In South-West Inner-City, Councillors Work Across Party Lines to Oppose Co-Living Project

On Saturday, People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh raps on the door of a terraced house on Clarence Mangan Road.

A few streets away, on New Row South, near Newmarket, a company called TC Fumbally Properties Ltd has applied for planning permission to build a hotel and co-living block dubbed The Collective Fumbally.

“Who actually lives in co-living?” asks Eimear Marrinan, who has pulled open the door.

Elsewhere, it’s often young professionals, says MacVeigh – but only those on good money because of how much rooms cost.

Marrinan says she’s surprised that professionals would live in such cramped spaces. “It is just so bad,” she says.

She tells MacVeigh to add her name – and her husband’s, too – to the list of locals objecting to the development.

MacVeigh isn’t the only councillor who has been out knocking on doors. Across political divides, all five local councillors for the area have been working together to submit a planning objection.

In the last week, MacVeigh of People Before Profit, Críona Ní Dhálaigh of Sinn Féin, Michael Pidgeon of the Green Party, and Labour’s Rebecca Moynihan were all out, canvassing together in support of “real housing”, as their leaflet says. Fianna Fáil’s Michael Watters has joined the push, too.

TC Fumbally Properties Ltd has applied for permission to build a 144-bed hotel, a 69-room co-living development, “213 sq.m of co-working/artistic-creative studios”, a restaurant, and “147 sq.m public community/event space” on the site.

The development would be “managed and operated in the long term by The Collective”, according to the planning application. The London-based company lists two co-living locations in London and one in New York on its website. “Our mission is to build and activate spaces that foster human connection and enable people to lead more fulfilling lives,” the site says.

The Collective has been reaching out to local residents and businesses in recent months, telling them about the project. One email from The Collective says that “In response to our engagement with local residents, community groups, public representatives and local businesses, we have made a number of amendments to our proposed plans”.

The project “creates a culturally diverse and distinctive destination for working people and creatives which complement the economic and cultural growth in the area”, according to the planning application.

On the Doorsteps

Ní Dhálaigh of Sinn Féin said it’s the first time she has worked collaboratively like this with other councillors across parties.

“We have done a joint leaflet, canvas and information sessions because it is such a big thing,” she said. “I think it is really positive.”

Said Pidgeon of the Green Party: “Everyone thinks that co-living is rubbish – a kitchen on every second floor, a hob in the room and a tiny toilet.”

“It is taking the low standards from student accommodation and applying it to housing,” he says. “But it’s an innovative, boutique lifestyle,” he says, laughing. “And ‘chilled vibes bro’.”

MacVeigh of People Before Profit says that, in a week of canvassing, she hasn’t yet met a soul who supports the development.

Everyone is either adding their names to the list of objecting residents, or saying they will go onto the council website and submit their own objection, MacVeigh says.

Dublin City Council planners has given varied responses to applications for co-living so far. They recently gave the nod to a co-living scheme on Hill Street in the north inner-city, where the Hill Street Limited Partnership had applied for a scheme with 132 beds.

Earlier this year, though, the council refused Bartra Property’s application for a co-living scheme with 102 beds on Ardee Road in Rathmines. Another application from Blondie Issuer DAC to convert offices on Rathmines Road Lower to coliving with 110 units, hasn’t been decided yet.

On Saturday in the Liberties, Muireann Grogan was out canvassing with MacVeigh. She lives right beside the site at Fumbally Lane, she says.

She’s concerned about the impact on the area – but more concerned about life for renters in the city, she says.

“I don’t rent myself,” says Grogan. “I am one of the lucky ones.” But “the more I looked at it the more disturbed I became. It is the reality of how the people are going to have to live.”

Co-living developments blur the lines between public and private space, she says. Many have CCTV in common areas, she says. “It is easy to forget just how valuable privacy is.”

Grogan works her way from door to door, down Clarence Mangan Road and back up St Thomas Road, ringing bells, rapping on doors, and shoving leaflets through letterboxes if people are out.

“What rights do they have – do they register the tenancy with the RTB?” she asks.

Developer Bartra Capital has argued that those who stay in co-living blocks are licensees, with fewer rights than renters.

Grogan says she has researched the experiences of people in co-living accommodation abroad, and points to how, in London, some co-living rooms are rented out by the night. “It all adds to the sense of transience,” she says.

Developments like this also drive up rents and the price of land, she says.

Architect and housing expert Mel Reynolds says that building co-living and student accommodation is so profitable that it discourages developers from building normal homes. “Co-living is exciting all right – for developers,” he says.

Other Options

“The last planning application for this site was for a residential apartment development, of a good size which is needed in the city,” says Labour Councillor Rebecca Moynihan.

Dublin City Council approved an application in 2009 to build 24 apartments on the site – four one-beds, 13 two-beds and seven three-beds – along with 2,523sqm of office space, a surface car park, a gym and a swimming pool.

“This [new proposed] development is for small co-living development and hotel – which won’t ease the housing crisis,” Moynihan says.

Pidgeon says residents on doorsteps said they expected any new development to be either a student accommodation or a hotel. “There was also a surprising level of awareness around what co-living is,” he says.

“The really frustrating thing about this site is that it had planning permission for apartments,” he says. “That still stands. They could still build that tomorrow.”

There is a shortage of hotel rooms in Dublin, says Pidgeon, but there isn’t a pressing need in the way that there is for housing. “A lot more hotel rooms would be on the market if we were not accommodating entire homeless families in them.”

MacVeigh says that she isn’t sure if the co-living development is aimed at longer-term residents, or if it is more an extension of the hotel.

Either way “it is not secure, stable, affordable residential accommodation that families, workers or sharing professionals can rent”, says MacVeigh.

The company that applied for planning permission for the co-living complex on New Row South, TC Fumbally Properties Ltd, is owned by companies, which are owned by other companies, which are owned by still other companies. Some are based in Dublin, some in London, and one in Luxembourg.

Keep on digging through company records, though, and some names of actual people turn up as part-owners: Mount Merrion-based Derek Poppinga, Shrewsbury-based Peter Leonard, and London-based Mark James Stephen.

The Register of Beneficial Ownership, meanwhile, does not list a beneficial owner for TC Fumbally Properties Ltd, instead giving the name of “senior managing official” Una Wrynn.

[CORRECTION: This article was updated at 18.42 on 7 April to say that councillors were collecting signatures for a submission tot he council, not to An Bord Pleanála. Apologies for the error.]

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Author:

Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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