John Fitzgerald has made a long list of all the developments planned for Santry and the immediate area. There are 16 on it.
Three are mammoth projects. Alone, plans for the Lawrence Lands on Oscar Traynor Road, Northwood Metro Stop and Omni DCU apartments would see 1,858 more homes around here.
“It’s a case of structure for the developments,” says Fitzgerald, last Thursday afternoon, at the Santry Community Resource Centre.
Sat with him are members of different Santry community groups, all of whom want, they say, a strong voice in a cohesive vision for the village. Not ad-hoc development, they said.
“What we’re saying is there has to be some sort of plan,” says Gerry Cooley, a local historian and board member of the resource centre.
The others – among them the centre’s manager, Caroline Molloy, and Betty O’Toole from the Magenta Crescent Residents’ Association – agree.
“There’s enough energy in the place, there’s enough going on, but it just needs some government or council support,” says Fitzgerald.
The 16 projects on Fitzgerald’s list are at different stages.
Some, like the “build-to-rent” blocks at Swiss Cottage are under construction. Others, like the roughly 360 apartments near the Viscount Pub at Collins Avenue, are winding their way through the planning process. Proposals for the Lawrence Lands are still at the pre-planning stage.
Once built, though, they could all add 10,000 residents to the area, the group estimates.
At the moment, the Swiss Cottage development is particularly contentious. It is a 112-home development by Cinamol Ltd, which would include 99 two-bed apartments and 13 one-bed apartments.
Dublin City Council had earlier refused a planning application for the site, Molloy says.
That was in 2007. The application had been for 94 apartments, with two community rooms and seven shops, a pub and off-licence over four blocks ranging in height from three to five storeys.
The “height, scale and design would have an adverse impact on the character and visual amenity and streetscape of the area generally and would seriously injure the amenities of adjacent residential properties”, the council ruled back in 2007.
This time around, there was no consultation with local residents regarding the plans on the site, says Betty O’Toole.
“They never approached us,” says O’Toole, who lives on Magenta Crescent, an estate that runs behind the site, where 112 apartments are to be built, in blocks as high as six storeys. “They’ll be overlooking into people’s gardens,” she says.
Cooley compares this – unfavourably – to what happened with the Northwood development back in 1997, north of Santry Demesne.
Woodford Developments, the developer, put a plan in place that included the Santry Community Association. “Everybody sort of had a look in and said, ‘Okay, well I love this, I hate that,’” says Cooley.
Their big win was the walled garden in Santry Demesne, he said. “They were planning apartments in there and the first thing we said was, ‘No,’” says Cooley.
“We want something like that to be pushed through to us here in the village,” says Cooley, “to involve people on the ground and let them have their input into it.”
Fitzgerald says a student at Dublin Institute of Technology, now TU Dublin, on Bolton Street actually wrote their thesis about Santry Demesne, as a model for community involvement in planning.
“It’s used as an example in Bolton Street,” says Fitzgerald.
Needed for Life
The community audit for Swiss Cottage – a survey of the cultural, educational, retail and religious facilities in the wider neighbourhood – says that “the study area is well served by community facilities”.
It continues: “As such it is submitted that the proposed development can be accommodated by the existing community facilities in the area.”
But this doesn’t take into account the future change in demographics, says Molloy, the manager of the resource centre.
“Yes, we have great amenities in Santry,” she says. “We’re right on the main route into town, we’re right beside the airport, we have a fantastic park, we’ve a great community centre.”
But “if they keep building like this, we have schools that won’t have the capacity for an extra 12,000 people in the community.”
Santry’s population rose 6.2 percent between 2011 and 2016, from 11,672 to 12,393, the community audit says. It doesn’t mention future increases.
There’s little detail as to whether existing schools can accommodate the projected increase in the population, either.
A Community Architect?
At the last meeting of Dublin City Council’s North Central Area Committee, Social Democrats Councillor Patricia Roe put down a motion looking for the council to appoint a community architect for Santry.
They could try to rejuvenate Santry and reimagine an identity for the village, she says.
“What I’m saying is that when we’re building all these new properties could we have in mind somebody that looks at an area and says, ‘Well, let’s make it a community.’ And says, ‘What do we need?’” Roe says.
That’s not happening now, she says. “To me, it’s just a builder puts in a design to squeeze however many apartments they can put in on that site and then off they go.”
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy’s guidelines on building heights, which override the council’s development plan, have contributed to developer-led planning of the kind groups are worried about in Santry, says Roe.
Her idea for a community architect didn’t get much interest from fellow councillors, Roe says.
But that doesn’t case the group that was meeting at the resource centre in Santry last Thursday.
Fitzgerald pulls another leaflet from his briefcase. This time it’s a local newsletter from 1997.
He pokes with a pen at one line in particular: “Santry Community Association continues its work of undoing 60 years of bad planning and neglect in the area.”
“And we’re still at it,” says Fitzgerald.