20 August, 2016

Debtors' Prison Occupation

Called in to the Debtors' Prison today and had a chat with Ania, James and some others who've been squatting there for the last week. They seem to have moved there from the Grangegorman squat on North King Street.  That site is due to become student housing. Back in the 1990s as a member of the Green Street Trust I worked with some creative people to save the building.  At that stage it was due to be demolished for road widening, but thankfully things have moved on. It's good to see another occupation drawing attention to the significant number of underused and empty buildings in the city while we're in the midst of a housing crisis. Here's a few scattered notes of my thoughts at this stage.

1. It's good to see new life in this historic old building, and hopefully this action will put pressure on the Office of Public Works to find a new long-term tenant for the building.

2. On 15 August 2016 Mr Justice Michael Hanna granted Department of Public Expenditure and the Office of Public Works (OPW) an injunction compelling the group to leave the building so it looks like eviction may happen soon.

3. The building currently has electricity, but not working toilets, so a long-term occupation would be challenging.

4. Although the building has been empty for the best part of a generation, the OPW has undertaken some much needed lighting, drainage and structural improvements over the last ten years. Income from filming has contributed to funding this.

5. Over the last couple of years I've been in the building several times. Several arts organisations such as Block T and Broadstone Studios may be interested in taking space in the building. It would be worth meeting with them to further the project.

6. Build alliances with local representatives and residents.  It is  worth seeking support from the eight local city councillors, and the three local TDs, as well as Minister Seán Canney, Minister of State with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works and Flood Relief.

7. Show that you're safety conscious. The building has holes in the floor, and doesn't have a working fire alarm system. This probably means that the City Council will want to move you out sooner rather than later, and this may be an insurmountable problem. Unless you can show that you're on top of this you'll be moved out really quickly.

8. Produce a clear vision for what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. People will find it difficult to support you unless you have clear aims and objectives.

9. Once you have a clear idea on what you want to achieve, move quickly to establish a structure to achieve this. This may be a cooperative, a company or a charity, but unless there's clarity on this it'll be hard to convince others to support you.

10. Spread the word. Flyers and a Facebook page with lots of likes is a start, but you'll need a website, a spokesperson and a clear concise message for the media, the general public and everyone else.

They're having an open day on Sunday 21st August 2016 at 4pm.

I hope it goes well for them.

05 August, 2016

Any thoughts on improving road safety?

A few days ago I tweeted “At @DubCityCouncil Road Safety Strategy meeting. Any thoughts on improving road safety? Fatalities up nationwide, but down in Dublin”. The replies came flooding in.  Thanks for the comments, I’m going to try and incorporate them into the strategy. You can see our old Road Safety Plan here if you'd like to read further on this. When we talk about road safety we usually mention the three E’s. That’s engineering, education and enforcement. Most of your comments fell under these categories. 

Under enforcement you suggested that cyclists wear lights at night, that speed limits must be adhered to, the five-axle ban in the city centre upheld and clearways respected. You also wanted more use of red-light running cameras. There were lots of comments about making sure speed limits are respected. This is crucial. All of this should  figure in the Strategy. 

There were lots of engineering suggestions. Everyone it seems wants more zebra crossings, and I am pushing to make this happen. The only downside here is that people with restricted vision can find it hard to feel confident using them. Maintaining road markings also came up, and I have no doubt that faded markings are contributing to to accidents. 

Education is also crucial. The ‘Staying Alive at 1.5’ campaign to ensure cars stay 1.5m away from vehicles could get greater prominence in Dublin. The suggestion that we should all experience what it is like to use other modes is a great idea. I’d love to get taxi-drivers behind the handlebars, and it would be great for pedestrians to see what the view is like when you’re driving a Luas.

A crucial element of the strategy will be a fourth ‘E’ - evaluation. We’re already looking at where accidents happen and what the contributory factors are. This will inform the strategy itself. Certainly lower speed limits seem to be reducing the number of serious accidents in places like Marino and the City Centre, but narrower roads also help in these areas. To roll out the Strategy we’ll need the Road Safety Authority to help out with key messages, and in that regard we have to move beyond the more high-viz vests approach to vulnerable road users. More funding for traffic calming would also help. The emphasis in recent years has moved away from speed bumps towards carriageway narrowing and tighter curve radii at junctions. Even the planting of street trees can send out a subtle message to slow down that can compliments signage and safer speed limits. However this requires money, and I’ll be looking for Minister Shane Ross to move money out of gold-plated new road projects such as the New Ross Bypass, and into area wide traffic calming which save lives at less cost. We’ll also require An Garda Síochána to focus more on offences, particularly those that impact on the more vulnerable such as speeding, and parking on footpaths and cycle lanes.

Finally someone suggested that we should ‘ban culchies’. I won’t be trying to roll that out anytime soon, but I think what it does show is that the public realm has become overly complicated in recent years. Simple signage, and less visual clutter can make our streets safer for all. @CoasainGalway said ‘Think environment not individual’. That brings us up to five ‘E’s: Education, Engineering, Enforcement, Evaluation and Environment. As Stephen McManus pointed out we need to move focus from safe to livable. That to me is a clear message to feed into the strategy.

With thanks to @conankwrites @cosaingalway @cosaingalway @lorcansirr @maerkelig @OnlyOneMUFC @Servicecharged @surball @tampopo2236 ‏@tdlegge ‏ @TheKavOfficial @Virginian_x @zynks

24 December, 2015

Low standards in high places

In a true democracy local government officials wouldn't feel obliged to issue a press release when a senior planner speaks their mind. 

However that's what happened when Dublin City Council Senior Planner Kieran Rose said that Minister Kelly ‘has been bamboozled by certain powerful vested property interests.’  Rose was referring to Kelly's newly published Design Standards for New Apartments which roll back on improvements made under previous Governments.

The Council under Chief Executive Owen Keegan issued a press release saying that “The comments, while made in a personal capacity, are both inappropriate and regrettable and do not reflect the views and opinions of management of the City Council.If that isn't a slap-down then what is?  Group think and the 'uno duce, una voce' approach is precisely what got Ireland into difficulty in the first place. We're in trouble if public servants aren't allowed speak their mind.   The etymology of bamboozle lies in the French word embabouiner "to make a fool (literally 'baboon') of, and there is certainly a Neanderthal feel to those who are arguing for lower standards. Let's not forget that some years ago the Construction Industry Federation argued against mandatory insulation in new homes, saying it would drive up the price of housing. These same vested interests clearly have the ear of their Minister.

If Labour's Kelly really wants to increase housing supply he should spend more time talking to the European Investment Bank to release funding for housing. He could also legislate to ensure that a portion of semi-state pension funds are invested in new homes. It seems crazy that when there's over a billion euro in CIE pension funds yet none of these monies are obliged to be invested in housing as they are in other jurisdictions. He must also sit down with Credit Unions, Trade Unions and other bodies to ensure that they too play their part in tackling the housing crisis. He could modify the much heralded 'Living City' scheme for older buildings that has been spectacularly unsuccessful. Finally (dare I mention it) he could allocate sufficient funds to local authorities so that they can build as much housing as they did in previous times when there were housing shortages.

It would be shameful if Labour's legacy in the Customs House were to be smaller apartments, lower ceilings, less storage space, and new homes with no access to sunlight, yet this is now set to happen under Alan Kelly's watch. Kelly has bought into the 'starter homes' and 'first time buyers' language that characterised Liam Carroll's Zoe shoe-box apartments back in the last century. Five years ago the Government that I was part of phased out bedsits. Now, thanks to Alan Kelly they are on the way back. Earlier this year when a u-turn on bedsits was first mooted ALONE – a housing and advocacy charity for the vulnerable stated that they campaigned against this type of accommodation for over 30 years and we don’t want to go back. We would be concerned that it would be the most vulnerable who would be forced into this type of accommodation, often located in old buildings with sub-standard conditions.  ALONE believes the government needs to look at long term strategic solutions to providing quality housing instead of short term reactions to the current crisis.” It seems curious that the Labour Party isn’t doing more to provide quality state-built homes as they did when in Government previously.
The Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 introduces a vacant land levy to put pressure on land hoarders to build and make best use of their lands but its introduction had been long-fingered until 2018. If this provision was enacted sooner it might put pressure on land-owners to make better use of their sites to apply for planning permission and build the housing that is so badly needed. Further back-peddling is underway with the repeal of the new windfall/betterment tax of 80% on trading profits and capital gains arising from disposals of land that was built into the National Asset Management Act. This provision was a positive development to deter speculation and yet Fine Gael and Labour removed this provision in the 2014 Finance Act. This will encourage speculative rezoning and higher land and housing prices.

Minister Kelly hasn't provided for any public consultation prior to making these new standards. This means his changes may be in breach of the Aarhus Convention which states that Government shall endeavour to provide opportunities for public participation in the preparation of policies relating to the environment including housing. This one could run and run.

23 September, 2015

Councillors insist on having cake and eating it

Dublin City Council met last night and dropped Local Property Tax by 15% against the CEO Owen Keegan’s recommendation.
That means less money for libraries, pedestrian crossings, senior citizen services, opening locked parks, fixing footpaths and roads, tackling dog dirt and street cleaning, public realm improvements etc. Interestingly in the light of the Web Summit moving to Lisbon it also would have funded CoderDojo and city WiFi. Oh, and housing, and homelessness services will feel the pinch as well.
You’ll save €60 if you own a house and it is worth €250,000 or €1,000 if you live on Shrewsbury Road. No tax is perfect, but the Green Party felt this was fairer than most and voted against decreasing this tax in Dublin City.