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Fears The Liberties will become 'another Temple Bar' as latest student accommodation gets planning approval

Concerns have been raised at the pace of change in one of Dublin’s oldest areas.

A file photo of a person walks past a sign for new student accommodation in Dublin (file photo).
A file photo of a person walks past a sign for new student accommodation in Dublin (file photo).
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

LOCAL RESIDENTS AND city councillors have raised concerns after the latest student accommodation development secured planning approval in The Liberties in Dublin city centre.

Cairn Homes secured approval from An Bord Pleanála under new fast track planning laws to redevelop the old Donnelly Centre off Cork Street into accommodation to house 399 students.

Under the laws – introduced in June by Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy - a developer can apply for planning permission straight to An Bord Pleanála (rather than the local council) for large scale housing developments and student accommodation projects.

Under normal planning laws, someone has to first apply for permission to the council, which then makes a decision. This decision can then be appealed to An Bord Pleanála.

The fast track method cuts out the first stage of applying to the local authority.

The Cairn Homes student accommodation is the latest in a tranche of similar developments in the surrounding area.

A report commissioned by Cairn as part of its planning application found that within 1 kilometre of its new site there are currently just under 1,500 existing student beds.

These include, for example, 380 student beds opened in September at Mill Street built and run by Global Student Accommodation (GSA); as well as 471 beds at the Binary Hub on nearby Thomas Street run by multinational Hines.

On top of this, there are an additional 3,279 beds in various stages of planning or where construction has begun.

If all the developments currently in the pipeline are completed, it is thought that about 8% of the area’s population will be made up of students.

All of the developments have sprang up in recent years, in response to a dire need for extra housing for students. The accommodation is high end – with most beds costing at least €230 a week or higher.

Old sites in The Liberties – which for years were left derelict – have been snapped up with a number of hotels also being built.

The historic Tivoli Theatre is due to be knocked for a new 289-bed ‘aparthotel’ to be built, with other hotels also being built in areas like Mill Street and The Coombe and a 138-bedroom Maldron Hotel opening nearby on Kevin Street.

The pace of the development and the focus on one particular type of accommodation has stoked fears among local residents and others that the area is changing too rapidly.

The Liberties 

The Liberties in Dublin 8 is one of the city’s oldest districts. Stretching from St Patrick’s Cathedral to St James Gate and the Guinness brewery, the area has at its heart places like Thomas Street, Francis Street, Meath Street and The Coombe.

Once a bustling marketplace and busy area of Dublin, the streets of Dublin 8 suffered economic decline due to years of neglect and bad planning.

(Locals say the Celtic Tiger never came to the The Liberties)

It has high levels of unemployment and has a high concentration of old social housing flats, many of which are in need of an upgrade.

“The neglect and lack of investment for me is shameful. There is no other areas that would have been able to decline like that,” says Sinn Féin councillor Críona Ní Dhálaigh.

Ní Dhálaigh says that while investment in the area is important and welcome, hotels and student accommodation are by their nature for people passing through and won’t help to revitalise the area in the way that’s needed.

“There are genuine concerns in the community about the type of accommodation being built,” she says.

All of the applications are either for student accommodation, or hotels, or aparthotels when what the area badly needs is affordable family accommodation.

Students only hang around for term time, and during the summer most of the accommodation will also be used for tourists. On top of this, she is also critical of the high costs of living in the purpose-built SA.

“There is no student I know that could afford to live in the student accommodation being built in The Liberties. So whose needs are being met?” she says.

“Another Temple Bar”

Ní Dhálaigh says that there are fears that with the types of accommodation being built, planners are trying to turn The Liberties into “another Temple Bar”.

Meanwhile, families and people who have lived in the area their whole lives are finding themselves pushed out by a lack of suitable accommodation and ever-rising rent prices.

The latest Daft rental report put the average rent in Dublin at €1,822 which is €380 higher per month than at the Celtic Tiger peak.

According to Máirín Ó Cuireáin, a worker at the Robert Emmet Community Development Project, local residents are concerned about the lack of affordable housing coming onstream.

“I suppose in general people are happy that there is investment,” she says.

“I do think that people are disappointed that its mostly student accommodation and there is no accommodation for families or social housing being built.

Housing for people who have lived here for generations and now can’t afford to live here.

On top of this, she points towards the large number of homeless hostels that operate in The Liberties area already and states that building more permanent accommodation solutions could help to reduce this.

“People are very concerned around the sustainable community here for people who grew up and lived here for generations,” she says.

Happy with investment 

While local residents are concerned, many people are also happy to see investment into the area and welcome the rejuvenations that this brings.

On top of student accommodation and hotels, Diageo – which runs the Guinness Storehouse nearby – has plans to develop a new urban quarter at St James’ Gate.

There was also a new park opened on Cork Street last November and other attractions like the Teeling Distillery have opened recently.

“People are happy that The Liberties is being looked at for once,” says Ní Dhálaigh.

“The student population and tourists are very welcome – they bring vibrancy and they have the money to put into the area.

But we also are in dire need of family accommodation.

TheJournal.ie contacted Dublin City Council for comment but no response was received by the time of publication.

Read: ‘It’s been jammers’: Dublin just got its first new public park in 8 years

Read: A last-ditch attempt to save an old pub has stalled a €200m project to overhaul Dublin’s Liberties

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Cormac Fitzgerald

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