Many who drifted through an old warehouse on the Player Wills site on Friday afternoon said they were still digesting the giant panels on display, unsure what to think yet.
They approved of the exercise, though. “At least they’ve done this,” said Frank Brady, a local resident, of the open days.
Hines, the global real-estate investor that controls two large sites on South Circular Road known as the Player Wills and Bailey Gibson sites, invited people over two days to come see its plans so far.
Some of the display panels told the story of the now-defunct Player Wills cigarette factory’s social, and planning, history.
Others – the ones visitors most were interested in – showed outlines of Hines’ vision for the future of the lands around the factory: up to 1,400 apartments, with streets, parks and amenities too.
Outside, the developer had organised a makeshift skateboarding area, and a graffiti wall. There were free coffee and cakes on offer under an awning.
People who dropped asked questions about how many homes would be built, how high the buildings would be, how traffic would flow, and what amenities, specifically, would be included.
There was some information, but also big, important gaps. Many of those who dropped by, and local councillors who spoke afterwards, said they were undecided about the project – they needed to know more.
It’s a welcome first step, said Labour Party Councillor Rebecca Moynihan, who said she went by twice to take a look. “But the devil will be in the details.”
They’re still working on final plans but the idea right now is for up to roughly 1,400 homes, said Andrew Nally, an analyst with Hines who was at the site on Friday to talk to people who stopped in.
These would be on the Player Wills site, as well as the adjoining Bailey Gibson site, which are both controlled by Hines.
Plonked in between these two sites, and stretching further to the north, is a larger plot, owned by Dublin City Council.
Nally said that while some of the homes on the Hines lands would be built to sell, as plans stand now, those would be the minority. “It will be predominantly a build-to-rent scheme.”
Apartments would be “predominantly” one-beds and two-beds, he said. “The apartments themselves will be 10 percent larger than the minimum standards.”
Some of the visitors to the site on Friday were keen to learn more about how high Hines was proposing the buildings on the site would be, but couldn’t find specifics.
Others were trying to match the ways in and out to the roads they would lead off, to see if they’d be dinged with more traffic on their roads.
One panel said the aim was to promote public transport, walking, and cycling. So the designs aim to limit the number of access points for cars, limiting the impact the development would have on traffic, it says.
Most car spaces are below ground, and also the designs will promote services such as GoCar, electric charging points, and bike-shares, it said – as other build-to-rent developments are doing, too.
“I like all the talk about parks and open spaces,” said Anne Gill, who lives near the site, as she looked at the panel that promised pocket parks, play zones, and green courtyards for residents, too.
Gill has children, she says, so would especially welcome a few more parks in the area.
Moynihan, the Labour councillor, says she’d be watching for more details about what amenities, shops, and such will be included, and trying to make sure that’s based on what the community says they need.
“I’m a little bit concerned that it’s too overly residential as it stands,” she said, on Monday.
Important details around heights, costs, and the sizes of homes weren’t public yet. “All of that really boring but essential planning stuff wasn’t really there,” she said.
People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh said that, “At first glance, the plans are promising.”
But she would worry about the overall system within which private developments such as Hines operate – about rent increases, affordability, and security of tenure. “Families want to put down roots,” MacVeigh says.
Because Hines is proposing to build more than 100 homes on the site, the planning application will be dealt with as a “strategic housing development”. So it’ll skip Dublin City Council and be sent to An Bord Pleanála for a ruling. It’ll only be appealable, then, though the courts.
Hines’ application to An Bord Pleanála will likely be lodged before the end of the year, a company spokesperson said, later.
Changes to the Council’s Vision
In June 2017, Dublin City Councillors adopted a pretty detailed vision for the development of this area, which drew in the Hines-owned Player Wills and Bailey Gibson sites, and the big patch owned by the council.
The “development framework” was prompted by a need to set out in more detail what had been agreed for the area in the city’s development plan, much of which falls within what’s called a Strategic Development and Regeneration Area (SDRA).
But it’s not set in stone – given, in particular, Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy’s new height guidelines, which came in last December, overriding development plans set by local councils.
Hines’ plan for up to 1,400 homes on the Player Wills and Bailey Gibson sites is a big leap from the figures set out in the framework for the residential and mixed-use quarter, which foresaw 510 homes on what were at the time NAMA-controlled lands – although that excluded the original Players Wills factory and theatre, it says. (It also foresees roughly 540 homes on the council lands.)
The framework also sets out a commitment to a network of streets, pedestrian and cycling routes, and public spaces, making “a vibrant mixed-use urban quarter”, it says.
The plans include a landmark public park, significant greenery, a community hub, and diverse recreational and sporting facilities for use by the wider neighbourhood.
At least 20 percent of the SDRA should be public open space, which included zoned land for a multisport playing field of at least 80m by 130m. That’s planned for the top part of the council’s plot.
On one of the panels at the site last week, Hines set out broadly some of the ways that what its project team is planning is slightly different to what’s in the framework.
Those include, it says, changed heights, with buildings that are lower at the fringes “to relate to the surrounding streets” and taller in the centre.
They also include changes to vehicular access, with more cycle and pedestrian-friendly ways in and out, it says.
Some of a large park in the south of the Hines lands has been lopped off and moved next to St Catherine’s School in the east. “The overall area of public park land in the scheme has been increased marginally,” it says.
The apartment blocks will be a bit thicker front to back – 19 metres deep, rather than 15 metres, according to the drawings.
The plan needed to be updated to make more east- and west-facing facades, so they’ll get more sunlight, the panel said.
The streets have also been widened from 15 metres to 18 metres, the plans say, giving better daylight into apartments, and room for tree planting. “The loss of floor area can be replaced in the centre of the site with additional height,” it says.
As the lands all around it are redeveloped, what will happen to the Player Wills factory building itself? wonders Moynihan, the Labour councillor.
Last November, the council’s South Central Area Committee backed a motion from Moynihan to start the process of putting the building on the record of protected structures (RPS).
The factory had “been recommended by the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht for addition to the City Council’s RPS”, said a reply from the council’s chief executive to a follow-up question in March this year. Research and assessment of the building had started, said the response.
“I’d like to see that building retained in full,” says Moynihan. “We don’t know the architectural importance of what is in that building.”
One board at the Hines open day said that because of alterations and water damage, “the factory buildings have few surviving details of architectural interest.”
The plan at the moment is to keep only the south-facing facade of the John Player building, it said.
Gill, the local resident, says she wonders what the whole scheme would look like when finished – whether the facade would be tasteful, given the ugly buildings going up in the city.
“What are the aesthetics of Dublin?” she said. “This area has always had so much character.”
On the Public Land
Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh says she’s waiting to see, with the final planning application, how it’ll knit together with the large plot of land that Dublin City Council owns.
A spokesperson for Hines said it is talking with the council about the different plots. Discussions are “in relation to developing a common and high-quality urban realm for the entire site. It’s about permeability, it’s about access and it’s about the amenity piece”, he said.
What is the council going to put on its land? Moynihan says she’d like to see cost-rental homes. But “that’s all to be decided”.
“We need to become a landlord again, and a much bigger landlord than we have been in the past,” she says, of the council.
MacVeigh, the People Before Profit councillor, said there’s lots still at play in terms of how the council will develop its land there – whether council officials will push to team up with a private developer, what they’ll pitch in return.
“That’s always put to us: look at what we’re getting in return,” she says. “But at the end of the day, you’re selling off a public asset and at the end of the day, it’s gone. That’s something I’m going to pay attention to.”
Moynihan says councillors have been told there’s space for 500 to 600 homes on the council land. That matches what’s in the framework.
“The housing manager is putting together a couple of issue papers for us in terms of what we will see on the site,” she said.