In a Closed Meeting, Councillors Hear of Plans for More Homes at O'Devaney Gardens

Developer Bartra Capital has ramped up the number of homes that it intends to build on land at O’Devaney Gardens, say councillors given a private briefing last week.

After fraught debate last November, councillors voted to transfer the prime plot of council land to Bartra in a complex deal which included, it was said at the time, plans for 768 homes.

At last Tuesday’s briefing, representatives from Bartra Capital told Central Area councillors that they now intend to put 1,053 homes on the plot of former council land.

“It is important to clarify there is not a new plan for the O’Devaney Gardens land,” said a spokesperson for the council, last week.

The breakdown of homes would still be 50 percent private, 30 percent social and 20 percent affordable purchase, they said.

“In the context of the existing housing crisis in Dublin we welcome this proposed increase in the number of residential units, subject to planning,” they said.

The possible extra homes were welcome by some councillors, while others flagged concerns about the greater height and density.

Meanwhile, Bartra’s timeline for applying for planning permission for the scheme has been pushed back to early 2021, according to Hazel Jones, strategic planning director with Bartra.

More Public Homes

“There will be more public housing on O’Devaney Gardens than ever before,” says Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam, who chairs the community consultative forum for the O’Devaney Gardens development. He supports the new plans.

The council is building 56 social homes on a sister plot next door so if Bartra’s new plans go ahead, there would be 333 social homes total, says a council spokesperson. (Rather than 248, as earlier cited.)

There will be 222 affordable homes too, says McAdam. (Rather than 165 homes, in the earlier vision).

McAdam says he expects the Department of Housing to publish affordable purchase and affordable rental housing schemes by the end of the year.

As well as that “we will also have the mix of owner-occupier”, he says. “The chance for my generation, and others living in Dublin 7, to buy and stay living in Dublin 7.”

Green Party Councillor Janet Horner says that she was a bit surprised by the announcement. “I didn’t expect it to change as substantially.”

But she is happy that there will be more homes and especially more social homes, she says. “The increase in density is overall positive.”

Social Democrats Councillor Catherine Stocker says she wants to know what has changed since last November when the council approved the last plans.

An Bord Pleanála’s density requirements haven’t changed since a ministerial circular was put out in 2018, she says.

Says independent Councillor Christy Burke: “At the end of the day, this came out of the blue.”

He is concerned that the new development will be too high relative to houses around Stoneybatter, he says. “Can the area take on this suffocation: traffic, sewerage, parking?”

The new plans would increase the height of the development from eight storeys at the highest point to 12 storeys, according to three councillors who attended the meeting.

That makes the new plans totally different to the ones earlier agreed, says independent councillor Anthony Flynn.

“The height and density have increased dramatically,” he says. “It is my belief that not only were councillors misled by Bartra but also by council management.”

A spokesperson for the council said it is up to An Bord Pleanála to decide whether the planning application is in line with regulations. The board can tell any developer to increase or a reduce density.

What Changed?

The number of homes Bartra would build on the site was never set in stone, says McAdam. It was always up to An Bord Pleanála, he says.

Bartra staff thought that if they submitted the plans for 768 homes, the board might tell them to increase the density so they’re preempting that, he says.

“Hopefully when an application is lodged in March or April of next year, it will be met with the support of the board,” he says.

Other parts of the deal won’t change, says McAdam, as they’re legally binding and sewn into the development agreement. “It is a 50/20/30 split, that has not changed and is not going to change.”

Apartment sizes and standards are stitched into the development agreement too, he says. So they cannot be changed.

A timeline issued to the local councillors last week says that Bartra now hopes to apply for planning permission by March 2021.

The 11-month delay due to Covid-19 is disappointing, says McAdam.

Stocker, the Social Democrats councillor, doesn’t accept that Covid-19 could have caused an 11-month delay, she says.

Council officials had told councillors that Bartra would have to submit a planning application by April 2020, she says.

Dublin City Council officials said in a private meeting with the Dublin Agreement councillors – those in the ruling coalition of Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, Social Democrats and Labour – that Barta would be “breaking ground by summer”, she says. Meaning, summer this year.

A spokesperson for the council says Bartra was due to submit a planning application by June 2020.

The spokesperson said that they cannot release the development agreement as it is commercially sensitive, but “the agreement has not been broken and is flexible in exceptional circumstances such as Covid-19”.

The council granted two three-month extensions due to the pandemic, says the council spokesperson. “Any further delays are as a result of the SHD Planning process which is also impacted by the pandemic.”

“The planning application is in the very early stages,” says Hazel Jones, strategic planning director with Bartra. They’re waiting on feedback from An Bord Pleanála before advancing to the next stage of design, she says.

“We expect to lodge a formal planning application with the Board in early 2021. While it was originally intended that the application would be lodged in 2020 Covid-19 has inevitably seen the planning process as a whole extended,” she says.

Jones didn’t directly answer a question about why they are increasing the number of homes on the site.

Extra Storeys

That the new blocks will be 12 storeys at the highest point has rankled some councillors. That wasn’t what locals agreed to, they said.

“That is going to be an issue,” says McAdam, the Fine Gael councillor. “I am concerned about that.”

The highest blocks will be furthest away from the existing housing though, he says. It’ll step up from two and three storeys at the edges.

Locals must be consulted, says McAdam. That will be difficult in light of the restrictions, but he plans to use online platforms to host local meetings, he says.

Stocker says she is pro-housing and is not opposing a ten-storey development in her own local area, but the changes at O’Devaney Gardens are so substantial that councillors can no longer trust what they are told.

A similar public-private partnership scheme on a big plot of council land at Oscar Traynor Road in Coolock, is set to come before councillors for a vote in the coming weeks or months.

As soon as councillors give away the land they will have no control over what gets built, says Stocker.

She no longer has faith that the designs shown to councillors are the same as what the developer will submit, she says. “The pretty drawings are a fairy tale.”

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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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