place a very high level of importance on community engagement in all the schemes we do and we have a very strong track record across all our regeneration complexes and Basin Street’s going to be no different,” he said.
But Gibbons and Farrell say the contacts between their committee and the council have not been what they’d call engagement – more a case of the council, under pressure, grudgingly telling them things that might or might not change later.
“They meet us when we argue for a meeting, then they throw stuff at us – that’s not engagement, that’s telling us information … eventually,” Farrell says.
“We’re not even second-class citizens, we’re being treated like third- or fourth-class citizens: ‘We’ll tell you what’s good for you’,” he says.
A council spokesperson did not respond to a query sent Monday asking for the council’s views on the residents’ criticisms of the quality of its engagement with them.
Knocking the old flats is going to require moving out the people who are living in them, a process that, in council jargon, is called “decanting”.
At one meeting with council staff, Gibbons and Farrell say, they were told all the residents would be moved out at once, all four blocks knocked, and then the new complex built. That’s exactly what the residents’ committee wants, he said.
That’d be hard, said council housing head Coilín O’Reilly, at the June monthly meeting of the council.
“It’s going to be very difficult to move everybody to a nearby location together and to move them back,” he said. “With the best one in the world, we don’t have an empty complex sitting there just waiting for people to move into it.”
On the other hand, there are downsides to “phasing” the project – moving tenants out of some blocks, knocking them, rebuilding, then moving tenants out of the other blocks, and knocking and rebuilding those.
“The difficulty with phasing, and we’ve experienced this across the city, it adds significant cost and significant time to the project,” O’Reilly said. “So if we phase it, it could add €20 million to it and could add a year to the project.”
Also, leaving flats or entire buildings empty for periods during the project when residents have been moved out of them, but before they’ve been knocked, can bring an increase in anti-social behaviour, said People Before Profit Councillor Hazel de Nortúin.
Gibbons and Farrell say that after the meeting when the council told them the whole project would be done in one fell swoop, they had another meeting. This time the plan had changed: now the plan was for a phased approach.
There are elderly people living in Basin Street, and people with health problems, “and they want us to live on a building site”, says Gibbons.
A council spokesperson did not reply to a query sent Monday on whether the plan was to move everyone at once, or to phase the project.
In the meantime, the council continues to do up empty flats and move people into them – there were 14 empty at one point, now down to 10, say Gibbons and Farrell.
It’s spending tens of thousands to do each one up, and that’s a waste of money, Gibbons said, if the flats are to be knocked and replaced by the end of 2026 anyway.
Yes, there’s a shortage of housing, but “Drive around the south-west inner-city, there’s boarded up flats everywhere,” says Farrell. “Do those up.”