Since they fumbled the vote on the plan for the Phibsboro area, Dublin city councillors – along with local residents – have been scrambling to see if there’s a way to repair the damage.
Eight councillors have put their names to a motion they plan to introduce at a special meeting this Thursday to try to start, again, the process for the Phibsboro Local Area Plan.
The document is meant to set the agenda for the development of the neighbourhood for at least six years: how high the buildings can be, how the waterways should be used, how to make it easier to get around.
Putting it in place is particularly important given the likelihood that there will be a planning application for the Phibsboro Shopping Centre site, said Ray McAdam, a Fine Gael councillor. (This could come soon; the sale of the shopping centre to a developer was recently agreed.)
“Given that there has been a significant amount of interest in the shopping-centre site in Phibsboro,” McAdam said, “my view is that we at least need to have the Local Area Plan or at least have initiated the principles and the objectives of that plan for the shopping centre site.”
At their 7 December meeting, in a muddle of confusion, the council voted against the Phibsboro Local Area Plan, which had been under development for as long as 18 months, seemingly killing it – which wasn’t what most said they wanted.
Finding a Way Forward
The councillors trying to restart the process hope that when a planning application is lodged by the new owners of the Phibsboro Shopping Centre, they’d have to take into account any local area plan that’s in process, as well as the city’s development plan.
Whether or not that’s a viable way to move forward, and how long it would take to get back to the stage where councillors could vote again on bringing the plan in, is unclear, said Sinn Fein councillor Seamas McGrattan.
“I don’t know to be honest, and I think nobody really knows, from councillors to managers,” said McGrattan, who is backing the motion.
Even if the motion passes on Thursday, there are many other local areas in need of some tender love and care – and local area plans. So, the Phibsboro area could find itself back at the end of that queue.
But “where we’re left now there’s nothing and a huge amount of work has been done,” said McGrattan.
How much all the work cost is unclear. Dublin City Council’s press office gave a figure of €13,006.29 for printing costs and adverts for the Local Area Plan, but didn’t say how many woman-hours and man-hours went into it.
That planning application for the Phibsboro shopping centre site could come soon.
The sale has been agreed for the Phibsboro shopping centre, according to a source with direct knowledge of the deal. If all proceeds smoothly, the new owner will be MM Capital.
On Tuesday, Derek Poppinga of MM Capital said he wasn’t in a position to comment on plans for the site, or to say at what stage the deal was at. “We’ve no comment at this time on that,” he said.
A couple of councillors also said that MM Capital had reached out to them before the vote last Monday, but the councillors didn’t think it was appropriate to respond to the company at that time.
In meetings in November and December, councillors discussed the appropriate height restrictions for Phibsboro – and particularly for the shopping centre site.
Council management has argued that if the limit is set too low, this might discourage redevelopment of the shopping centre. Some councillors, though, have a low-rise vision for the area.
This disagreement is what led to the seeming demise of the local area plan.
Challenging the Validity of the Vote
Now councillors aren’t the only group trying to find a work-around, or work-through to get the local area plan back on track.
Local residents’ group Reimagining Phibsboro is looking at another front: whether or not an amendment – that set in motion the chain of chaotic votes that led to the vote against the plan – was valid at all.
In particular, motions are supposed to be submitted more than 11 days before a meeting, and this one wasn’t.
“Our position is that this vote should never had occurred to begin with,” said Ciara Considine of the Reimagining Phibsboro group. “It should be declared null and void and brought back to the place it was before that amendment.”
As to other potential routes for challenge? “We are just waiting to get advice at the moment,” she said.
Several Causes of the Chaos
There’s been finger-pointing and soul searching since the meeting on 7 December.
Some blame absent councillors, some blame councillor who voted against the plan, some blame the compromise motion put forward by Labour councillor Brendan Carr. (Carr, incidentally, said he had had no contact with the developer.)
And some argue that the dysfunction on display was down to the nature of the loose coalition that is currently in place in City Hall.
Right now, the main alliance on the council is a loose grouping, the Dublin City Alliance, made up of Sinn Fein with Labour, the Green Party, and some independents.
But it’s not a ruling coalition as such, says McGrattan of Sinn Fein. So “there was never going to be broad agreement on every issue.”
There was a mixed mandate in the local elections, and that’s possible in the general election. It can make it tough to co-ordinate.
“I’ll be very honest, it can be very difficult to get business through the council chamber with such a diverse group in independents and the left, said Fianna Fail councillor Paul McAuliffe.
Sinn Fein’s McGrattan agreed. The diverse groups makes it “much harder” to do council business, he said.