It is quite a while since Dundrum has been a village. Over the last 50 years, its once neat boundaries have broken down, seeing it seep into the two-storey semi-detached south Dublin sprawl. Hammerson, the UK property company that owns the Dundrum Town Centre shopping complex, is seeking to revive the “village” moniker with a residential development on the site of the unlovely 1970s shopping centre at the north end of Main Street.
However, the Dundrum Village Strategic Housing Development (SHD) of almost 900 apartments, including what developers describe as a “landmark” 16-storey apartment block, feels, to some locals, less than a kiss of life for the village and more like a slap in the face.
Warren Logan’s house on Sweetmount Avenue will be one of the closest to the new development and directly in the shadow of the 16-storey tower.
“This has been my family home since the 1960s, so obviously we’ve seen a lot of development, especially in recent years, but I think after this, the area is going to be unrecognisable,” he says. “Plonking 16 storeys in front of people’s houses is ridiculous. It will be as high as Liberty Hall in the city or the top of the pylons on the Luas bridge in Dundrum. It looks like something on steroids.”
Logan is no fan of the old shopping centre, which he says warrants demolition.
“I am in favour of development and I am in favour of development of this site in particular, but what’s happening here, under the guise of need for accommodation, is a development that is completely out of proportion with the streetscape, and what the area and the site is capable of coping with.”
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He says he uses the word “guise” because he does not believe the development will provide homes for people to buy, and for those renters looking to live in Dundrum, he feels prices will be out of reach.
“If I thought I would be able to say that in the end at least people would benefit from this development, that would be something,” Logan says “but I don’t think that’s what it’s about”.
Hammerson, which in April submitted a planning application to An Bord Pleanála for the 11-block development under the fast-track SHD process where applications for large schemes bypassed the local authority planning system, says it will “continue to consider” whether the apartments will be available for sale or rent only during their construction, expected to take several years.
However, indicative prices for the social housing element, which Hammerson is obliged to sell to Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council at a discount, range from €385,301 for a one-bed to €788,741 for a three-bed apartment.
High-density apartment schemes have been planned, and in some cases already delivered in the area, just not to the extent that is being sought on the “village” site, Logan says. “There are high-density developments around us. Fernbank is there at five to six storeys, the Central Mental Hospital is planned for up to seven. They are high density but low rise, and that’s what makes everyone happy.”
Community group Imagine Dundrum also draws the comparison with the Central Mental Hospital site, where the Land Development Agency (LDA) had originally proposed 14 storeys and, through consultation before submitting its SHD application, brought it down to a maximum of seven.
“The LDA listened and consulted with us and others, and in my view the Central Mental Hospital will be a very nice development,” Nick Armstrong of Imagine Dundrum says. “That’s going to be 950 residences on 10 hectares, but the village site would be 881 residences on 3.5 hectares, which is really dense.”
Imagine Dundrum was set up in 2016, predating but in expectation of development on the shopping centre site.
“None of us wanted to be looking at another 20 or 30 years of dereliction at the old village end of us. We are pro-development but we are pro-development that marries in with the village itself, the village Main Street and adds into Dundrum itself as a major town centre.”
Armstrong shares Logan’s concerns in relation to the height of the scheme. “We would be happy with eight storeys along the bypass side but they are going up to 16 with one of the buildings. On the opposite side, on Main Street, to be in harmony with the street you could have three, possibly four storeys. It could be a lovely development but you wouldn’t get the density they are trying to get into it.”
Beyond issues of the height and density, or the form of the development, Imagine Dundrum has serious concerns about its function.
“The development proposed is 95 per cent residential, which would be fine if it was a suburban residential site but it’s actually a major town site so you would expect to see much more mixed use. Things like cultural centres, possibly civic offices and the various things that you would get in a town.”
While Dundrum is synonymous with shopping, Armstrong says it has been denuded of local shops in recent years, particularly as de-tenanting of the old shopping centre went ahead in preparation for the new scheme.
“There used to be all little different shops in the old shopping centre. A bookshop, a gift shop, a butchers – now it was a horrible-looking place with the car park in front of it, but the range of shops there wasn’t too bad. That’s all gone now,” he says.
The Dundrum Town Centre complex does provide some amenities, such as theatre, cinema and restaurants, Armstrong appreciates.
“It’s not that it serves no function, but it is not aimed at Dundrum. It’s near the motorway so people come to visit from all over the place for the ‘shopping experience’. It’s not the worst development in the world by any means, and it’s nothing like what we will be looking out at the other end of Main Street.”
Although the development will be very close to his home on Barton Road, Liam O’Donnell is reasonably happy with the scheme going ahead. “I think anything there would be an improvement,” he said of the old shopping centre. “People have to live somewhere. I have no problems with it.”
His views seem to be in the minority among local residents, however.
“I think what is being proposed is an abomination, to be quite honest,” says Ciara Kennedy a resident of Sweetmount Park.
“My family was one of the first residents in Sweetmount Park. They bought the house when it was built in 1963 and I am a proud resident of Dundrum.” The area will be “overwhelmed” by the size and scale of the complex, she says.
“It just doesn’t fit into the character of Dundrum. It doesn’t fit into the area it’s proposed to be put into, and I just can’t really see how it will work in that area with such a high density of apartments.”
The existing density of Dundrum following several years of apartment construction had already altered the character of the village, says another local resident Liam Bannon. “The village at the moment is completely overcrowded,” he says. “It’s only a small little village and it’s chock-a-block at the moment. Can you imagine if there’s another 600 or 700 apartments going up across the way? It’s going to be turmoil here.”
He says he appreciates the need for housing, but Dundrum can no longer cope with the volume of residents it is being asked to accommodate.
“Dundrum is changing all the time, I understand that,” he says, but “any other village I know that has brought bigger housing developments into the area has been ruined”.
The dearth of shops and other facilities to support the new, as well as existing, community is a point made by local Una Lawlor.
“I’m all for residential development on the old shopping centre, but there’s an awful lot of shops there that we all need,” she says. “Say they’re going to have some retail units down the street going along the main street, but that is not enough for an area which has got so much development.”
Local Fine Gael councillor Jim O’Leary says the extent of residential development envisaged was not what the council intended for this site.
“It effectively undermines the plan for the county. Dundrum is identified as the second town of the county. It’s meant to contribute in terms of cultural and civic vitality, employment and retail, not just housing, and this application is 95 per cent housing,” he says.
“I think there’s a very strong argument it goes against the actual zoning. The zoning is mixed use - 95 per cent of one form of use isn’t mixed use. Our county development plan is quite clear on how we define that zoning – we expect entertainment options, leisure options, a new civic centre, a cultural centre with a plaza was meant to go on to that site. Notwithstanding the fact it’s quite a large development, it doesn’t respect the key plan we had for our whole county.”
Under the county development plan, the site is earmarked for residential development but it should have complementary uses such as employment, restaurant, leisure, entertainment and creche facilities. There is also a specific objective for any redevelopment of the site to “address the need for the provision of a future Dundrum community, cultural and civic centre facility”.
Hammerson says its scheme is neither in conflict with the zoning or the council’s specific local objectives for the site. “This is a residential-led scheme with commercial elements and fully in line with national policy and SHD planning requirements,” a spokesman says. The town has an “exceptionally low residential component at present”, he says, and there would be shops and other non-residential elements in the new development.
“As well as providing required housing, the scheme will provide up to 20 retail units, including a food store and creche, all suitable for small- and medium-sized local and independent businesses to grow and prosper. Notably, the proposed development includes a greater amount of retail/commercial floorspace than is currently on the subject site and therefore will increase the amount of commercial floorspace over what is trading at present.”
The plans had taken into account the views of the local community, he says. “The proposed scheme will see the restoration of retail-fronting thoroughfare on the western edge of Dundrum Main Street to support the reinstatement of a recognisable and thriving area. This also takes into account the character and streetscape of Main Street.”
O’Leary does not advocate a King Canute approach to the development of apartments in Dundrum and its hinterland. “Between the Goatstown Road and the Ballinteer Road, we are planning for the population of that area of Dundrum to grow from 28,000 to over 40,000 by 2040 – that’s a 40 per cent increase in population.”
More than 3,000 apartments are already planned for the area. “There’s a huge pipeline there but of that pipeline only about 500 are being built so we need the others to start being executed, otherwise we will still lag on supply unfortunately,” O’Leary says.
“I am hoping for the sake of people who want to rent a house or buy a house that the amount of planning applications that have been granted in the last two years start to get executed, so the builders actually deliver.”
However, to make those schemes viable, and for Dundrum to be a “town” or a real community, and not just a dormitory for the city, a strong town centre is essential, he argues.
“There is no point in putting housing somewhere where you don’t have a suitable fabric to support that extra increase in population. We have identified Dún Laoghaire and Dundrum as the two key towns in the county where we want to concentrate these facilities. It’s not good enough to say some of it is in Stillorgan and some more in Nutgrove. They are minor in comparison to what we are trying to achieve in Dundrum and Dún Laoghaire.
Of course, it’s not just more shops or a civic centre that are needed to cope with the increasing densification of Dundrum – a local plan to ensure the development of the town is cohesive rather than piecemeal has been long promised, as has a strategy to deal with the ever-worsening traffic, and here, O’Leary says, is where the council has certainly fallen down.
“We looked for a local area plan (LAP) to be done in Dundrum a number of years ago, and it was a commitment in the last county development plan six years ago that it would be done. But what we find on the two most important sites in Dundrum, the LDA site and the village site, is their applications will be considered in the absence of a local area plan, and that’s a shame and it doesn’t reflect well on the council.”
The other missing element is an area-based transport assessment for Dundrum, he says. “This was to look at transport solutions in the area, to help with pedestrianisation, with cycling, with public transport. That isn’t complete either and yet we will have possibly the two largest developments considered by the council in a decade with no LAP [local area plan] and no transport plan. I would hope we would have the transport assessment by the end of the year but the question has to be asked: why was it not completed last year?”
A spokesman for the council said work on the LAP and the transport assessment was ongoing. “The aim is for the fourth quarter 2022 but at this stage that date is very much indicative.”
Worsening traffic gridlock is something of which the wider population of the area is increasingly fearful with concerns that some main roads will have to be made one way to ease frequent congestion. They are breathing a sigh of relief following the refusal last year of publican Charlie Chawke’s plans for 299 apartments and 475 parking spaces at the Goat Bar and Grill at Goatstown, a scheme locals felt would choke already congested roads. They realise the cumulative effect of the SHD applications have yet to be felt, because most so far remain unbuilt.
“All these applications seem to rely on the apparently infinite capacity Luas line,” a representative of the Birchfield Residents’ Association says. “Inevitably, there will be more cars on the roads. Even now if you go under the Dundrum Luas bridge in the middle of the day, the traffic there is just bonkers. People go out of their way to avoid it.”
Much of the current traffic has built up over the last two decades as the greater Dundrum area became more densely developed. However, he says new schemes would be more readily accepted, less open to legal challenge and rejection, if they modelled themselves on these slightly older apartment complexes.
“There are a number of apartment developments that have been there for a few years, around four storeys, set back a little bit from the road and their neighbours, and they have quietly been built and they have increased housing density quite a lot. Nobody minded those,” he says.
“It’s the really big, imposing blocks that are problem. Had developers gone ahead with more modest apartment developments, they probably would have had very few, if any, objections and more housing would have been provided by now.”