Dublin City Council is dependent on government schemes and funding to deliver social and affordable homes. At the moment, with the funding caps from central government, and the quotes for building from developers, it is very difficult for the council to build new social housing. This needs to change. I also think that the last FG/Labour government's decision to reduce the Part V provision [of social homes in new developments] from 20 percent to 10 percent and to scrap the affordable-housing scheme has had a detrimental effect on housing supply in the city. Not only that, developers are getting away with providing the 10 percent off-site, particularly in the Docklands area, so local people can’t even stay in their own community. This is unacceptable.
We did just recently, however, have some good news in relation to the Poolbeg West Strategic Development Zone, as An Bord Pleanála upheld the 25 percent provision of social and affordable homes. Local councillors (including myself) did agree on 900 units during the negotiations, so I am hoping through the planning process we can deliver the extra 25 units. The minister needs to come up with a scheme to deliver the affordable element here. I personally think this is an ideal site for a cost rental scheme, that is affordable. It is absolutely crucial that we develop a long-term, mixed-use sustainable community on the Poolbeg West sites. I think the SDZ will provide that and I am fully committed to delivering that.
The cost-rental housing model works really well in other European cities and we need more of that here, particularly on council- and state-owned land. I am working with my Green Party colleagues on the council and in the Dáil to look at state-owned sites such as Griffith Barracks, where a feasibility study is now proposed for cost-rental housing.
We need to ensure that the public land owned by the council is used for public housing. This is the best tool available to councillors, as most other decisions have been taken away from us by central government. This is also a key policy of the cross-party National Housing and Homelessness Coalition, which the Green Party are members of.
We also need to stop granting planning permission for hotels and student accommodation, and prioritise building housing, even private, to increase the supply in order to reduce costs, something I am currently pushing for on the council and hope to continue to do so.
As a renter myself, I fully understand the expense, uncertainty and stress of renting in Dublin right now. We urgently need real rent controls, rights and security of tenure for tenants.
About two years ago I had a motion passed in the council to introduce rent controls in the city. Ultimately, this is a central government decision, but our motion was dismissed by the housing minister. And his recent announcements regarding rent-pressure zones are too little too late. The Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) model, while it has its benefits, is a short-term solution that is also taking rental properties out of the private rental market, further reducing supply.
We also need to build more housing, public and private to increase supply and reduce costs. Again this is where the cost-rental model is an important part of the solution.
It’s incredibly frustrating to see a housing sector where changes could be made that would help reduce homelessness very quickly and effectively, but are ignored like this.
It is difficult to see the numbers of homeless people rise over recent years, but this is due to the reasons I have outlined above. A lot of people entering homelessness today are coming from the private rented sector due to unaffordable rents or insecure tenancies, and frequently both. We also have a huge number of hidden homelessness, with generations of families living under one roof as people can’t afford to move out, rent or buy, or are on the ever-growing social-housing waiting list. Providing more public housing, cost-rental models and more affordable rents will help stem the tide of homelessness as people will have affordable secure accommodation and no longer be pushed onto the streets. But we need to find ways to fund this and to speed the process up.
We still have an unacceptable amount of vacant and derelict properties and sites in the City, and you really notice this when canvassing. The fine for a property on the Derelict Sites Register is currently 3 percent of the market value of the property. This is still too low to have any meaningful impact. In addition, the criteria for a building to even get on the Derelict Sites Register is too strict, and this needs to be reviewed.
We need higher fines and stronger penalties for owners of vacant and derelict properties and sites. But we also need more initiatives to make it attractive for redevelopment. The Dublin City Council Living Cities initiative, for example, while well-intended, is riddled with limits and obstacles making it more hassle then it’s worth in most cases, so the uptake has been minimal. The Vacant Sites Register could also be much more robust. If re-elected, these are the areas where I will work to make necessary changes, and lobby central government to play its part also and strengthen the consequences of inaction by property and land owners.
For decades we have underinvested in public transport in the city, and indeed the whole country, with successive governments prioritising building roads over public transport, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. This is still happening while traffic in the city is getting worse and our transport emissions keep increasing. We need to plan our city for more sustainable and affordable modes of transport.
While the BusConnects and Metro projects are not without their flaws and challenges, which can hopefully be worked out through the public-consultation processes, I do think that these are the kind of big, brave and somewhat radical projects we need to deliver, along with better cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, in order to get people out of cars and into more sustainable modes of transport.
We also need to look at ways of improving transport options to and from our schools, such as more school buses, safer cycling and walking routes. Over 30 percent of peak morning traffic is school-run traffic.
I also think a directly elected mayor for Dublin, and a Dublin Transport Authority would help greatly in terms of improving public transport infrastructure.
I believe that by providing efficient, affordable and healthier alternatives, we can reduce our transport-related carbon emissions, create a healthier city and secure a more sustainable future for everyone, and that is something that, as a local councillor, I am committed to delivering.
As a cyclist, I am fully aware of our sub-standard cycling infrastructure in the city. So one of the first things myself and my Green Party colleagues did when we were elected in 2014 was to reinstate a cycling and walking officer for Dublin City Council.
We have made some progress in terms of cycling infrastructure. For example, as a member of the Sutton 2 Sandycove Sub-Committee, I have progressed the Sean Moore Road to Merrion Gates section of the route, and we have seen recent headway on the Liffey Cycle Route recently and the Dodder Greenway, some of the key cycling routes for the city.
I also secured another 2,000 bike parking facilities for the city, delivered bike parking at the South Bull Wall, and achieved funding for secure shared bike parking in residential areas with the Dublin City Beta Projects. I also got agreement to resurface Camden Street/Aungier Street and the Stillorgan Road to improve cycling along these routes.
Again, supporting cycling infrastructure sometimes means taking positions that can be unpopular with local residents, such as the Fitzwilliam Cycle Route and the recently proposed South Dublin Quietway. But we need to deliver safe cycling infrastructure if we are to get people out of cars, onto more sustainable and healthy modes of transport and reduce our carbon emissions. Better cycling infrastructure has numerous benefits – it reduces congestion and so improves public transport, helps address climate change, and promotes physical and mental health.
If re-elected I will continue to fight for better, safer cycling infrastructure in the city.
As a member of the council's Environment Strategic Policy Committee, one of the first things I did when I was elected in 2014 was to ensure we developed a new climate change strategy for the city, as the previous plan had not been reviewed or updated since 2009 (the last time there were Greens on the council). I went on to establish and co-chair the council's Climate Change [Sub-]Committee, and we are in the process of publishing the new Dublin City Climate Action Plan after the recent public-consultation process. The plan looks at the key areas of energy and buildings, transport, resource use, nature-based solutions and flood resilience.
I want to be a member of the next council to ensure this Climate Action Plan is delivered, that it is reviewed and updated regularly, and that there are annual performance reports in terms of reaching targets, which are crucial to its success.
Climate action needs to be at the core of every decision we make. We need to climate proof all our policies. While other parties talk about climate change, I don’t always see them willing to walk the walk in the way that they vote on projects. It is simply no longer sufficient for climate action to be a "nice to have" option, and this means making brave and sometimes unpopular decisions. As an environmental scientist and educator, this is essential part of my role as a Green Party councillor.
In relation to litter: there are only 13 litter wardens assigned throughout the city, which – it is clear from the litter around us – is not enough. Councillors have responsibility for the city budget, and so if elected I will seek additional funding for more litter wardens and more enforcement of fines.
In relation to dog poo: myself and my colleague Councillor Patrick Costello recently proposed a wide-ranging motion to tackle dog poo that received cross-party support. If elected again I will work hard to have all parts of the motion implemented, delivering more dog-poo-only bins, more free dog-poo bags, looking for an increased fine, and piloting innovative techniques that have worked in other countries such as DNA testing dog poo. This motion was accepted, and now I want to make sure we can progress these initiatives.
I also recently secured agreement from the council to look at communal bin storage in certain areas. Part of the problem in the city is that many households still use bags for their waste. This means there is easy access to food for birds, foxes and vermin, who tear the bags apart causing more litter. By providing secure, communal bin storage we can reduce the impact of bag use and address the illegal dumping issue, and this is something I would like to be on the next council to progress.
There is one thing the council does have full control of and that is the City Development Plan. This sets out the rules for planning decisions and provides councillors with an opportunity to demand more green space from large developments. For example, in the last City Development Plan, I successfully rezoned the vacant space at the end of South Great Georges Street/Dame Lane (the Why Go Bald Square) to be used as a park, and secured funding to add the furniture and bike parking that is there now. It’s a great space and I love seeing people use it every day.
Should I be re-elected I would use the City Development Plan to increase the number of green spaces and pocket parks. We need more places in city to sit, relax and reflect.
We do need more public space, and to make the city calmer and safer. There are some big projects that can deliver that, such as the pedestrianisation of College Green, which I fully support. Here we could create a great part of the city that would not only reduce traffic, but would allow for more public events such as concerts and markets and create a real civic space in the heart of Dublin.
In my own neighbourhood, we recently fought hard against a hotel being built on the Portobello Harbour Plaza, whose entrance will open onto the square, with proposed seating and an awning outside on the square. This, in my mind, would effectively privatise this public space. Unfortunately An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the hotel. However this has prompted the council to re-design the plaza, so that it is more fit for public use and to counteract the affect of the hotel development.
This is something I am currently working with the council and the local community, and if re-elected I will continue to progress this, along with College Green, and the part-pedestrianisation of Drury Street and South William Street. More green infrastructure is also important in terms of biodiversity and climate action, but it also helps to make the city more attractive.