Citizens’ agenda
Local elections 2019

Michael Pidgeon

 

The council simply isn't empowered to take the kind of action we need, especially in expensive capital projects like house building. That requires the central government seriously investing. Locally, the main thing councils can do is ensure that public land is used for public, affordable housing – preferably aimed at a mix of income groups.

I would also like to see a greater requirement for every new large-scale development to require social/affordable housing. I previously worked for Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, and saw first-hand how a directly elected mayor can force developers to include social and genuinely affordable housing in new developments. I’d like to see that power replicated here.

 

I’m renting myself, so know the problems first-hand. We need three main things: increased supply of homes, increased requirements for social/affordable units, and improved tenant protections. Unfortunately, the council does not have much power on the last point, but locally I would:

–Amend Dublin’s City Development Plan to deliver more homes, not just hotels or overpriced student accommodation. Increased supply should help reduce prices.

–Ensure strict enforcement of new rules cracking down on homes being used for full-time Airbnbs.

–Aggressively use the Derelict and Vacant Sites Registers to tax or purchase derelict buildings and empty land to restore to a useful purpose.

–Use central Dublin sites (such as Marrowbone Lane, which is going to be a depot with some houses) to build more ambitious levels of social and affordable housing.

–Support cost-rental, Austrian-style apartments for long-term affordable renting.

 

Both of the above answers apply. Homelessness is the greatest challenge facing Dublin and utterly unacceptable in a wealthy country. It is, in part, a function of our high housing prices and low supply. But it’s also tied in with wider issues of inequality – and in the case of rough sleeping: mental health and addiction.

The homelessness crisis is why we need to shift the focus from transitory accommodation (hotels, student accommodation) to permanent housing, as listed above. We simply need to build more public housing.

For direct homelessness services, I would also vote to at least maintain the Local Property Tax rate so that Dublin City Council has extra resources to provide homelessness services, enforce housing/planning rules, and invest in social housing.

Most candidates would likely agree on many of these issues, but on the tax issue there is a genuine difference. Everyone on the current council (bar the Greens, Labour and Social Democrats) voted to lower the current tax rate by 15% – depriving the council of vital resources.

 

The tools for this are in place – the Derelict and Vacant Sites Registers. Once properties are added, the owners are ordered to put the site to use or at least secure and clean it up, or face fines of 3 percent of the site’s value. This is already working, but there are three things which need to change to improve the problem:

  1. Increase the fine/levy percentage, possibly as a sliding scale which goes up. This would require national legislation.

  2. Increase enforcement and council willingness to add sites to the register. This would take some extra resources.

  3. Loosen the criteria for being added to those registers, which leave many vacant or derelict sites go untouched.

 

I’ve spent the last number of years abroad in London and Brussels. The transport system in Dublin simply doesn’t compare. This is because the philosophy of building and expanding roads still dominates. Recent Green Party proposals to flip spending 2:1 in favour of public transport over roads were voted down in the Oireachtas.

I think Dublin needs to put pedestrians, cyclists and public transport before the needs of private cars and commercial vehicles, and I’d consistently vote in that manner. That means getting smaller decisions about individual road works right, but also supporting bigger reform and infrastructure projects.

BusConnects, for example, has some localised flaws which I want to see fixed (specific turns and issues with trees), but broadly is a smart reform of our bus system, moving away from a hodge-podge, inconsistent network to a purpose-designed one. We have decent buses, drivers and roads – we just need the bus network to match.

 

I cycle every single day in Dublin. My daily commute takes me through some of the nicest cycles in the city (the Royal Hospital Kilmainham) and some of the worst (along the Quays).

Dublin city should be a fantastic city for cycling. We’ve seen a major growth in numbers recently, but the infrastructure hasn’t kept up. I’d work to add extra secure cycle parking (as in Drury Street), promote quietways on residential streets (which reduce motor traffic while allowing walking and cycling) and begin a wider network of properly-segregated cycle routes – not just paint on the road.

Many candidates agree with promoting cycling in theory, but in practice will give in to complaints about the loss of a single car space or a few metres of traffic lanes for cars. I think our roads need to change and will always stand up for infrastructure that meets the needs of pedestrians and cyclists – not just car parking. Cities aren’t thoroughfares or car parks.

 

The current Green councillors have pushed really hard for a Climate Action Plan for Dublin, which sees the council make direct reductions in their own emissions. The more Green voices we have on the council, the stronger the backing for implementing that.

Locally, the council can also work to improve infrastructure for cycling, walking and public transport, which will reduce our city’s emissions. Climate change needs to be part of every decision the council is taking. Its impact must be included when assessing any project – not simply seen as an optional extra.

The effects of climate change are already being felt globally. In addition to reducing our emissions, we also need to prepare for the effects of climate change. That means obvious preparations as a coastal city, but also for unusual weather events and issues such as the recent weather-related water shortage.

 

Dumping and dog poo are probably the most frequently raised issues when I’m canvassing. For me, there are three approaches:

  1. We need to reduce the amount of waste we generate. The council can do this directly and build in low-waste provisions into its contracts and licences.

  2. With extra resources, regular dumping could be investigated and searched more to identify dumpers. Part of this is also simply hiring more litter wardens (and perhaps widening their tasks to include other enforcement actions) – Dublin city only has 13 at the moment.

3.As has been trialled in Barking (no pun!) in London, dog poo can be tested against a database of dogs, which could be linked in with the dog licensing system. It sounds implausible, but has worked well in London. It can also be funded through the fines levied.

Aside from deliberate dumping, there is also a problem with waste bags breaking or being torn apart. Shared bins for streets (as in Spain and Portugal) could go some way to improving this, where individual wheelie bins are not appropriate.

 

This is a problem city-wide, but is perhaps most acutely felt in the Liberties and the area around it, where people have some of the lowest access to green space in the country. This has impacts not only on the local environment, but makes team sports and casual play difficult and hostile. It also means that dog owners have to travel to give their dogs a bit of space.

In a dense urban environment, it can be difficult to open more parks, but there are opportunities which need to be treated as a priority.

This can be done on public land, such as with the Marrowbone Lane site near Rialto. The council currently use it as a depot. They’re planning to keep the depot and add some housing and a small bit of playing pitch. I’d vote to move the depot to a better-connected industrial estate and use the land for more pitches, playgrounds, parks and housing.

It can also be done with private land, either by making green space a condition of development, or simply as zoning spaces as park/open space. I’ve been involved opposing changes to a student development in Mill Street, which saw land which should was supposed to be public closed off.

 

Public streets being pedestrianised and greened is probably the single-quickest way to improve our city’s public realm. It can be politically difficult and logistically awkward, but so too was pedestrianising Grafton and Henry streets in the 1980s. I doubt anyone wants cars back on those streets.

I think we need to be looking at College Green (and connected streets), the quays, and some village centres. We can take public streets back for people or continue to surrender them to cars. The junction at Christ Church is a perfect example. We have a beautiful medieval cathedral, which is right beside this 10-lane junction, part of which runs through the cathedral.

Dublin also has a problem with unnecessary poles, barriers, advertising boards and other street furniture. I’d look at ways to remove them, consolidate them or – where possible – mount street signs on buildings instead of a path-blocking pole. This would make the streets prettier, but more importantly improve access for anyone with extra mobility needs or parents with buggies.

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