Nicholas Rooney was on a stroll with his granddaughter last Friday, catching some afternoon sun, headed together toward Stardust Memorial Park at the end of his road, Coolock Drive.
“I’ve been living on this road since 1966,” says Rooney.
Decades back, he remembers playing football on the site of the former Chivers factory, when it was all just green fields. He remembers later, too, when the fencing went up on its boundaries.
Now there are plans afoot to build 495 apartments there, with some blocks as high as 10 storeys – and residents and councillors are worried about the impact that’ll have on traffic, sunlight, and the surrounding homes.
The abandoned site used to be industrial. But councillors voted to rezoned it last year, so it could be used for homes, after lobbying by landowners Platinum Land, who showed them a different vision for it.
“We were given a different presentation when we were being asked to rezone it,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Larry O’Toole, at a recent meeting of the North Central Area Committee.
“We were in a pickle then, we were in a bind,” he said. Councillors didn’t want to hold back housing and had to take a leap of faith – but the presentation made by the landowners had been “a totally different kettle of fish altogether”.
Andrew Gillick, a director of Platinum Land, didn’t respond to an email sent last week, or return a phone call.
When Platinum Land owners Maurice and Andrew Gillick pitched councillors last year, it was for “a 350 managed housing scheme with facilities”, according to an email to Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland in September 2017.
They also put those same plans on display for residents to see.
The email to Gilliland said the development was to include “a 2.5 acre park and facilities such as crèche, leisure facilities and a local shop adding to the local community and accessible to the wider established Coolock community”.
Plans filed with An Bord Pleanála on 30 April 2019 show greater heights and density than that earlier vision, and no local shop.
The planning application is for 495 build-to-rent apartments in four blocks from three to 10 storeys tall, along with a creche, cafe and gym. There’s also a landscaped park.
Some traffic changes are included – an upgrade with signals of junction at Coolock Drive and Oscar Traynor Road, with a signalised pedestrian crossing to the south of the site, and another at the pedestrian entrance to the park off Greencastle Road.
Under the Part V social-housing obligations, Platinum Land intends to lease, rather than sell to the council 49 apartments for 25 years at 85 percent of market rent: 6 studios, 15 one-beds, 18 two-beds, and 10 three-beds.
In their earlier exchanges with councillors, the Gillicks had said the scheme would be some kind of affordable rental. Their information website says at least some apartments will be offered to the state for its Enhanced Long-term Social Housing Leasing Scheme.
Because the whole development is more than 100 apartments, the application goes direct to An Bord Pleanála, bypassing the usual route through local planning authorities, and limiting appeals to the courts.
But councillors sounded off at their recent North Central Area Committee meeting – with comments that are sent on to An Bord Pleanála.
They weren’t happy.
Up, Up, Up
“To me, it’s too high, it’s too dense,” says Labour’s Gilliland, at the area meeting during the last council term. She pointed out that earlier plans had shown five storeys.
Currently, Dublin City Council’s development plan limits heights for apartment blocks in this part of the city to 16 metres. In Platinum Land’s application, the taller tower would be 30.75m – nearly double that.
Justifying the heights, Platinum Land pointed to the ministerial guidelines on height restrictions published by Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy last December.
Under these guidelines, which override council development plans, Murphy removed height restrictions and said councils have to identify where increased building heights “will be actively pursued for both redevelopment, regeneration and infill development”.
In their application, Platinum Land also say the location is appropriate for increased building heights – and note the National Planning Framework’s objectives to increase density in existing urban areas that are well serviced by transport, to prevent sprawl.
“It’s an absolute insult to us,” said independent Councillor John Lyons, at the meeting – touching again on the difference between what councillors were told would be built, and what is shown.
“We’re literally under attack,” he said. “Anybody who has any problem with any planning application, we’re being tarred as being nimbyism.”
Guidelines from the minister ensure that property interests can just do whatever they like, he says. He said the only way they can appeal what An Bord Pleanála rules is judicial review. “They’re pushing communities into either protesting or into the courts.”
The heights completely overwrite the development plan, Lyons said. “They’ve just completely ripped it up and thrown it back in our faces,” he says.
On Friday, Pamela O’Brien, a neighbour of Rooney’s in Coolock, had nipped home on a quick break from work. She lives across from where the entrance to the proposed development is expected to be.
“We get lovely sunshine here in the morning,” says O’Brien, wondering what will happen once the 10-storey buildings go up across the road.
In other parts of the city, local residents are living in darkness in daytime because of neighbouring tall towers and little buffer. Light and shadow assessments submitted by Platinum Land say there’s no reason to refuse planning on these grounds.
O’Brien doesn’t see any harm in building homes on the land. But she doesn’t think it’s right that buildings of up to 10 storeys are going in across the road without public discussion, she said.
“It’s like knocking down Ballymun and building it in Coolock,” says O’Brien. People here wanted the housing, she said. But they feel now “as if the wool was pulled over their eyes”.
Near Coolock Drive, Rooney points down the street towards the first house, saying they’ve a big problem being so close to the main – and currently, only – planned way in and out for traffic to the Chivers site.
“Aldi brought an awful lot of traffic to the road,” says Rooney. “Traffic with this is going to be fierce.”
The increase in traffic is one of Rooney’s chief concerns. The road is already busy as it is, and they’ve looked for a pedestrian crossing on the street for years, he says.
Platinum Land’s application says that parking spaces would be rented separately, which would encourage people to car-share, and use public transport.
At the area committee meeting, Gilliland raised the same concerns as Rooney about traffic. Such intensive development is “going to cause havoc from a traffic and parking perspective and just for people’s general enjoyment of their roads in the area”.
Independent Councillor Paddy Bourke pointed out that Oscar Traynor Road, at the junction of Coolock Drive, is a two-lane road. “It’s nearly impossible to get up that road at certain times of the day.”
He said he doesn’t think the roads are a capable of taking this. “The density and the height … I’m ashamed to say I was conned into changing the zoning of that site,” said Bourke.