At the edge of Temple Bar, to the right on Fishamble Street, as it winds down towards the river, is a small and vacant council-owned plot.
Twice in recent times the council has tried to deliver apartments here, but failed. Some local residents say they’d like the third try to be at developing a community centre there.
Residents around here have, in recent times, focused their attention on issues around anti-social behaviour and noise from nearby businesses, says Lindsay King, a resident of Crampton Buildings, which is nearby.
But they’ve also repeatedly asked for a community space – somewhere just for those living in the neighbourhood to meet, she says.
“There is nowhere for residents to meet or have any community interaction, in a small area that has 3,000 residents and is oversaturated with pubs and restaurants,” she says.
A Meeting Place
On 13 May, independent Councillor Mannix Flynn put forward a motion, which passed, at a meeting of the South East Area Committee, calling on the council to support the development of a community centre for Temple Bar residents.
“There’s no facility for the community,” he says. “There’s no play area for children. The residents would relish somewhere they can have social activities.”
The small vacant site at 29–30 Fishamble Street, which covers 150 sqm, could be just the ticket, he says.
King, who has lived in Crampton Buildings for 37 years her entire life, says commercial units have been prioritised over community spaces.
“At least two complexes [in Temple Bar] are social housing, yet there are no amenities in the area for residents,” she says.
King says she would like somewhere for residents to meet, as a refurbishment of the complex in 2012, shrank their courtyard, the little private space they had.
“Holding residents meetings for us is so difficult, we’ve used cafes and function rooms,” she says.
The council had them use a community centre on York Street to meet with them last year, which was too far for many of the older residents, she says.
On Monday, though, a council spokesperson ruled out a community centre. “There are no available funds to construct a community facility at this location,” they said.
“Currently, there are no government funds for the construction of community centres in Dublin City,” they said.
In recent times, Dublin City Council has pursued two different options for the vacant patch on Fishamble Street.
A few years back, the council tried to organise co-housing for the land, through a project to encourage families to live in apartments in the city, called the Dublin House project.
Dublin House was modelled on similar citizen-led development projects like Almere in Amsterdam, said Dublin City Architect Ali Grehan at last Friday’s CoHousing Here! conference in Dublin Castle.
The idea was that a group of people would come together to design and own their own apartment complex.
Grehan said the council was partly responsible for the effort falling apart, “not supporting” it enough. There was also a problem getting financial backing from banks, she says.
The group selected to develop the site withdrew its interest in 2015.
Most recently, in 2018, council officials put a proposal out to tender for a five-storey block of social housing with one one-bedroom apartment and four two-bedroom apartments.
The homes were to be “volumetric” or stacked, and “rapid-build”. However, the council abandoned this in February when tenders came back, quoting €600,000 for each home.
Grehan said the decision to drop the rapid-build social housing project in February 2019 was partly because there was little interest from contractors to the tender call-out. “[It was] two or three, maybe,” she said.
“Maybe it’s because the system-build market of apartments for public housing projects is still evolving. We got much better interest [in] our larger scale, system-built programmes,” she said.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said that the main reason for the high quote was “likely to be related to the tightness of the site”.
A spokesperson for Dublin City Council said they don’t have new plans for the site yet. Some councillors still want to see housing there.
“I understand the challenges of the site. I would like to see the council go back to the drawing board. It may only be five units, but it’s five units we need,” said Green Party Councillor Claire Byrne.
“The original Dublin House project could have been a really interesting showcase,” she says.
Said Sinn Féin Councillor Chris Andrews: “I can’t believe there isn’t a solution for getting something in there.”
He would be interested in seeing if stacked shipping containers, like ones used by a family in Ringsend, could be put into the site as homes.
“Maybe affordable housing could be put in there, a group like Ó Cualann could look at it,” Andrews says.
Frank McDonald, a long-time resident of Temple Bar, says that if the site is to be sold off, it should be for homes and “subject to strict conditions requiring that it be developed for apartments both for purchase and rental”.
Not short-term lets, he says, “which have been a particular plague in the Temple Bar area”.
Grehan said on Friday that it was a “dreadful waste” to not use the site. “We’re not too keen yet to lose it to private development,” she said.