Local residents around Wolfe Tone Park have campaigned since 2006 for the concrete and gravel site to get its grass back, so that the park looks more like it did in the 1990s.
At Monday’s monthly council meeting at City Hall, councillors voted through a plan for a redesign of the space.
If it goes ahead, it will mean a new kite-shape lawn area, a grove of trees and some plants on the western side of the park, where there is gravel at the moment. There would be public seating, an extra tree, and plants towards the eastern side.
The roads around the park would be narrowed, and the headstones would also be moved to the southern end of the site, and given accent lighting. The cow sculpture would stay.
Some councillors raised concerns about the design, and how public input had been treated. But in the end, they backed the plan.
“It is a much better plan from what is currently there at the moment,” said Fine Gael’s Ray McAdam, who is chair of the council’s Central Area Committee, which represents the area in which Wolfe Tone Park is located.
Green Party Councillor Ciarán Cuffe said he thought everyone would love it if all the old churchyard parks – like Wolfe Tone Park, which was originally a graveyard for the adjacent St Mary’s Church – could get back all the grass and benches they used to have.
But the footfall in the city has grown since then, Cuffe said. “If you put down [all] grass, it would become mud within a matter of weeks.” He backed the plans as is, he said.
Some councillors raised concerns about how the council had gone about the public-consultation process, asking locals for their views on the designs.
A report from the council said it had received 47 submissions from residents during the public consultation. Two local residents were in favour, five observations from local businesses were generally supportive, and there were another 38 submissions that all made the same observations, the report said.
People Before Profit Councillor John Lyons said he was concerned about the way that council management had dealt with submissions from the public. “The [Wolfe Tone Park] campaign would dispute that fact that 38 of them contained the same observations,” he said.
That is similar to the way managers dealt with submissions sent to them through a template on the Dublin City Buskers website in relation to the busking bye-laws last summer. In that case, the council lumped together more than 6,000 submissions, treating them as one.
Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan asked what had happened to the plan to engage the local community in workshops, in designs, as happened with Weaver Park. That had been agreed, Moynihan said. “I’m slightly disappointed that that hasn’t happened at this stage,” she said.
As Moynihan sees it, this is all reflective of how badly the council does public consultations. “We really need to be more proactive in our consultation process, and improving this,” she said.
Despite Words of Opposition, Councillors Vote for PPPs
When councillors were asked at their monthly meeting in March to back the use of public-private partnerships (PPPs) to build a tranche of social housing, some hesitated.
At this month’s meeting, though, the majority voted that Dublin City Council should lead a project for around 500 new homes, spread over sites in five nearby local authorities; two are in the Dublin City Council area.
If you’d listened to their words, you might have expected them to vote the opposite way.
“I don’t believe that PPPs deliver within budget or on time,” said Sinn Féin’s Daithi Doolan. “We’re calling on the minister to abandon the PPP,” he said.
But if that doesn’t happen, Sinn Féin has 10 changes they want to see made to the plan, including that developers “with a history of non-compliance” be excluded from bidding on the contracts to build these homes.
Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan was at pains to stress to councillors at the meeting that this PPP would be different from PPPs that collapsed in earlier years. In those cases, the homes were paid for by transferring land to the private developer, he said.
Under this plan, the developer would design, build, finances and maintain the social housing units for 25 years on sites provided under licence by local authorities. The council would make monthly payments to the developer during that time.
Keegan said it would be value for money and delivered in good time. “I believe this is fundamentally different,” he said.
PPP projects undergo a test that compares the expected costs of the project with the traditional model of delivering social housing, to see if the PPP would cost less. (He didn’t say what happens if it doesn’t.)
But some councillors said they still need to be sure that this proposed PPP would definitely be cheaper than other options.
“Are we confident that we can build this cheaper than going to the Housing Finance Agency?” said Fianna Fáil’s David Costello. “That’s a huge concern that I have in relation to this.”
Éilis Ryan of Workers’ Party said there are no EU rules that prohibit state companies from borrowing off balance sheet, so the council should set up an agency to borrow funds and directly develop social housing on these sites.
She and independent Councillor Cieran Perry proposed that Dublin City Council look at doing just that. But 42 councillors voted against their plan (7 voted in favour, and 1 abstained).
Keegan said that if the council didn’t step up as the lead agency on this project, then it’ll likely just go to another agency. Dublin City Council would then lose any control that it had.
Labour’s Alison Gilliland said she couldn’t delay a plan that would provide 500 houses. So did other councillors. “I think it’s a bad model, and I think there’s a better model there,” said Sinn Féin’s Críona Ní Dhálaigh, but, she continued, “I can’t block it.”
Perry said he and Ryan were not trying to delay the process.
But the main argument put forward by officials in response to suggestions that the council should itself build on public land was that the state’s credit is maxed out.
In that telling, it can’t borrow billions to build more social housing, or simply create new public agencies to borrow on its behalf but not on its credit – known as “off balance sheet”.
Now, though, the Nevin Economic Research Institute says it can, says Perry. “I just don’t think there’s a necessity to have the private sector involved at all,” he said.
In the end, councillors voted in favour of pushing ahead with the PPPs, with 42 voting in favour, 5 voting against, and 2 abstaining.
No Beds, Again
Independent Christy Burke was out late last week helping rough sleepers, he said.
“On Thursday night at 11:30pm, there were no emergency beds in the system,” Burke said, at the meeting. (That was true for women, back in February.)
He said that the council needs to review its whole approach to rough sleepers. Rehabilitation is vital in relation to a number of rough sleepers, he said.
“If we don’t do that, all you’re doing is putting a plaster over a serious fracture and it will continue and continue and continue,” Burke said.
He said it was heart-breaking that for the people he is dealing with who are sleeping rough, there is no glimmer of hope that things are going to improve.
[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 5pm on 5 April. An earlier versions said that Councillor John Lyons is with Solidarity. In fact, he is People Before Profit. Apologies for the error.]