There’s lettuce spilling out of a bright red window box off one of the homes along Austin Cottages, off Poplar Row in Ballybough – and lavender too.
“Upstairs is like a jungle,” says Carolina Romero, stood on the doorstep of the house, where she is on babysitting duty.
The greenery and splashes of colour here are in stark contrast to the surrounding area though. “It’s a very grey area,” she says.
While Dublin 4 had one tree for every 7.7 people, Ballybough had only one tree for every 317 residents, a 2016 study found.
Which raises the question of whether the proposed development of an old, vacant car dealership at 3 Poplar Row, owned by Bartra Property (Poplar Row) Limited, could have been an opportunity to try to address this deficit.
Planning documents show that Bartra has been granted permission to give money instead of providing public space, but don’t give any specifics as to why.
Dublin City Council hasn’t responded to queries sent Friday asking for more details as to why, in this case, the developers were exempted from providing public space.
On Poplar Row
These days, Romero lives in Glasnevin. But she used to live around here, she says.
The lack of green space frustrated her. “I felt like planting trees here without asking the council’s permission,” says Romero.
Nearby, at 3 Poplar Row, the ghost sign of Lambe and O’Connor is faintly legible on the navy blue corrugated sheeting. Batra’s plan is to demolish this building and build 46 “build-to-rent” apartments here.
The site is shaped like a chunky quotation mark. The front runs along Poplar Row, around the old blue-roofed warehouse at the corner of Annesley Place and Poplar Row, and squeezes behind the few homes at Annesley Place.
The roads surrounding it have only the smallest hints of green space. Poplar Row has no trees. Annesley Place has just two.
Under the city’s development plan, put together by councillors, developers usually have to set aside 10 percent of the area of residential developments for high-quality public space. But that isn’t the case here.
The city’s development plan recognises that sometimes it isn’t possible to set aside that bit of land for high-quality public space.
“This may be due to the limited size or awkward configuration of the site or because the upgrading of an existing facility in the vicinity may be more beneficial both to the future residents of the proposed development and to the wider community,” says a spokesperson for Dublin City Council.
In such situations, the council asks for money instead of the provision of public space.
“The financial contribution collected goes toward the provision and/or enhancement of open space and landscaping in the locality of the proposed development, as set out in the City Council Parks Programme,” says the spokesperson.
In this case, the council asked Bartra to contribute €4,000 per apartment to Dublin City Council in lieu of providing public space.
In response to a query on why Bartra would not be providing public space on the site, a spokesperson for Bartra referred to an extract from the council planning officer’s report.
“[I]t is noted that in some instances it may be more appropriate to seek a financial contribution towards its provision elsewhere in the vicinity; this would include cases where it is not feasible, due to site constraints, to locate the space on the site, or where the needs of the population would be better served by the provision of a new park elsewhere in the vicinity,” says the report.
No specific reason was given.
Sometimes it makes sense to exempt developers from providing public space, says Green Party Councillor Micheal Pidgeon.
For example, at retirement communities or assisted living centres, “it wouldn’t be appropriate having people coming in and out”, says Pidgeon, who is co-chair of the council’s Environment Strategic Policy Committee.
The size of the site can be a get-out clause too. Some sites might lend themselves towards providing public space better than others, Pidgeon says.
Often “awkwardly shaped sites can be advantageous”, he says. “They don’t allow a complete fill of a site with the building.” That can allow for interesting spaces like pocket parks in the nooks and crannies.
“There are often good reasons for exemptions and loopholes,” says Pidgeon, but these can be abused.
Bartra isn’t the first developer to offer money instead of public green space recently. The developer of a site in Walkinstown has proposed doing it too.
A Dublin City Council spokesperson said last week they couldn’t say just now how many times developers have been granted permission to give money, rather than green space. It would take a while to compile figures, they said.
So it’s difficult to know how widespread this practice is.
Is Green Space Needed?
Not everyone living around Poplar Row would welcome more green space in the area.
“I don’t think it’d be a good idea,” says John Cahill, a resident of Austin Cottages. “Too rough of an area,” he says.
Anyway, Fairview Park is beautiful and is just a few minutes around the corner, he says.
Romero agrees that Fairview Park is beautiful and close by. But to get there you have to cross a busy junction, she says. “We definitely need more green spaces still.”
Studies have pointed to the positive effects such spaces can have on crime, she says, which can be a bit of a problem in the area.
Pidgeon, the Green Party councillor, says people have a perception that any sort of green space attracts antisocial behaviour.
“Personally I think the opposite is true,” he says. “If you don’t have green space you just have dead streets with no reason to stay there other than to scurry in to your house.”
It’s Dublin City Council’s job to make sure the city has these spaces, Pidgeon says.
“You wouldn’t expect developers to do anything other than trying to make money but the planning system should be a lot more robust in terms of being able to resist that, you know?” he says.
As Pidgeon sees it, it’s really about funding and the pressure on council services. “The offer of some cash, it’s hard to resist,” he says.