Higher density housing near transport links part of strategy


Higher-density housing is to be promoted by Fingal County Council, particularly in town centres and in the vicinity of rail links and bus routes, according to the newly published draft development plan for north Co Dublin.

However, the draft makes it clear that this will require a "high standard of layout, design and mix of housing types", and it says the council will provide a design guide setting out detailed standards for layout, open space, landscaping, roads, parking and urban design.

This departure from "prairie planning" follows in the footsteps of Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and South Dublin county councils as well as Dublin Corporation. It is also in line with the Bacon report on house prices, published last April, and the concept of sustainable development.

Fingal's planning strategy is to concentrate development in specific urban areas, thereby increasing opportunities for the use of public transport, walking and cycling. There is a wish to have more people living closer to their work, to cut down on car commuting.

On transport, however, road proposals are much more specific than plans to provide more facilities for buses, trains or cyclists. A total of 62 new road schemes are listed in the draft - though not the outer ring road, because it would run through Luttrellstown Golf Club.

On land rezoning, the most controversial proposals relate to the former Baldoyle and Phoenix Park racecourses. In the case of Baldoyle, the council's planners have rezoned sizeable areas of the green belt to add further tracts of suburban housing to Baldoyle and Portmarnock. The entire area, consisting of some 400 acres of land between the Dublin-Belfast railway line and Baldoyle estuary, has been the subject of at least two major development proposals since the early 1980s. It is owned by property developer Mr John Byrne.

A planned drainage scheme to serve the city's north fringe - which the county council calls the "South Fingal Fringe" - is bound to open up the area to development. The proposed housing at the northern end would also be conveniently located for the planned DART station at Portmarnock.

It is also almost inevitable that the Phoenix Park racecourse site will be developed for housing. Its owners, Sonas Centre Ltd, have full planning permission for a hotel, national conference centre, casino, stadium and indoor sport hall, and though this is unlikely to proceed, something will.

With a new residential zoning, the racecourse site would be worth at least £30 million, according to property experts. Given that the present owners acquired it for less than £10 million, the profit they would make should compensate them for the long years of effort they put into the failed Sonas Centre scheme.

Blanchardstown will continue to be developed as Fingal's largest urban settlement, with an ultimate target population of 100,000. Additional industrial rezonings are proposed, given the area's recent success in attracting major inward investment, such as IBM.

Balbriggan, released from the stranglehold of heavy traffic by the new M1 bypass, is to be developed as a growth centre, "having regard to its accessibility to the motorway", with a target population of 25,000. Major rezonings are proposed to the west and south of the town.

Swords, the designated administrative centre for Fingal, is also seen as a growth centre, with a long-term target population of 50,000. And despite the adoption of a development plan for Swords less than two years ago, yet more land is apparently needed for housing and industry.

The draft plan aims to retain the identity of Swords by maintaining the green belt separating it from Malahide. An extensive new green belt has also been designated to the north and west of the town, though it is not clear precisely why this is required, given the open countryside beyond.

Malahide residents will be pleased to learn that the council plans to retain its impressive tree-lined approach as an "important visual element". The planners also want to provide for some low-density housing south of Malahide Demesne in order to provide a choice of housing in the town.

In the case of Donabate and Portrane, the council aims to resolve problems relating to drainage, sewage treatment capacity and road infrastructure prior to making firm decisions about future development. But Lusk and Balrothery have extensive new residential zonings.

As with Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown, South Dublin and Kildare, what we are witnessing in Fingal is a creeping realisation of the officially abandoned 1985 ERDO (Eastern Regional Development Organisation) strategy for the Greater Dublin Area - perhaps with higher densities.