Hopes dashed as housing plans put on hold
ANALYSIS:Complexes earmarked for urban regeneration have been shelved or scaled back after deals collapsed
Dublin’s latest phase of urban renewal started in the early 1990s with the mass-production of shoebox flats and ended with the disaster of Priory Hall. In between, over 20 years, we felt our way towards more “European” forms of living only to have hopes dashed by unscrupulous developers.
RTÉ television’s recent documentary, Apartment Kids, starkly illustrated the difficulties of rearing children in cramped apartments with no private outdoor space, minimal storage and long distances to amenities – especially in schemes left unfinished after the bubble burst.
There has been “a disaffection and huge loss of confidence in apartment living after the debacle of Priory Hall, problems with management companies and the blight of unfinished developments”, according to architect Paul Keogh. But he said the Grand Canal Docks area “gives a sense of what urban living could be”.
Although Leitrim and Longford are worst hit, Dublin has its fair share of unfinished housing schemes, such as the reinforced high-rise concrete hulk that dominates the Luas Stillorgan stop or the swathe of derelict development land at Clongriffin, on the northside.
The city also has several social housing estates that need renewal, as was meant to happen under a series of public-private partnerships (PPPs). But Dublin City Council put most of its eggs in one basket, awarding five to a consortium headed by Bernard McNamara. These deals collapsed amid a welter of recrimination.
The complexes earmarked for urban regeneration were Dominick Street and Seán McDermott Street; O’Devaney Gardens, near Phoenix Park; Dolphin House, off South Circular Road; and St Michael’s Estate, Inchicore. Separate PPPs for Charlemont Street and St Theresa’s Gardens, involving other developers, have also been shelved.
The remaking of Fatima Mansions as Herberton, with its mix of private and social housing, is the only successful example of a PPP. All other regeneration projects are “on hold”, although this is not being publicly acknowledged. A new scheme for O’Devaney Gardens was approved in August 2011, but no contract has yet been awarded.
In some cases, such as Dolphin House, a more economical renovation is now being planned rather than demolition and replacement.
Certainly, we won’t be seeing the likes of Ballymun’s regeneration again. Even after 15 years and an investment of more than €650 million, it’s not finished and a further €51 million was recently pledged for “the completion of planned housing initiatives and a number of critical infrastructure projects” up to 2014.
According to Minister of State for Housing and Planning Jan O’Sullivan, “the experience of transforming Ballymun . . . is of tremendous value.
The ‘corporate memory’ . . . of the challenges of regeneration can assist other communities”.
But is it such a great model? Although 1,700 new homes have been built by Ballymun Regeneration Ltd, one of the original seven towers is still standing as well as six of the system-built eight-storey blocks – all late 1960s – while the fate of the town centre planned for many years by Treasury Holdings is now tied up in Nama.
Dubliners can be grateful that the relentless decline in the inner city’s population has not only been halted but dramatically reversed. The area between the two canals has seen its population increase from 84,055 in 1991 to 112,044 in 2001 and 135,827 in Census 2011 – a spectacular achievement. “We need to understand what kind of minimum density is needed to sustain services and amenities and make the city attractive,” Paul Keogh says. “And I’m not talking about high-rise; buildings on the scale of Georgian Dublin would be adequate to meet all development criteria. We can’t go back to the low-density suburban estate.”