Dublin City Council is still working out whether to move ahead with the idea of floatels – homes on big boats for students, workers, or tourists.
Some councillors are eager to explore the idea more. Some council officials seem less eager. But as the Dublin debates it, Dún Laoghaire is pressing ahead.
Dún Laoghaire Harbour Company put the idea of floatels for tourists out to tender in the summer. It received several responses and is now in advanced negotiations with a provider, said spokesperson Carolyn Hanophy.
“[We] hope to make a definitive decision about launching the Dún Laoghaire Harbour Flotel in the coming weeks,” she said.
On Tuesday, councillors on Dublin City Council’s planning committee once again discussed the idea of using them here, and agreed to examine proposals from companies that want to dock floatels in Dublin.
Some, such as Labour’s Dermot Lacey and independent Mannix Flynn seemed open to the idea of using them as housing.
Sinn Fein’s Catherine Carney Boud said she would support floatels but for tourism rather than as full-time accommodation.
An idea first put forward in the chamber by Labour Councillor Mary Freehill, the vision is to use ships for different uses: as hotels, or to house workers. Elsewhere, some floatels have gyms and restaurants, usually with large communal kitchens, too.
Outside of the chamber, some people have also been lobbying for the council to take up the idea.
The chairman of the Port of Cork, former Bord Gáis chief John Mullins, was behind a proposal to the council last June. He set up Irish Floatels along with Doug Downey to make the pitch.
Downey, a former COO of the National Digital Research Centre, says the housing crisis is preventing major IT companies from being able to recruit staff for their Dublin branches.
In June, Irish Floatels proposed a ship, the Sans Vitesse, which could be docked on the Liffey and would accommodate 100 workers in single en-suite cabins.
John Boland, spokesperson for Irish Floatels, says they were disappointed by the lack of interest in the idea shown by Dublin City Council staff.
“There was a very comprehensive and experienced team behind this proposal,” says Boland. “It was very disappointing that Dublin City Council, who were to receive a fee from our contribution towards the use of a pontoon, didn’t really engage with us at all.”
Tenants in Waiting
Dublin City Council Executive Manager for Planning and Property Development Paul Clegg said in yesterday’s meeting of the planning committee that the proposal last June was unclear about who the intended clients were.
But Irish Floatels had a clear idea of who they would target, says Boland: multinational companies based in Dublin were ready to come on board and keen to find accommodation to offer to their young recruits from abroad.
Like Mullins, Boland said the lack of accommodation is holding these companies back from being able to recruit. “If interim measures to address the housing shortage in Dublin are not acted upon immediately, companies will have to consider other capital cities to expand their business,” he said.
This might sound like spin from somebody trying to drum up business, but others agree. “We are probably already losing out on business because of the state of our housing system in terms of affordability, quality and difficulty in accessing,” said Lorcan Sirr, a housing lecturer at DIT.
Sirr said he supports more creative responses to the housing crisis, such as floatels. “I’m all in favour of innovative solutions … [instead of] repeating the same pro-cyclical policies of the past, such as first-time buyers grant, loosening credit control,” he said.
“Container-housing, ships, whatever can provide decent accommodation at affordable levels is to be welcomed,” he says.
Still Not on Board
But while Dublin City councillors agreed on Tuesday to keep looking at proposals, they are likely to meet resistance from council officials and Dublin Port Company. (Dublin City Council is in charge of the Liffey and Dublin Port Company controls the port.)
Back at the end of September, when Freehill first pitched the idea of floatels for young workers or students, council officials said they didn’t have the space on the river.
That’s also what the Assistance Chief Executive for Planning Jim Keogan told Irish Floatels by email. “The conclusion we have come to as an executive is that we do not have satisfactory locations to provide for such a facility,” he wrote.
But Irish Floatels say the ship could be placed on any 100-metre stretch along the 2 km stretch of quays from the Dublin Port up to City Quay, opposite where the tall ship Jeanie Johnston is moored outside the IFSC.
Keogan agreed at the last planning committee on 27 September to ask the Dublin Port Company about its capacity to facilitate floatels.
But the chief executive of Dublin Port, Eamonn O’Reilly, wrote back to say that he has no space for floatels either.
“Most of Dublin Port’s seven kilometres or thereabouts of berths are located east of East Link Bridge and I can confirm that there are not berths there which would either be available or suitable for the positioning of floatels,” said O’Reilly.
(Neither Dublin City Council nor Dublin Port Company had responded to our queries about the idea of floatels before publication.)
At yesterday’s meeting, Clegg said that they need to keep berths available along the Liffey for the tall ships festival.
Do They Look Bad?
Aside from space, council officials may have been put off by how the floating homes might look.
Clegg, the executive manager, said in September that floatels would have a negative visual impact on the river, and asked whether 100 units was enough of a benefit to justify that.
He echoed those sentiments at Tuesday’s follow-up discussion. “The vessel they showed us I don’t think was suitable to go on the Liffey,” he said.
Graeme McQueen, the public affairs manager of DublinChamber, also said that – although he knows of numerous companies concerned about the lack of housing in the city – he thinks floatels could project a poor impression of Dublin abroad.
The Sans Vitesse does have garish zebra-print paint at the moment, but it could be repainted if it is the issue, said Boland.