Concerned about what might actually be built on a slew of industrial lands across the city if rezoned, Dublin city councillors voted last week to try to give themselves a bit more control.
During their March monthly meeting at City Hall, councillors had started debating whether to rezone 20 sites across the city, which add up to 55 hectares of land, and have the potential for as many as 3,500 houses or apartments.
That Monday evening, they decided there was too much to cover at the meeting. They pushed the issue to a special meeting of its own, about a week later, on 10 March.
When it came to it, based on concerns raised by local residents and councillors, council managers withdrew their recommendation to rezone the two sites on the list with the potential for the largest number of homes – a combined 1,200 in Santry.
Based on an objection from Transport Infrastructure Ireland, council managers withdrew another proposed rezoning, of a site on East Wall Road. They also withdrew some of the land from a package proposed for rezoning in Kilmainham.
And councillors voted to reject a proposal to rezone Greenmount Industrial Estate in Harold’s Cross, which council managers had said had the potential for 100 homes.
By the end of the meeting, councillors had voted to rezone 16 of 17 packages of land put before them. Dublin City Council head of planning Richard Shakespeare estimated that these newly rezoned lands could accommodate about 1,700 new homes.
Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn voted in favour of all but one of the rezonings. “Yes there’s going to be profits made. Yes the land could probably be flipped” once it’s rezoned and its value rises, Flynn said.
“And we need to take a collective responsibility in allowing that to happen. But at the end of the day I’m looking at people who are saying, ‘When can I move into a home? When can I buy a home?” he said.
During the meeting, several councillors raised concerns that any rezonings they voted for could lead to high-rise, high-density, high-priced, build-to-rent apartments, or co-living, or student accommodation – without nearby places to work, and without the development of appropriate amenities like shops, schools, creches, or green spaces.
So they decided to try to give themselves a bit more control to try to guide the type of development that would be allowed on some of the rezoned sites.
After the rezonings, councillors approved a motion from Labour Councillor Dermot Lacey requiring developers’ future planning applications for many of the lands to include “masterplans”, which the council would have to approve, and the developer would have to abide by.
“We think this is a genuine response to legitimate concerns brought by the members,” said Dublin City Council Chief Executive Owen Keegan.
Rezonings Withdrawn and Defeated
When the voting began, Independents 4 Change Councillor Pat Dunne and People Before Profit Councillor Tina MacVeigh proposed rejecting all the rezonings.
Dunne said he did want to see the sites redeveloped. But he wanted a detailed plan first for what would happen on each of them – and he didn’t believe the “masterplans” would do the trick.
“We’re carte blanche handing over to developers the power to decide what’s done with these sites,” he said.
Councillors defeated this motion in a 41-7 vote though. And councillors and council managers moved on to consider the rezonings.
Council managers withdrew their recommendation that councillors rezone two large packages of land.
One is not far from the Omni Shopping Centre, and borders Santry Avenue to the north and Swords Road to the east. It’s 10.89 hectares, and could fit 800 homes.
The other is on Shanowen Road, off the Swords Road, also not far from Omni. It’s 4.25 hectares and could fit maybe 400 more homes.
During the public consultation period, the proposed rezoning of these two packages had brought a flood of objections from local residents.
There are issues with the capacity of the schools and transport infrastructure in the area to handle this many more residents, said Social Democrats Councillor Patricia Roe.
“The fear is that, as has happened many times, the planning will proceed without the infrastructure being put in place,” she said.
Even Fine Gael Councillor Naoise Ó Muirí, who would go on to vote to rezone 16 other packages of land during the meeting, said he couldn’t support the rezoning of the sites in Santry at this point. “There’s big issues with capacity,” he said.
With many new, large developments planned for the area, some residents in Santry have campaigned for a cohesive plan to be drawn up, to avoid an ad-hoc mess.
“There is a valid basis for saying there’s more work to be done on those,” said Keegan, Dublin City Council’s chief executive. He withdrew the Santry sites from consideration for rezoning, for now.
Council managers also withdrew a proposal to rezone 10.4 hectares on East Wall Road in Dublin 3, after objections from Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) and the Dublin Port Company.
In a submission, TII had raised concerns about how the rezoning to Z10 (Mixed Use), which would include a residential element, could affect the “safety, efficiency and capacity of the Dublin Port Tunnel”, and the Eastern Bypass. Dublin Port said it uses 4.4 hectares of the site “for the transit storage of imported vehicles”.
“We are required to have regard to the views of TII, even if we don’t agree with them,” Keegan said.
While councillors were not asked to vote on these proposed rezonings at the meeting, they were asked to vote on whether to rezone the Greenmount Industrial Estate in Harold’s Cross, which could accommodate about 100 homes. Most didn’t like the idea.
“I think Harold’s Cross, in fairness, has absorbed a large amount of housing developments in the past years, with no additional community resources,” said Social Democrats Councillor Tara Deacy.
Said Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Conroy: “There has been extensive development on land in the area but residents who live there cannot access the schools.”
Councillors voted 45-4 to reject that proposed rezoning, with one councillor abstaining.
Aside from these, councillors vote to rezone 16 other sites, each of which is described in detail in a council report:
- A site on Seville Place in Dublin 1, which they voted 46-4 to rezone.
- A site on Esmond Avenue, Fairview Strand, Dublin 3, which they voted 40-10 to rezone.
- Mornington Business Park, on Malahide Road in Dublin 5, which they voted 39-12 to rezone.
- Sites on Malahide Road adjacent to Mornington Grove, in Dublin 5, which they voted 38-12 to rezone.
- A site at Harmonstown Road, Dublin 5, which they voted 27-22 to rezone.
- 109–114 Cork Street, Dublin 8, which they voted 39-12 to rezone.
- Goldenbridge Industrial Estate on Tyrconnell Road, in Inchicore, Dublin 8, which they voted 31-20 to rezone.
- White Heather Industrial Estate, in Dublin 8, which they voted 31-20 to rezone.
- A site at Parkgate Street/Wolfe Tone QUay, in Dublin 8, which they voted 46-4 to rezone.
- Lands at Old Kilmainham/South Circular Road, Dublin 8, which they voted 31-20 to rezone.
- 11 Ballyfermot Road Lower in Dublin 10, which they voted 44-6 to rezone.
- Clearwater Retail Park, on Finglas Road in Dublin 11, which they voted 29-18 to rezone, with one councillor abstaining.
- A site on Davitt Road, in Crumlin, Dublin 12, which they voted 29-21 to rezone.
- Glenview Industrial Estate in Drimnagh, Dublin 12, which they voted 28-16 to rezone.
- Brickfield House and Sunshine Estate, Crumlin, Dublin 12, which they voted 29-22 to rezone.
- A site at Chapelizod Bypass/Kylemore Road in Dublin 20, which they split 25-25 on rezoning. Fianna Fáil Councillor Tom Brabazon, the lord mayor, was called on to break the tie, deciding to approve the rezoning.
Concerns, and Masterplans
While they voted to rezone most of the 20 sites, throughout the meeting, several councillors expressed concerns about what would happen to the sites once rezoned.
Some said they worried that some of the industrial sites up for rezoning were places where people worked. Those jobs would disappear if the land was rezoned, they said.
At the site at Chapelizod Bypass and Kylemore Road, Pat O’Donnell & Co. employs about 75 people, said independent Councillor Vincent Jackson.
If homes are built nearby will that be considered a nuisance and made to move? “It’s a vibrant business,” Jackson said.
Said Fianna Fáil Councillor Daithí de Róiste: “This isn’t about just building houses. This is about building communities. People need places to go to work. We can’t just have houses with no services. Kylemore Road has good jobs.”
It’s about community services too, said Social Democrats Councillor Deacy. At Sunshine Estate, “there are a number of really important community services within that particular site. Addiction Response Crumlin is housed there, among others.”
John O’Hara, the city planner, reassured these councillors that “the rezoning of land does not take away existing use rights”.
Not all councillors were convinced. “While the planners say people can just go on operating, the land will be way more valuable and it might encourage some people to sell up,” de Róiste said.
Other councillors were worried that once they rezoned the land, they wouldn’t have control over what was built there.
“We actually have no guarantee that any homes will be built on them,” said Fianna Fáil Councillor Mary Fitzpatrick. “And worse still the value of land will increase and drive up the cost of any homes that are built in the city.”
Even if homes are built, independent Councillor Cieran Perry said the rezonings could produce a string of “strategic housing developments” (SHDs) – big projects that can bypass Dublin City Council’s planning system and go straight to An Bord Pleanála.
“I fully support the supply of public housing, but we want quality public housing and these SHDs don’t deliver sustainable homes,” Perry said.
Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan proposed a motion that he said would address some of these issues – and others said would have no practical effect.
After much inconclusive too-ing and fro-ing with council managers and Lord Mayor Tom Brabazon about whether the motion was out of order or not, councillors were not given a vote on it at all.
Others were more supportive of the proposed rezoning plans. Councillors who were worried about giving up control over what was built on sites now used for storage and warehouses should reconsider, said Green Party Councillor Michael Pidgeon.
“I think it’s unfortunate that strategic development powers have made this so toxic … but we shouldn’t let the flaws of national policy stop us from doing our jobs,” Pidgeon said. “I think it’s better to cede some control … rather than just jealously holding onto our control and rule over a desert.”
In the end, after rezoning most sites, councillors backed a motion saying that for the sites rezoned to Z10 (Mixed), developers would be required to submit, along with any future planning application, a “masterplan”.
This affected Mornington Business Park, the sites at Mornington Grove, the site at Harmonstown Road, the site on Kylemore Road, Goldenbridge Industrial Estate, the site on Cork Street, Glenview Industrial Estate, and Brickfield House/Sunshine Estate.
These masterplans will have to show how the mixed uses will be allocated across each site, whether for residential, for office, for cultural uses, for sports uses, or whatever, said O’Hara, the council planner.
They will also have to show how the proposed new developments will be integrated with the surrounding area, and how that contributes to the vitality and sustainability of the area, including both existing and proposed uses, O’Hara said.
Some councillors were sceptical of whether a developer could be made to live up to the promises it makes in a masterplan. Or whether they might just bypass this through the SHD process by going straight to An Bord Pleanála.
O’Hara said, basically, that getting a developer to agree such a masterplan, and incorporating that into the city development plan, was the best councillors could do.
“The status of the masterplan, if it is valid, it can be written into the development plan and there is no higher status in this chamber,” he said.
Councillors should not give up on making good planning decisions for the city just because they are worried that their plans might be bypassed through the SHD process, O’Hara said. Life is long, and the SHD process won’t last forever, he said.
At the moment, it’s due to end at the close of 2021, he said. “It’s got limited life.”