A Budget by Dubliners
“The last local election proved to me that there’s a disconnect in our communities of democracy,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh at October’s monthly meeting of Dublin City Council on Monday.
Dubliners have been checking out of local politics, she says, but giving them more of a say in how some of the city’s budget is spent might help to strengthen democracy.
“It gives people real power over real money,” she said. Ní Dhálaigh had a motion for the council to pilot what’s known as “participatory budgeting”.
Part of the discretionary fund – a pot of money that councillors get to divvy up to groups and schemes in their areas – could be used for this, she said. Starting with a pilot in one of the city’s five areas.
It’s something that South Dublin County Council has been rolling out. “We could follow their model or tweak to suit us,” she said.
Fianna Fáil’s Deirdre Heney, who voted against the motion, said she wouldn’t be in favour of councillors’ giving up more powers, when they’ve already had so many stripped from them.
“I don’t believe it’s necessary to have a budget where local people can decide. Because local people elect us here in this chamber to make decisions on their behalf,” she said
Others raised queries about how the process would work.
Independent Councillor Cieran Perry said he supported efforts to re-engage people, and in the end he voted in favour of the motion. But he said he was worried that communities that are experienced in writing grants would eclipse others. “The least organised communities may lose out,” he said.
People Before Profit’s Hazel De Nortúin said she would support the motion, but would like to see how it has been implemented in other councils. “Just questions in general,” she said. Around how if somebody who isn’t part of a community group has an idea, how does that play out and so on.
Kathy Quinn, the council’s head of finance, said if they take this on, it’s still councillors on the full council who would sign off on the budget this process produced – they wouldn’t legally be handing over powers.
“I don’t think it’s possible in this budget,” she said. But they could think about how it might work in a broader sense for the next budget.
Ní Dhálaigh said she wasn’t thinking about it for this coming budget, either. While she recognises concerns about weaker groups and so on, she would like to see it progress and those ideas teased out in committee, she said.
Cherry Orchard LAP
Councillors at October’s monthly meeting also voted to approve a new local area plan for Cherry Orchard – after three years of consultations to settle what should go where as the neighbourhood develops.
John O’Connor, the city’s chief planner, said the plan has concrete objectives for 2,000 homes, schools, shops, tree-lined streets, and new parks.
The plan also provides for a new street linking Cherry Orchard to Ballyfermot Road, and – a long-standing demand from some in the community – includes a site identified for an equine centre.
The last is something that community group Horse Power has been advocating for for years, seeking a site to put a centre that could be a hub for horse owners and a way to respect and protect the tradition of horse ownership in the area.
Many area councillors welcomed that. Sinn Féin’s Daithí Doolan said he applauded those who had campaigned for Horse Power, and the council management for working with them to find a site for the project.
Parking on Montpelier Hill
Parking on Montpelier Hill in the north inner-city is still out of hand, councillors said at Monday’s monthly meeting.
Long-running complaints that cars – including those of gardaí, lawyers, and others visiting court – just park on double-yellow lines, and block the driveways of houses along the road.
With a proposal for 38 social homes on nearby Infirmary Road, some local residents told the council they were worried about the further impact on traffic. Residents said they’re worried about on-street parking and people blocking driveways, submissions said.
The plans don’t include parking because the site is within a five-minute walk of trains, the Luas and buses, the report says.
Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam put forward an amendment to the report, asking that an operational traffic-management plan be required. He said there are “serious issues” in relation to traffic and access for emergency vehicles and this would be a chance to address that.
“If you go up there on a Saturday morning, it doesn’t appear to be a problem,” says independent Councillor Christy Burke, of the cars parked illegally and blocking residents in. “Because the courts are not sitting.”
He said council should ask that the Garda Commissioner request that gardaí don’t park there.
Co-living at Spencer Place
Proposals for blocks of apartments and co-living spaces of up to 13 storeys in the Docklands did not get support from councillors at a meeting of their Central Area Committee on Tuesday.
Johnny Ronan-backed Spencer Place Development Company Ltd has planning permission to build 463 apartments and an aparthotel on two sites – bound by Sherriff Street, Mayor Street Upper and New Wapping Street.
The highest tower allowed by that planning permission is seven storeys. Dublin City Council refused previous requests to build higher as they contravened the regulations laid out in the Strategic Development Zone that covers the area, said planning officer Colm Harte.
But the company still wants to change that. It has applied for new planning permission to build 464 apartments and a 200-bed co-living space with 120 bedrooms.
“Everyone here knows that the residents of New Wapping Street have been crucified for years,” said independent Councillor Christy Burke. “Hemmed in and smothered.”
Residents on Upper Mayor Street, a small row of old houses in the Docklands, have complained about the impacts of developments around them on their quality of life.
Their homes are dark from the shadow of nearby towers, and planning reforms have left them with less of a voice, said Tony McDonnell and Tommy Byrne. Changes to heights have threatened the carefully balanced Strategic Development Zone (SDZ), they said.
For those residents, “life is scarcely worth living” now, said Labour Councillor Joe Costello. Councillors agreed that local residents need to be protected from the heights proposed in the application.
Fine Gael Minister Eoghan Murphy issued guidelines last December that overruled earlier height limits in the city set by councillors.
Given those guidelines, Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam wanted to know if the rules of the SDZ were still in effect. They are, said the manager, Karl Mitchell.
In addition to the proposed building heights, co-living was the other problem. Most said they were against it on principal – no councillor spoke in favour of it.
Green Party Councillor Neasa Hourigan dubbed the model “Dickensian”. Independent Councillor Cieran Perry said it was “designed to maximise profit and bypass regulations”.
However, as the new proposal for is for more than 100 homes, it’s up to An Bord Pleanála, rather than Dublin City Council, to rule on whether to grant permission. Council management relay the views of councillors to that board.
Protecting Horse Boy
Labour Party Councillor Joe Costello proposed a motion to request that a mural by Subset called Horse Boy, in Stirrup Lane in Smithfield – which depicts a young man on a horse – should be added to the Record of Protected Structures.
A complaint has been made about the mural to the council’s planning enforcement section. While permission for it was originally granted, the owner of the building no longer wants it there, said Fianna Fáil Councillor Mary Fitzpatrick, speaking after the meeting.
“The mural is brilliant, you get compliments on it all the time,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Janice Boylan. But, she said, if the owner wants it down, the council will have to negotiate with him.
Many councillors agreed that the mural was worth protecting. But they were not in agreement as to whether a mural could be protected through the proposed route.
“The mural is not a structure, the wall is the structure,” said independent Councillor Nial Ring. “So it is perfectly clear that this can’t happen,”
However, Green Party Councillor Neasa Hourigan was not so certain. Decorative features can be protected structures, she said, and it’s not up to the owner of a property to decide whether they should be protected.
Fitzpatrick, the Fianna Fáil councillor, said the mural “is clearly a very fine piece of street art and I’d like to see it retained”. But the council must balance the public rights with the rights of the private owner, she said.
It would be unhelpful to try to make the mural a protected structure without the consent of the building’s owner, Fitzpatrick said.