So this is the Irish planning system in action: Gannon Homes wants to construct 1,970 residential units in Clongriffin, along with some office and commercial space yet they have lodged three separate planning applications to two different bodies: An Bord Pleanala and Dublin City Council, thus making it a near-impossible task to engage in a proper planning dialogue with regard to the planning vision for the entirety of this area, Clongriffin Town Centre.
The First Strategic Housing Development application is to An Bord Pleanala: 1,030 apartments (352 residential, 678 Build to Rent units), 2 creches, 10 retail units and all associated site works.
The Second Strategic Housing Development application is also to An Bord Pleanala: 500 apartments (235 residential, 265 build to rent), creche and all associated site works.
The third application is to Dublin City Council: The development will consist of the construction of a mixed-use development comprising of 420 apartment units.
This multiple submission tactic completely disadvantages residents, community associations and elected representatives from having their voices heard in the planning system.
It also leads to a sense of fragmentation: our city council Local Area Plan for Clongriffin and the wider Dublin City Development Plan appear lost in this new process.
Who is in charge of taking a wider and longer view of planning in this area? Who ensures that the long-term objectives of creating a sustainable and vibrant mixed-use town in actually achieved here in Clongriffin?
The Strategic Housing Development (SHD) fast-track process is the most anti-democratic move made by Fine Gael, at the behest of property developers, in recent years: any proposals to build 100+ houses or 200+ student accommodation bedspaces bypasses Dublin City Council as the Planning Authority and goes straight to An Bord Pleanála (ABP).
We’ve seen what that means in the radical revision of Dublin City Council’s plans for the Chiver’s Factory site.
Property developers have the government in their pockets: the planning system and thus the city of Dublin is being reshaped in its profit-making image, with a housing and homelessness crisis; a bubble in office construction; a dearth of community and artistic spaces and in the case of Clongriffin, the construction of a soul-less apartment complex-dominated dormitory town rather than the creation of vibrant mixed-use town, as was originally envisaged for this area.
And lastly, in order for your voice to heard in all three of these applications, you will have to cough up 60 euro (20 quid per application). Sure why not?
Not only is our voice drowned out by profit-seeking property developers and their government and civil service cronies but we get fleeced at the same time.
Councillor John Lyons calls for resignations over the way DCC was misled over O’Devaney Gardens
Opposition to Dublin City Council’s plan for O’Devaney Gardens rocketed on 18 November 2019 when it emerged that the council voted through a plan two weeks’ earlier (see below) that was reported to the council as a new one, with increased affordable housing by way of new cost rental units, when in fact the Minister, Eoghan Murphy, had not signed off on any changes to the original, rejected plan.
A letter obtained by Sinn Féin under the Freedom of Information act details comments from the Minister including statements that refute the promise of social and affordable housing:
In order to repay the required financing, the rental levels would likely have to be set at, or close to, market rates. This would effectively negate the concept of providing affordable homes for rent.
… it seems highly unlikely that the purchase of private units from the developer… can deliver its intended goal of affordable rental.
Independent Left Councillor John Lyons will move a suspension of DCC’s standing orders at the annual budget meeting 18/11/19 to deal with this crisis and attempt to win a plan for government funding towards a project that guarantees a large allocation of affordable housing for O’Devaney Gardens. This will give parties such as Labour, Greens and Social Democrats an opportunity to recognise that voting for the plan of 4 November was a massive mistake and a betrayal of those on low and middle incomes who elected them. Failing this, these councillors should resign.
As John Lyons explains:
I believe that all councillors from Fianna Fail, the Social Democrats, the Green Party and the Labour Party who voted in favour of gifting the prime public land at O’Devaney Gardens to the private developer Barta Capital should resign, with Fianna Fail Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe the first to step down.
It turns out, unsurprisingly, that their private “deal” with the developer has no legal basis and did not change the percentage of affordable housing contained within the disastrous deal struck between Dublin City Council and Barta.
During the city council meeting in which the vote took place on November 4th last I posed a question to the law agent: does the new FiannaFail/SocDem/GreenParty/Labour Party “deal” materially change the contract between DCC and Barta?
The Lord Mayor refused to allow the question to be answered. Why?
Either these councillors knew that their new deal was nothing but a fig leaf to cover up their vote to privatise public land or they were genuine in their belief that their “developer deal” was going to increase the number of affordable homes but were too incompetent to ensure that their deal was legally sound.
Either way, they should resign over this farce.
DCC gave away O’Devaney Gardens without guarantees of affordable housing
On the evening of 4 November 2019, Dublin City Council officials and councillors from a range a political parties (Fianna Fáil, Sinn Fein, Labour, Soc Dems, Greens and some Independents) handed over a hugely valuable piece of public land, owned by the people of Dublin through the local authority, to a private developer.
O’Devaney Gardens is a 14 hectare site right next to the Phoenix Park, and if developed sensibly, could have provided a huge number of social and affordable housing units on site. Independent Left Councillor John Lyons made his opposition to this plan clear after the meeting of Dublin’s councillors.
The vote tonight on the O’Devaney Gardens Public-Private Partnership deal was a red line: the plan to gift the private developer Bartra Capital one of the most valuable sites in Dublin was passed by a majority of Dublin City councillors, meaning life in this city for thousands of individuals, couples and families struggling with sky-rocketing rents, unaffordable house prices, ever-lengthening housing lists, insecure tenancy arrangements and worsening homelessness will become even more of a struggle. I voted against this proposal as it further entrenches the neoliberal model of housing delivery pushed over the last two decades by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael: gift prime public assets to private capital, receive a paltry return and be grateful. Is it crazy to believe in the idea that public land should be used to meet the housing needs of the public and not to enrich a wealthy property developer? Instead, it appears that Fianna Fáil, the SocDems, Greens and Labour would rather have cosy chats with Bartra Capital than campaign for public housing on public land. Dublin City Council can and must do better: yes, our ability to act independently is restricted by the pro-market, neoliberal, property developer-friendly Fine Gael government at a national level but this only serves to emphasize how important it is that all elected representatives who care about housing in the city oppose the sell-off of public land and link in with local, city-wide and national housing campaigns to apply the pressure and force a change in national housing policy, away from the failed pro-market policy that only favours the rich and powerful towards a more humane housing policy that treats housing as a right and not a commodity. I will continue to campaign and call for the construction of public and affordable housing in Dublin City. This city belongs to us all not just those with the deepest pockets and the ear of the government. We need to stand up and take back the city from the vultures and speculators and their politician friends.
Councillors had a vote on the proposed section 183 disposal of the land to the developer. Unfortunately, even parties who claim to represent the interests of working class communities allowed this plan to go ahead.
The deal went through with the support of Fianna Fail, SocDems, Greens and Labour. They called for the housing minister’s resignation yet they rubber-stamped and further entrenched Fine Gael’s pro-market model of housing delivery.
Sinn Féin opposed the plan, but has flipped and flopped over O’Devaney Gardens these past three years. Their manoeuvring on 4 November rings hollow. The previous council meeting had an opportunity to develop a truly public cost rental model on the site but SF, along with Labour and Greens, defeated it.
A bad deal for Dubliners out there struggling on mid-to-low wages and faced with dire homelessness, outrageous rents, unaffordable house prices and lengthening council lists.
Public land should not be used for private gain.
O’Devaney Gardens developer demands €7m: Councillor John Lyons refuses to be bullied
Ahead of the important Dublin City Council vote on Monday 7 October 2019, the head of housing for Dublin City Council, Brendan Kenny briefed the press that the developers, Bartra Capital, had demanded a €7m payment from the council. Kenny threatened that there would be a five-year delay should this not be granted by councillors and released figures that glossed over the extent to which Bartra capital were able to exploit the situation, namely by having 50% of the units for sale on the open market.
John Lyons, Independent Left councillor, made his opposition to this extra give-away clear:
I will not be threatened by the executive of the city council acting on behalf of a private developer, and so will be voting against the plan to hand over the O’Devaney Gardens site to a Bartra Capital.
We have, as Dublin City Councillors, an opportunity next Monday to stand up for the people of Dublin who are despairing at the lack of public and affordable housing in the city.
I will not support a plan that will see a private developer make massive profits from the privatization of public lands, and with such a paltry return for the council terms of social housing, as well as the complete absence of any kind of housing that could be reasonably be described as affordable.
We have a fight on our hands and so we must link up with all the campaign groups and others interested in creating a city that is accessible to all.
The vote to privatise the public lands at O’Devaney Gardens was postponed until early November 2019
The main reason for the postponement seems to have been in order that the Minister for Housing can get involved on behalf of Bartra Capital. On 7 October 2019, the Minister for Housing repeated the threat made by a DCC official last week that if councillors refused to vote to gift a prime piece of public land to a private developer then nothing will happen on that site for at least half a decade.
Minister Eoghan Murphy says he wants to meet DCC councillors.
Councillor John Lyons made the following response:
To offer what exactly? I would say not much but a slightly tweaked outrageously bad deal.
So let’s use the next few weeks to build up the pressure on Fine Gael, DCC officials and the councillors currently in favour of this rotten deal.
Both Richard Barrett, the founder of Bartra Capital, and Eoghan Murphy TD share the idea that it is valid to build co-living apartment blocks. In other words, accommodation that is only a bedroom, with other facilities being shared.
Infamously, Murphy has described such accommodation as like living in ‘a trendy boutique hotel’. Everyone else calls it for what it is: a rat race designed by developers who want to maximise profits.
We should be designing beautiful public environments, like the one in Vienna highlighted here by Councillor John Lyons.
In April 2019 the Irish Sun used a freedom of information request to discover that the founder of Bartra Capital wrote to Eoghan Murphy in 2017 after his becoming Minister for Housing. Richard Barrett intended to avail of the ‘passports for cash’ scheme (officially, the Immigrant Investor Programme) but civil servants replied on behalf of Murphy that the meeting would be premature.
A film made in 2013, ‘Inside Out Outside In, Stories from O’Devaney Gardens’, highlights what has now been lost: a vibrant working class community.
Interview between Pat Kenny and myself, for Newstalk, 22 October 2019.
The Fine Gael pro-developer planning system in action: we on Dublin City Council rezoned the old Chivers’ factory site in Coolock from industrial to residential in October 2017 on the advice of the following assessment from DCC’s planners:
‘It is acknowledged that this unit has been vacant for a significant period of time and that the site may not have future potential as an industrial factory type unit. Give the location of the site, particular adjacent to the Santry River and conservation area, and current access off a residential street, a residential redevelopment of the site is considered appropriate in principle.’
Myself and all other North Central area councillors rezoned the land to allow for residential development but we were promised affordable housing and sensible density: 350 affordable units at reasonable heights.
The developer briefed local councillors and held meetings in the local community to inform people of their plans: 350 units at appropriate heights of no more than five storeys.
Fine Gael, however, made two significant changes to the planning system during this time, namely the fast-tracking Strategic Housing Development process which facilitates developers building more than 100 units by-passing the local authority as the planning authority and going straight to An Bord Plenala, which leaves no room for appeal once a planning decision has been reached.
The second change to the planning system was the issuing of new departmental guidelines on building heights, released in December 2018 which totally ripped up our City Development Plan regulations on heights and opened the door to developers to lodge planning applications involving outrageous new heights, like the one at the Chivers’ site.
When we were presented with the proposal, the idea was that the developer would build four apartment blocks, none of which would be more than five stories high. Now, the developers, Platinum, have announced that the maximum height of the apartment blocks will be ten stories high. This has come about as a result of the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy, removing height restrictions on plans, rendering our efforts to ensure a sustainable and reasonable development meaningless.
It is a very poor planning decision, allowing blocks of apartments eight and nine storeys high in a low-rise residential area.
Yet the only recourse available to anyone not happy with the decision is a judicial review in the courts, which can only challenge how the decision was reached and can costs tens of thousands of euros.
Fine Gael is quite clearly allowing Dublin to be shaped by the interests of private capital, and to hell with the communities.
Councillor John Lyons of Independent Left calls for original plan for Chivers site to be honoured
On 21 October, I called on Platinum Land Ltd to scrap their development plans at that afternoon’s meeting of Dublin City Council North Central Area Committee in Coolock
am seeking a full explanation from Andrew Gillick of Platinum Ltd as to why
they shifted from their original intention of building 350 apartments in four
blocks of varying heights of no more than five storeys to what was
disgracefully granted planning permission by An Bord Pleanala, namely 471
apartments in blocks
eight and nine storeys high.
The planning application lodged by Platinum Land was an outrageous insult to the local community in Coolock who have been disgracefully deceived by the developers. Over the last year, Platinum met with the local community and elected representatives, promising that their plan for the former factory site would be a sensible one that integrated the new development into the existing wider low-rise residential community in a sustainable way.
What the people in Coolock now face is a proposed development, given the green light by a highly politicised An Bord Pleanala, that will destroy the visual character of Coolock by allowing blocks of flats eight and nine storeys high in an area predominantly of two-storey houses. This will create an eye-sore that will blight the community for decades to come.
Questions will also be asked about
the wisdom of squeezing 471 apartments on a site originally earmarked to have
just 350 apartments.
It would appear that the greed of the
developer has trumped their promises to the local community and they seem to
have little regard for the damage their proposed development will inflict on
This is why I am formally requesting
that Platinum Land Ltd revert to their original plan of providing 350
apartments on the site.
I will also demand that they consult with the local community at the earliest possible date.
At the end of April the Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government released its most recent homeless figures. During March 2019 there were over 3,800 children who were homeless and 2,445 adults. This represents a rise on the same period in 2018 and shows that Fine Gael’s promises (and those of their ‘independent’ allies) to make housing the test of the success of the government to have been merely shadow play.
Niamh McDonald, Independent Left candidate for Donaghmede LEA said:
The majority of those children are from one parent families, those parents are mainly women. These figures are not the entire picture, there are women and children in refuges, the hidden homeless, Direct Provision and many on the streets are not counted. This is a generation suffering and becoming institutionalised due to no fault of their own. This can be solved but we need to vote out those who refuse to fix the problem FG, FF & Labour. Some seem to think if your local FF or FG Cllr gets the road fixed or gets your windows done you should vote them back in, this will not create change, everything will just stay the same. Its up to the people to change it because the establishment currently elected won’t change as it benefits them to much.