What's Next for Council Land at Oscar Traynor Road?

More than three and a half years ago, councillors voted in favour of plans to build homes on council-owned land at Oscar Traynor Road in Coolock.

Last week, at the North Central Area Committee, councillors got sight of the plans for 853 homes.

The designs presented to local area councillors on Monday 21 September show apartments and houses built around what would be known as the Lawrence Lands Park, complete with a lake, cycle tracks, an orchard, nature trails and community allotments.

According to the plans, there’s set to be a community hub, childcare facilities and a walking route to a proposed new Gaelscoil.

Most councillors attending the North Central Area Committee last week agreed with the architect, Reddy Architecture’s vision for the development. Like Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland who praised the plans for a community centre and the major central park.

“I’m loving the Kilmore Centre and the community childcare,” said Gilliland. “The park looks beautiful.”

But some councillors had concerns about the development. They wondered if the affordable homes would really be affordable, how much the council will pay for the social housing and whether the private homes could be sold off in bulk to an investment fund.

The Plans

The development at Oscar Traynor Road is set to be a public private partnership with developer Glenveagh. The homes would be 50 percent private, 30 percent social and 20 percent affordable purchase, according to a deal struck by councillors in 2015.

The plans include 434 apartments across three apartment complexes, that are six-storeys at the highest point and surround green courtyards with trees.

As well as the apartments there could be 137 duplex homes of two and three storeys — drawings show a row of duplex homes looking out on a community garden.

Then there are estates of 282 two-storey houses red-brick houses with a playground opposite.

If it gets the go-ahead, the development would be “a very green and well-designed scheme”, said architect Mike Freaney, director of Reddy Architecture, who presented the plans to the councillors.

Freaney says that the density of the scheme is in line with the city development plan and national guidelines.

Freaney, whose firm is behind the Herberton complex on the old Fatima Mansions site in the south inner-city, stressed the significance of a new public park, which would be built alongside the homes on the site.

As well as the Lawrence Lands Park, which has wetlands, cycle tracks and an orchard the drawings show other pocket parks, playgrounds and a multi-games area.

There is set to be a community hub called the Kilmore Centre, a two-storey metallic structure which includes a dance studio, a cafe, an auditorium and retail space.

All the playgrounds, parks and community amenities included in the drawings would be delivered by the developer Glenveagh as part of the deal.

“On the face of it it looks like a very positive development for the area,” says Fine Gael Councillor Declan Flanagan.

The site has been vacant for 20 years and so far “nothing has come to fruition”, he says.

Sinn Féin Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha echoed the sentiment of many councillors at the presentation saying that the designs are first class.

Affordability

The two-bedroom affordable purchase homes would be priced at €250,000 to €300,000 and would be availing of the Government’s Serviced Sites Fund, an affordable housing subsidy, says the report.

That price also assumes that the buyer qualifies for the Help to Buy scheme, which means that they must be first time buyers.

Several councillors said that there are already homes to buy in the area in that price range.

Independent Left Councillor John Lyons said he couldn’t support the plans, as the affordable homes aren’t really affordable to couples on low and middle incomes.

With a recession coming Sinn Féin’sDonncha said: “what proportion of people are going to be able to afford those?”

The report notes that the homes are under the threshold for the council’s Rebuilding Ireland Home-Loan Scheme - so it says that demand will be strong.

For those applicants who are successful in getting that scheme, they can borrow more than the banks would normally allow — up to four and a half times their salary.

So far, 373 purchasers in Dublin city have drawn down loans from the Rebuilding Ireland Home-Loan Scheme, which was launched in February 2018.

Fixed Costs

The land has been valued at €44m under this deal with the developer Glenveagh who will deliver all the parks, the community centre, and additional amenities. Glenveagh is also responsible for the designs, and will pay the council €14m, says the report.

The council will pay the developer then for building the social homes. The price the council will pay for the social homes is commercially sensitive but Dave Dinnigan, Director of Housing Delivery with Dublin City Council, said that he would give councillors more details in private at a later date.

There is a confidentiality clause in the contract, but the developer is not making much profit on the social and affordable homes, he said.

The developer is providing a standard of design and amenities that the council can’t offer, says Dinnigan. “We cannot under the current funding mechanisms create a neighbourhood like this.”

When the council builds homes directly, it costs €450,000 to build a two-bedroom apartment, says Dinnigan.

Some councillors expressed surprise at that figure and asked to see a further breakdown, which says Dinnigan will be shown at a later meeting.

Social Democrats Councillor Catherine Stocker said that the €450,000 figure is out of line with the Department of Housing figures for the cost of construction, bearing in mind the council already owns the land and doesn’t pay taxes.

Labour Councillor Gilliland wanted to know if the price the council was paying Glenveagh for the entire development was set in stone.

“The simple answer is yes,” said Paul Dunne, chief quantity surveyor with Dublin City Council.

The price is fixed until 2024. Gilliland asked what would happen after 2024.

“We have a fixed contract until 2024. That is four years to get this built,” she said.

The first phase will be completed and handed over by March 2023, said Dunne and the entire project should be completed by November 2024.

But what if the building works were to be delayed by the pandemic, for example? asked Gilliland.

Dunne said that the risk lies with the developer, “because we have a fixed price for the apartments, the entire development for everything”.

Any extra costs depend on who is responsible for delays, he said.

“Generally speaking when construction contracts overrun it is the back part that is affected by overruns, rather than the entirety of the contract,” he said.

So if there is an overrun, it won’t affect the whole contract, he said, but just the latter part of it.

Privatisation

“This is not a good use of public land,” says Stocker by phone on Thursday. “We plan on voting against the disposal.”

Too much public land is being privatised, she says, noting that the housing manager in Dublin City Council, Brendan Kenny recently warned the housing committee that the council will run out of land by 2025.

She is not impressed with a lack of action at another similar site, O’Devaney Gardens,she says.

Councillors were put under a lot of pressure to go along with the plans for O’Devaney Gardens, she says, and they did so under the strict understanding that the site would be developed very quickly.

The builders there were supposed to be breaking ground by July, she says.

Instead, a planning application has still not been submitted and the length of the delay is worrying, she says.

The Oscar Traynor Road deal is “bad value for public land”, said Social Democrats Councillor Patricia Roe, at the meeting. “Approved housing bodies can build for less.”

Roe also queried whether the private homes could be sold off in bulk to an investment trust.

That is a possibility, as it is up to the developer how it chooses to sell the private homes, said Dinnegan.

For the plans to go ahead the council has to agree to transfer the land to the developers Glenveagh.

A report will be presented to the full council, likely in November and it could be a tight vote, says Social Democrats councillor Catherine Stocker, who said her party which backed the last public private partnership at O’Devaney Gardens will vote against this one.

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

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