Councillors Vote Against Big Deal with Private Developer for Public Land

Councillors voted on Monday night against a deal with private developer Glenveagh Living Limited to sell a giant patch of public land at Oscar Traynor Road in the north-west of the city.

Under the deal, the developer would have built more than 850 homes, subject to planning, selling half on the private market, and the other half back to the council at construction cost for social and “affordable purchase” homes.

It also would have handed over €14 million to the council, and been responsible for building all the amenities and infrastructure for the development.

There were 48 votes against the deal, and 14 votes in favour.

Some parties voted in a block, with all independent councillors, and all of the Social Democrats, the Green Party, Sinn Féin, and People Before Profit, and the independents 4 change councillor saying nay.

All of Fine Gael, meanwhile, backed the plans.

Other parties were split, though. All Labour councillors but one voted against the deal, while six Fianna Fáil councillors voted against, four Fianna Fáil councillors voted for, and one Fianna Fáil councillor abstained.

“We believe we must draw a line in the sand and shift our local housing policy away from sacrificing the full potential of our land to the private developer and become the lead housing developer ourselves,” said Labour Councillor Alison Gilliland, who voted against the plan, at the meeting.

Declan Flanagan of Fine Gael said the site had been lying idle for forty years and councillors should back the plans.

“This represents a fantastic opportunity for these people on the social and affordable housing list,” he said.

In the Making

As councillors geared up to vote, Brendan Kenny, the council’s assistant chief executive, made his case for why they should back the plan.

It was in line with the plan, known as the housing land initiative, to develop a few big patches of public land with the private sector. That way forward was backed by the councillors in January 2017, he said.

That was during the last council term. At the time, the majority party on the council was Sinn Féin.

At Monday’s meeting, Sinn Féin Councillor Daithí Doolan said the housing land initiative was never his party’s first choice and the landscape had changed.

“We now work with others to develop a more modern response, taking on board the housing crisis and taking on board the model that we’re developing on St Michael’s Estate,” he said, referring to a cost-rental model being explored there.

Labour’s Gilliland said that the housing landscape has worsened since the council agreed that initiative. “Particularly for those struggling with high market rents.”

Value for Money or Not

“I think it would be highly disappointing and frustrating if this very important project at this advanced stage could be killed off tonight,” said Kenny, at the meeting.

Kenny listed what he saw as the benefits to the council of the project.

There would be – in addition to the 428 private homes – 172 affordable purchase homes and 253 social homes, he said. (The council would have bought the affordable and social homes at construction cost.)

It would be a shame to abandon this plan as Coolock has the highest social housing waiting list in the whole country, Kenny said.

The developer also would build amenities, parks and community facilities under the deal, he said.

The developer would give a €14 million payment, a large part of which had been earmarked to spend around Oscar Traynor Road, he said.

The developer had said they’re willing to sell up to 50 percent, or more, of the private homes for a cost-rental model, said Kenny. “We would like further time to assess that offer.”

A similar offer from Bartra Capital was what pushed a similar deal for O’Devaney Gardens over the line. That part of the O’Devaney deal is still being negotiated, though.

The affordable-purchase homes were to cost between €230,000 and €260,000 for a one-bed, €250,000 to €300,000 for a two-bed and from €270,000 to €320,000 for a three-bed, according to a council report.

Racheal Batten, a Fianna Fáil councillor, said her party would have preferred to try to come to a better deal. “Unfortunately that hasn’t happened,” she said. (A Fianna Fáil motion to defer the vote until next January was defeated.)

They weren’t satisfied with the proposal as it wasn’t, on balance, good value for money, said Batten.

Labour’s Gilliland said that the council was having to trade more than half the homes for community amenities, just because the Department of Housing doesn’t provide funding for community infrastructure and amenities.

“The central premise of the Oscar Traynor Road land initiative is a gross misuse of a public good, finite resources such as public land,” said independent councillor John Lyons.

What Now?

“Of course a new plan could be formulated,” said Kenny at the meeting.

But they can’t move quickly onto the next plan, he said. “It is likely it will take five, at least five years, in my view closer to eight years to get any new plan to the stage that we are at now.”

He also said it would be hard for the council to take on a project of this scale directly.

Labour’s Gilliland, who chair’s the council’s housing committee, disagreed. Dublin City Council has the capacity to do that and the minister for housing and his department needs to work with them to scale up their ambition, she said.

Once the vote against the Glenveagh plan was done, Gilliland put forward an emergency motion.

“Dublin City Council requires the drafting of a new plan that would see Dublin City Council lead the design and oversee the development of public housing on this site,” Gilliland said.

The council should have the same approach to this site as with St Michael’s Estate, Gilliland said – pointing as others had to the pilot on council land in Inchicore which, the current plan is, would blend social homes and cost-rentals.

Kenny said that if they mirrored the model used for St Michael’s Estate would mean more than 320 social homes at Oscar Traynor Road.

“I would expect that there would be a strong resistance to such a high level of social housing at this location,” he said.

A St Michael’s Estate-type model would also require more density and storeys in the designs for the Oscar Traynor site, and lower quality, if affordability was to be achieved, Kenny said.

Councillors agreed the emergency motion.

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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