Citizens’ agenda
Local elections 2019

Eoin Neylon

 

As a civil and structural engineer, the provision of housing is something I’m well experienced in. We have much greater capacity to build housing here than is currently being allowed for by the government. Like Fianna Fáil oversaw in the 1930s and again in the 1950s, the only way to meet housing demand is to allow the local authorities to directly build. It’s evident the Fine Gael government is not interested in doing this. Currently, the city council has not been innovative in proposing alternative solutions or finding innovative ways to raise the funds to build. Pointing at problems does not solve them. DCC should be looking to start a “housing bond” program that would allow the council to directly raise funds in order to start a wide-ranging building program in the city to both help people get on the property ladder and alleviate rents. The social-housing stock built under this initiative itself would act as collateral for the bond, meaning the rest of the DCC budget would be completely unaffected. The contracts to build this housing should be split up into smaller tranches to allow small- and medium-sized builders locally to compete for the tenders to build the housing, rather that it being solely restricted to big developers and massive construction firms. This would massively increase the rate at which social and affordable housing is being built.

 

As stated above, by getting more and more people into purpose-built social and affordable housing, the number of people relying on the private rental market for accommodation will decrease. The simple economics of supply and demand would dictate that rents would recede in line with the decreasing pressure on the private rental sector. Government attempts to place rent caps have had the opposite effect and led directly to landlords jacking up rents in response. The only way to meet the demand is to increase the supply. Only when the supply reaches sustainable levels will rents begin to fall to more affordable prices.

 

With less pressure on the rental sector, the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme would become more attractive to private landlords across the city, who themselves would have greater availability. This means that getting temporary housing until such a time as a purpose-built social house was constructed should not be so difficult for the many homeless families in Dublin. Ultimately though, providing quality, appropriate permanent social housing has to be the goal.

 

According to the 2016 census, there are roughly 1,000 vacant properties in the Ballyfermot-Drimnagh area alone. This in itself is a scandal. The council has utterly failed to make use of this housing stock. A substantive vacant property tax would motivate those hoarding housing privately to either sell it or make it habitable for renting. The huge number of social houses left vacant around the city is inexcusable. Both local and national government should be putting more effort into bringing these properties up to standard for renting urgently. There is also a great opportunity for DCC to start an apprenticeship programme in tandem with the refurbishment of this housing stock. In doing so, not only will there be more social housing on offer in time of crisis, but a new generation of skilled tradespeople will be trained up within DCC in order to allow the council greater scope to maintain its housing stock as well as giving employment opportunities across the city.

 

Public-transport improvements are vital for environmental, public-health and economic reasons. Congestion on our roads could be greatly reduced with proper public transport. We need to increase capacity on the Red Line Luas. Orbital bus routes are vital to get people out of their cars and onto public transport. These should be prioritised ahead of any of the proposed BusConnects programme, which requires much greater scrutiny in order to bring about a bus system that works for the people. Furthermore, the public-transport system should remain in public ownership. Greater coordination of the Leap card system to make it cheaper and easier for commuters to travel across the various public transport options is also a must. If travelling by public transport takes longer and is more expensive than travelling by private car, we cannot possibly win the hearts and minds of people to travel by bus/tram/rail. Greater-frequency, quicker journey times along prioritised routes and cutting the cost via increased public subvention are all required.

 

I recently launched a plan for improved cycling infrastructure across the Ballyfermot-Drimnagh area, including a "West Dublin Historical Cycle Route". This route would bring greater tourism to the area, connecting the Phoenix Park, the historical sites in Kilmainham, down through Inchicore via Richmond Barracks, on through Lansdowne Valley Park in Drimnagh before meeting with the Long Mile Road in Walkinstown, adjacent to Drimnagh Castle. Enhanced, segregated cycle paths would encourage more people to cycle further reducing congestion on the roads and overcrowding on public transport. The Metropolitan Greenways plan must be prioritised to give cyclists safe radial routes in and out of the city. The appeal to Europe's large cycling tourism market would bring greater investment to the city also. The expansion of the DublinBikes scheme into our suburbs is vital if any worthwhile cycling program is to succeed. The short-term tourism benefits and long-terms health benefits would pay for the investment in cycling infrastructure many times over.

 

As a climate-change ambassador with An Taisce, one of the main things I hope to achieve as a city councillor is for a greater focus on sustainability and environmentally friendly policies. The moves for greater public transport and cycling will have a positive impact on the fuel emissions released each year by Dubliners. That's just a start. I would like to see the City Development Plan changed such that all new commercial buildings being built above a fixed square metreage footprint would be obliged to incorporate a mix of green roof and solar panels to promote renewable energy production and sustainability. Grants for community gardens should be made available by DCC in order to promote people to "grow their own" and live more sustainable lives. Greater recycling facilities should be rolled out across the city in order to make it easier for people to live greener lives. Our public-transport fleet simply must move away from diesel. From 2020, all new mass-transport vehicles acquired for use in Dublin should use electricity, bio-fuel, hydrogen fuel cells or similar. We also require a greater number of electric charging points for electric cars around the city. A better public-lighting system should be designed to reduce the 30 percent energy waste lost to "sky glow", which also has negative ecological impacts via light pollution.

 

Waste disposal services must come back under the control of DCC. Privatisation of the waste collection services has not worked and has led directly to a huge increase in illegal dumping. What's more, the cost of private waste collection to households is greater than it would be if paid for via the local property tax, which is what the property tax was supposed to be for in the first place anyway. The DCC policy of removing public waste bins has also been a disaster. This was done in an effort to stop illegal dumping but, again, this has proven a massive failure. We need more public litter bins and with them, dog litter bins. On top of this, we also require enforcement. There is no point is having a parking warden, litter warden and a dog warden if none of the three are effectively doing the job in front of them. All three roles should be amalgamated into one "Street Officer" who could then tackle the issue of dog dirt, littering and anti-social parking concurrently. Enough of these street officers would act as a good deterrent. It's not good enough that in all of Dublin last year there were only four fines for dog fouling when the problem is so prevalent. With the correct disposal facilities in place, which must be the priority, people should know that if they ignore their obligations to clean up after themselves, they face a high risk of receiving an on-the-spot fine.

 

With huge pressure to provide housing across the city, planners could be tempted to build on any and all space that becomes available to them. However, it's important to ensure that appropriate green space is incorporated into all development plans into the future. Already we have a dearth of playing pitches and parks in many areas of Dublin. The Dolphin Park situation is a good example of this issue, where playing pitches are being sold off for housing development in an area that already does not have enough green space. Local sports clubs are vital for the community spirit as well as the general health of people in all areas. As a sports enthusiast I see this regularly. Another example is in a club I'm a player and committee member. Our playing grounds have recently been bought by a private interest and as such, the club's rents have dramatically increased, putting the club's future viability, and that of our partner clubs in other sports, in question. The loss of these clubs in Dublin 12 would be a huge loss to the area as, given the lack of appropriate alternative playing facilities locally, the future is one where we either get a major, sustainable cash injection to meet even-increasing rents or the club may fold. This has been driven completely by the lack of playing facilities/green spaces in the city, which has led to schools and institutions in the city centre moving out to the suburbs and buying up green spaces there for private use. DCC must look at providing better green areas and playing facilities right across the city. Dublin cannot become another concrete jungle. The council should also ensure that playing facilities bought privately should have a stipulation that protects the future viability of local clubs that have a noted historical association with the grounds in question.

 

Dublin needs a central civic plaza. With the failure of the College Green plaza idea, we must go back to the drawing board and find something on this site that is agreeable to all. Additionally, all public spaces need improvements, from the provision of drinking-water fountains, to more public toilet facilities, to benches and trees and flower planters. Brightening up the city and making it more welcoming to locals and visitors alike will do wonders in getting people out and about and enjoying the city. The Metropolitan Greenway initiative would encourage Dubliners to explore more of their city and lead to more healthy, active lifestyles outdoors, separate from heavily trafficked streets. There is huge scope to look at civic spaces all over the city, which would not only act as a great amenity for Dublin, but also help protect some of our cultural heritage. As a descendent of a 1916 combatant and War of Independence martyr, it sickened me that the government allowed the Moore Street site fall to private development rather than transform it into a new cultural quarter celebrating the birth of the nation. We need large-scale visionary ideas for Dublin like that to rejuvenate the city. One area crying out for such large-scale thinking is the Davitt Road green- and brown-field sites along the canal in Drimnagh, mostly owned by the HSE currently. The scope is there for a new "canal village" incorporating public buildings, like a theatre, apartments, retail units, public services and a civic plaza, all along an existing public-transport route. We need a greater vision for Dublin when it comes to councillors drafting the City Development Plan.

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