16 January, 2017

Too many students?

There's been a lot of Planning Applications for student housing in recent years, particularly in the north inner city. The map above shows some of those planning application that I've noted in the last year or so, and if you click on the link you can zoom in or out. I've counted planning applications for 6,000 bed spaces in the North Inner City alone, and that's just in the last three years. Local residents are apprehensive about the impact of such development, and we need to get it right.

Across the River Liffey in the Liberties, on Bonham Street almost 500 bed spaces have been provided in an impressive development designed by O'Mahony Pike Architects. It seems to fit in well, and provides a nice way to walk from Usher's Island up to James's Street through the Digital Hub past the remnants of the old St. Patrick's Windmill. The first residents moved in six months ago, and I  haven't heard any complaints so far about the impact, and it seems to me to be a good addition to the neighbourhood. Years ago I remember a packed-out meeting of residents when Trinity Hall was being proposed in Dartry. Listening to the nearby residents it seemed like an Armageddon of drunkenness, relocated traffic cones and bus stop signs was about to descend on that fairly well-heeled neighbourhood. It seemed not to have occurred.

It is important that this type of accommodation is really well managed, and that the everyday issues such as waste bins and construction traffic are well taken care of. Some of these proposals are a bit over-scaled for their surroundings, and there are concerns about over-looking and over-shadowing. In addition there is a very real fear that an over-concentration of students in one area might make life difficult for existing residents. 

On the plus side they will take some of the pressure off existing housing, where rents and prices have sky-rocketed again in recent years. The real solution to a housing shortage is to build more housing! In addition, with a large construction phase of the new Dublin Institute of Technology campus at Grangegorman, these new developments will attract students to live near their campus which makes sense.

One of the interesting things has been that the developers aren't looking for vast amounts of car parking, and the planners haven't looked for it either. Some of them have no car parking whatsoever. This makes sense, as journeys in the inner city are more likely to be made by foot or bike or public transport. If we can't get students to travel using sustainable means, then what hope do we have in persuading others to do so? It will put pressure though on nearby areas that don't have a residential disc parking scheme in place, but that's inevitable as the city copes with a growing population.

I've made my own views known on several of these applications over the last few months, and you can see my observations on Prussia Street, the North Circular Road and Stoneybatter at these links. I've invited in our senior planning staff to make a presentation to Dublin City Council's Central Area Committee next month. We'll see what they have to say. One issue that's been on mind is as follows: We set lower space standards for students in our Development Plan (under pressure from the then Minister for Housing Alan Kelly). If the demand for student housing doesn't materialise, will we be easily able to convert these lower-specified units into regular housing for others?

03 January, 2017

Tackling decades of dereliction

What an extraordinary story!

Just a day after my rant about the new Vacant Sites Levy I get an email from someone in Phibsborough, upset about the continued dereliction of buildings on his street.

"I wonder if you can help. Myself & other residents of Connaught St, Phibsboro have been engaged with Dublin City Council for almost a decade regarding three derelict addresses, Numbers 7, 19 & 21 – the only three vacant on our thriving strip of ~150 family homes. But we are now stuck.
"These three properties are under three different ownerships, and each has been left unoccupied since the 1980s. In 2012 the state of dereliction became so awful, that Dublin City Council had to buttress, and make emergency repairs to prevent the terrace coming down. At that point, all three properties were on the Register of Derelict Sites. Dublin City Council made emergency repairs to the roofs & outer brickwork, and boarded up all accesses as shown in the images below.
                Locals were under the impression thereafter that the sites were in the process of being acquired by Dublin City Council. In December 2016, after inquiry, we find that there is no process ... in train, and that the sites are no longer on the Register of Derelict Sites.
"The impossible aspect of the problem as we see it is this:
·         In 2012 when there was no Housing Crisis, but the sites were derelict. Dublin City Council Boarded them up.
·         In 2017 when the Council’s Housing Development unit is actively looking to acquire such properties to meet the housing crisis, they cannot – as the houses are boarded up too neatly, and thus are not derelict."

 Ironically the new Vacant Site Levy won't apply as the houses between them only amount to 400 square metres, including the back garden and the threshold for inclusion is 500 square metres.

I've replied to the resident saying that I'll submit the following Question for written reply by Owen Keegan next month.

“That the Chief Executive present a report on actions that Dublin City has  taken to render 19 & 21 Connaught Street, Phibsborough, Dublin 7 non-derelict, and to present any opinion that he may have (including advice from the Law Agent) indicating that the properties are no longer derelict given that they are boarded up, have Buddleia bushes growing out of the roofs, and decaying masonry, and are located in a Residential Conservation Area, and could he outline what action he now intends to take to ensure that these homes are made available to assist in the tackling of Dublin’s housing crisis. Furthermore would he agree that the empty state of these homes for more than a decade necessitates a more proactive approach by the Council?”

From my perspective as a councillor it seems that we need to broaden the definition of what constitutes a derelict or vacant site, and lobby Minister Simon Coveney to set the minimum threshold at 100 sq. m. rather than the current 500 sq. m. in the 2015 Urban Regeneration and Housing ActWe also need to get the Vacant Sites Register up and running as soon as possible, and I've already written to Owen Keegan asking him to do so. 

I'll keep you posted.