A Disagreement About a Driveway Highlights Issues of Power and Planning in the Docklands

On a recent Saturday the wind blew fiercely through Mayor Street Upper on the north side of the Docklands.

Dust particles whirl in the air. A large white plastic covering on the tall unfinished buildings bangs loudly as it whacks in the wind.

Black hoarding surrounds a seven-storey tower. “Ronan Group” and “Colony Capital”, it reads.

Next door to the tower, Tony McDonnell stands in his back garden.

The development looming over him is in what’s known as City Block 2. It’s still being built, metres from his home.

“Talk about David and Goliath,” says McDonnell, gesturing upwards at the building. “Well that is Goliath.”

Residents of Mayor Street Upper have seen daylight, privacy and the enjoyment of their homes all eroded by the new high-rises on four sides of their houses, he says.

Council officials, developers and local political representatives don’t seem concerned about the welfare of residents, says McDonnell. “They just don’t care. We are insignificant.”

McDonnell can’t figure out why Dublin City Council okayed the design for the building next door, in particular.

Normally, a high-rise right beside an ordinary street of houses should step down in stages to meet the homes. That tower should drop from seven-storey to three-storeys, says McDonnell.

The planners’ report says that the rules for the Strategic Development Zone for this part of the city say that, too. But, the report goes on to say that the gap provided by McDonnell’s driveway is a substitute for that design requirement.

“It is best practice to step back to prevent the creation of wind tunnels and allow neighbouring properties to have adequate access to daylight,” says Lorcan Sirr, a housing and planning lecturer at TU Dublin.

The Ronan Group Real Estate didn’t respond to a query as to why the development is not stepped back from the homes and whether they considered compensating the homeowners who live there.

Defining Compliant

Residents on Mayor Street Upper have complained for some time about overdevelopment in the area, late-night construction and that agreements thrashed out and enshrined in council plans are not being upheld.

Dublin City Council and a company of developer Johnny Ronan have been engaged in a legal battle over heights in the Docklands, with Ronan wanting to build higher than laid out in the SDZ plan citing central government guidelines, and the council saying the SDZ plan takes precedence at the moment.

A judge ruled in the council’s favour last month, says an Irish Times report.

The planners report for the development next to McDonnell’s house – which dates back to June 2018 – says that the SDZ permits six to seven storeys on the block, with step downs next to the homes on Mayor Street.

But “the requirement to step down has not been observed”, it says.

“The point made [by the developer] that the separation provided at Mayor Street is the space of stepping down is accepted and considered to be compliant,” says the report on page 9.

The “separation” is McDonnell’s driveway, he says.

McDonnell says that he cannot understand why the council abandoned the requirement for a buffer for his home.

His driveway is part of his property, he says. The seven-storey building starts where his property ends, so why, he says, would that mean the building beside him doesn’t need to comply with planning norms?

If the building dropped gradually in height, he would get more daylight into his garden, and less overlooking, he says.

“I’d have three-storeys beside me and there would be some type of living,” he says.

He has lost the afternoon and evening sunlight that he used to enjoy. This year the sun went down in his garden at 3pm on the summer solstice, he says.

There was no appeals process open to him once he learned of the decision, he says.

Once planning permission is granted in a Strategic Development Zone the only mechanism to appeal is a judicial review, which takes massive resources, he says.

Photo by Laoise Neylon

McDonnell says that the requirement to “step down” to three storeys is included in North Lotts and Docklands SDZ, the plan for the area.

“An Bord Pleanála rubber stamped the three-storey aspect,” says McDonnell. “DCC changed that.”

Dublin City Council did not provide a spokesperson from the planning department to answer questions on this decision and did not answer questions in time for publication, that were submitted by email a week ago.

Out of Hours

Tommy Byrne lives at the opposite end of the street from McDonnell.

His living room is in darkness most of the time, since the development opposite the front of his home was built, he says.

Another complex being built behind him by a different developer will overlook his garden. But at least it will be stepped down, he says.

The latest tower looming over McDonnell’s home is brutal, he says. “It would remind you of a German, Berlin bunker.”

A resident of a nearby apartment complex forwarded a video of noisy construction works taking place at 12:30am on Wednesday 28 October on that large site behind Byrne’s home.

For years, the residents of Mayor Street have complained about out-of-hours construction works in the area.

A council spokesperson says that the council regularly issues “derogations” that permit developers across the city to carry out construction at night when they need to.

For example, if they are power floating concrete “which due to the size of the pour take longer to cure & consequently the power floating commences later in the day”, says the spokesperson.

Three developments in the area around Mayor Street have got permission for that from time to time, they said.

There are 29 sites in Dublin city at the moment where developers have secured permission to work late at night, said the council spokesperson. Those are scattered across postcodes 1 through 8, and 13, they said.

Photo by Laoise Neylon

According to a protocol updated in August 2020, the latest that construction work can go on is midnight.

Apart from concrete pouring, a deal was in place whereby construction would take place Monday to Friday 7am to 6pm and 8am to 2pm on Saturday, says McDonnell.

But since Covid-19, he says, builders got an extra hour added on to those shifts, causing more disturbance to residents.

Floodlights from the sites are causing a disruption to the families in the area too, says McDonnell. “Can you imagine putting kids down at 7pm? The kids won’t settle.”

In the area around Mayor Street Upper “there is one site that has availed of the special COVID derogation”, said the council spokesperson.

That means they can work for one extra hour each evening, so from 6pm to 7pm and for one extra hour on Saturdays, so from 2pm to 3pm, they said.

Nothing for Locals

According to the latest planning application the building beside McDonnell’s home, would be apartments and coliving. (Rather than apartments and an aparthotel.)

The council hasn’t decided yet on that planning application filed in January 2020.

McDonnell says he fears that coliving means more disruption from residents, and young people throwing parties.

Or worse, “if they are hoi polloi and they decide to throw stuff down on the riff raff below them who is to say who did it?” says McDonnell. “There is nothing positive in this for us.”

Construction here isn’t benefiting the community, says Byrne, by phone. “I reared my kids down here, it was fine.”

His children were able to play on the street, he says. “You can’t do it anymore.”

The new developments don’t provide amenities or family homes, he says.

Byrne says he had a stroke recently. He believes that was caused by the stress of living in a construction site for so many years. “It has been going on for 25 and a half years,” he says.

As well as losing daylight, the street is windier because the buildings are so high that they create a tunnel effect, says Byrne.

Lorcan Sirr, the housing lecturer, said that happens. High buildings funnel extra wind down below, he says.

Says Byrne: “I was born and reared in this area. The gentrification of the Docklands is unbelievable.”

“This was a lovely little village we had,” says Byrne, “and it has been completely wiped out.”

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

Reader responses

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David Flood
at 11 November 2020 at 19:28

Wonderful that you're covering this, I haven't been able to visit the area since July last year but it really is unbelievable how they are going about developing the urban environment around Mayor St. Keep up the great reporting Laoise!

Karl Nolan
at 17 November 2020 at 12:11

We need to house people in the city centre. Further sprawl is not acceptable. If he's unhappy he should cash in on his house and move to a village.

Stuart Saint
at 17 November 2020 at 12:18

Don't visit the docklands much but I distinctly remember the amount of wind in that area last time I was up there. The way these residents are being treated reminds me of the big industrial estates out around the Long Mile Road and Ballyfermot. You'll often drive down a side road only to find a tiny cottage between three or four huge factories and depots. That property is now for all intents and purposes worthless unless somebody needs the land for an extension, and the residents are constantly dealing with HGV traffic at all hours.

at 21 May 2022 at 16:58

He's living in the city centre. Get over it.

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