When Laura Sinclair tore her hamstring in January, it was all of a sudden much harder for her to get around her estate in Pelletstown.

“The first challenges came with the kerbs near the apartment,” she says.

There weren’t always crossings with lowered kerbs where she wanted to go, and she couldn’t step over a kerb to get back onto the footpath. Even getting to the local shop and the local cafe was hard, she says.

“I had to walk very slowly on the road for over a 100 meters to find the next lowered kerb,” she said. “Which is obviously not a great situation.”

The next challenge was to go further afield. For that, her partner would push her in a wheelchair.

“The pavements were so slanted and broken, that it would be a challenge to my 6’3 105kg athletic partner to push me around,” Sinclair says. “Imagine having to push yourself?”

So she went to the property-management company, which sent her to the developer of the estate, Ballymore, which didn’t give her a satisfactory answer, she says.

And she can’t go to Dublin City Council because it doesn’t control the roads and footpaths and kerbs in the estate.

The council is supposed to eventually take over control of, and responsibility for, Sinclair’s and other estates in this Pelletstown-Ashtown area in the north-west of the city – but has not yet done so.

If it had, residents could maybe push the council for changes, using laws and local politicians to apply pressure. But they don’t have any effective levers to pressure the current private owners to make improvements, in the meantime.

“The place is stuck in a kind of limbo,” says Feljin Jose, a Green Party candidate running for a council seat representing the Cabra-Glasnevin ward, which includes this area.

“It’s a major issue,” says Colm O’Rourke, a local Fine Gael councillor representing the area. “I don’t think a lot of residents realise this is the issue behind some things they’re frustrated about.”

A long, long road

Café Marmalade was bright and welcoming late on the morning of Wednesday 12 July. Plenty of coffee and scones and sunshine through the big windows.

It’s in a new block, with apartments above, in the Royal Canal Park estate.

Pelletstown train station, which is on the Royal Canal, is within sight to the south. The snaky green swathe of Tolka Valley Park is a similar distance north.

It’s in this estate that Sinclair lives, and where she ran into so many troubles with kerbs and footpaths.

There’s more than 200 houses here, and over 1,000 apartments, spread over 40 acres, according to developer Ballymore’s website. It started building the estate quite a few years ago – Sinclair says her apartment is 17 years old.

Walking around the area on this Wednesday, Jose, the Green Party candidate, points out issues with the streets and footpaths that he says local residents have raised with him, or he has noticed himself.

A good spot for traffic calming? Credit: Sam Tranum

There’s the long straight stretch of Royal Canal Crescent, along the canal, an unimpeded straightaway, where cars sometimes go too fast. Making changes to slow the cars down – ramps, traffic signals, something – would be good, he says.

But that stretch of road is owned by several different owner’s management companies, Jose says. “The problem is – where do you go?” If the road was owned by the council, there’d be one owner, and they’d be easy to find.

“There’s no real authority over the roads or public realm or traffic – there’s nobody for people to go to,” Jose says.

O’Rourke, the Fine Gael councillor, says that when he’s had meetings with residents in the area, they’ll often raise the lack of pedestrian crossings, traffic lights, traffic calming.

“The reason why all this isn’t in place is that the area hasn’t been taken in charge,” O’Rourke said by phone on Thursday 20 July. “I don’t think a lot of residents realise this.”

However, “residents are extremely frustrated” that the improvements aren’t being made to make the area safer, O’Rourke says. “A death could happen if it’s not speeded up.”

The taking-in-charge process

When a new estate is completed, the developer can apply to the local authority to have it taken in charge, according to a guide from the Office of the Planning Regulator.

“If the local authority is satisfied that the development has been completed in compliance with the conditions of the planning permission and the local authority’s technical requirements, then it is required to take control of the operation, maintenance and upkeep of the public roads, lighting and similar services,” the guide says.

This might include sewers, water mains, stormwater drainage, playgrounds, green spaces, car parks, fire hydrants, and more, the guide says.

There is no timeline for this long and winding process.

Even after the developer formally asks the council to take a finished estate in charge, Dublin City Council’s various departments have to go over it carefully to make sure the infrastructure is up to standard before they agree to take it on.

This can involve years of back and forth between the developer and the road maintenance, public lighting, parks, drainage and traffic departments, for example.

If the developer and the local authority don’t get it together and move the taking-in-charge process forward, the homeowners can force the issue, a Department of Housing spokesperson said by email on 20 July.

Where are the lowered kerbs? Credit: Sam Tranum

If the estate hasn’t been completed to the local authority’s satisfaction, and the local authority hasn’t brought enforcement proceedings within four years of the expiry of the planning permission – if the majority of homeowners ask, the local authority “shall” move forward with the taking in charge process anyway, the spokesperson said.

In such cases, the local authority can use any security or development bond the developer put up when building the estate to do the work to get things up to standard, the spokesperson said.

If that’s not possible, the local authority can pursue the developer for any costs it incurs “in respect of necessary works undertaken on a development to enable it to be taken in charge by that authority”, the spokesperson said.

Once the council executive reckons the estate is done and ready for the council to take in charge, the elected members vote on it, the spokesperson said.

How long does it usually take for a council to take in charge a new estate? “It is something that will differ from LA [local authority] to LA,” the spokesperson said.

O’Rourke says that Ballymore has asked the council to start the taking-in-charge process for Royal Canal Park, and Castlethorn has made the same request for the nearby Rathborn Boulevard estate.

A spokesperson for Ballymore said by email: “We are engaging with Dublin City Council and have submitted all the information required for the Taking In Charge and, like the community, we are anxious to move forward with this.”

How do I cross? Credit: Sam Tranum

They did not respond to queries about when they put in the information, or whether they’d be willing to make improvements such as installing traffic lights and pedestrian crossings to make the community safer in the years between now and when the taking-in-charge process is completed.

Castlethorn has not yet responded to queries sent Tuesday about whether it has formally requested the council to take Rathborne Boulevard in charge.

For the council’s part, a spokesperson for Dublin City Council said, “No formal request for taking in charge for Ashtown-Pelletstown has been received to date in the Planning and Property Development Department.”

“Discussions are ongoing with Ballymore Homes and the relevant Service Divisions in DCC around progressing  taking in charge of certain areas within the estate,” he said.

In the meantime, Sinclair is frustrated with the whole process, the whole situation, the whole being stuck in limbo.

“It makes me want to get a sledgehammer and smash the kerbs so someone has to fix them,” she says.

Next steps

O’Rourke brought a motion to the Central Area Committee in March 2022 that the committee call on the council to expedite the procedure for Royal Canal Park and Rathborne to be taken in charge as soon as possible.

The process is painfully slow, O’Rourke says. “I was hearing it could be another 10 years.”

And there are still tricky issues to work through, O’Rourke says. A lot of residents have bought a car parking space on the street and don’t want those taken in charge and made public, he says.

“There needs to be a consultation with residents about this, even before the statutory public consultation begins,” he says.

O’Rourke says the feedback he’s gotten from developers in the Pelletstown-Ashtown area is that working through this process with Dublin City Council is slower than with other councils.

Developers say the reason for this is that they have no single point of contact at Dublin City Council to work with through the taking-in-charge process. Instead, they need to contact each individual department: roads, traffic, drainage, and on down the list, O’Rourke said.

He’d like to see a system brought in at Dublin City Council where each developer gets a single point of contact for an estate to work through the taking-in-charge process.

Another idea for speeding up the process is for the council to take each phase of a development in charge as it’s finished, instead of waiting for the whole thing to be done to take it in charge all at once, O’Rourke says.

Along similar lines, Jose, the Green Party candidate, suggests that the process should be immediately begun once a neighbourhood is built.

Sinclair says something needs to be done to accelerate the process and get the necessary improvements made.

“Whilst my story is a six-month chapter, it was very debilitating. If I was in a wheelchair or immobile for life, I would have to move. It wasn’t liveable. And anyone at any time could become disabled,” she said.

“I literally watch people from the creche walk their prams and children into the road because of the kerbs,” she said. “It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

Finding workarounds

Among the things the council often provides to areas of the city that it is responsible for are community spaces, parks, sports facilities, and allotments, says O’Rourke, the Fine Gael councillor.

This means there’s a real lack of public spaces in Pelletstown, he says.

In February 2022, he brought a motion to the Central Area Committee asking for the council to “to identify a space in the Ashtown/Rathborne/Royal Canal Park area to acquire land for a community garden”.

This could “help with the community development of this new area and provide an amenity in an area that is lacking in a wide range of community resources”.

“My idea was that people from the apartments would then have a publicly funded space where they could meet, and gather,” O’Rourke said.

Reilly’s Community Garden. Credit: Sam Tranum

The council found a spot out beyond the edge of the area, the other side of the Ratoath Road bridge over the Royal Canal.

On that Wednesday, 12 July, the gate is open to Reilly’s Community Garden, in the shadow of that bridge. Three people are working away.

Flowers and vegetables are growing in raised beds. A picnic table is out, for sitting and chatting and having a cup of coffee.

Four or five months ago, Cathy Smyth, who works in community education in Cabra, brought her Trying It Out group up to the garden, she recalled by phone on Monday.

The group is for people who just want to try out different things before they pick a direction with a course, or a job, or anything like that, Smyth said.

She suggested they give the team behind the garden “a literal dig out” one day. And they liked it so much they’ve been going back every week for the past four or five months, Smyth said.

“It’s such a lovely atmosphere, such a welcoming atmosphere,” she said.

UPDATE: This article was updated at 15.07 on 27 July to include comments from a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.

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