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Locals oppose co-living development in Dublin's north inner city as government review 'probably' ready in September

Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has said the review into co-living “won’t go on forever”.

A rendering of what the development would look like on Mountjoy Street.
A rendering of what the development would look like on Mountjoy Street.
Image: Durkan/DCC

LOCALS IN DUBLIN’s north inner city have appealed to An Bord Pleanála seeking to prevent a co-living development which secured planning permission in June.

Dublin City Council granted permission for the 116 shared living units on the corner of Mountjoy Street and St Mary’s Place in June.

Builder Brian M Durkan had applied for permission to demolish the derelict building on the site and create the co-living spaces over 3-5 storeys.

Under the plans, the majority (62%) of the co-living spaces would be between 19.5-21 square metres. A further 27% of the spaces would be 15-18 square metres while 11% would be larger ranging from 28-49 square metres.

On each floor, there would be communal lounge areas and communal kitchen catering units.

Opposition TDs and housing spokespeople have been sharply critical of co-living developments, with Sinn Féin’s Eoin Ó Broin recently telling TheJournal.ie that they’re “the last thing we need” and party leader Mary Lou McDonald describing them as a “glamourised form of tenement living”.

They were defended by then-Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy who said that such blocks offer an “exciting” choice to young workers and, while he previously said he was opposed to co-living developments, the new Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien has said a review will be conducted into co-living.

Mountjoy Street

The planning application sought for development of the 0.15 hectare site comprising 16 Mountjoy Street, which sits on the corner of that street and St Mary’s Place North. 

It would demolish the existing vacant dwelling and create a co-living development for – in the original plans – 121 “shared living units”. On the ground floor, it was proposed to have a lobby area, a gym, laundry room, meeting rooms, a library, cafe lounge and communal lounge and kitchen facilities.

On each further floor, there are community lounges and two communal kitchen facilities. It is also proposed for roof terraces at third floor and fourth floor levels.

It will be accessed via three entrances with bike storage room for 121 spaces at ground floor level.

co living reception What the ground floor level would look like. Source: Durkan/DCC

In the initial report from the Dublin City Council planning officer, there were “grave concerns over the usability and functionality of the bedroom spaces”.

The planning officer said: “In most cases, the rooms are only 3 metres wide resulting in long and narrow bedrooms with a corridor covering an extensive part of the room with little usable space.

The applicant is requested to demonstrate the usability of the bedrooms with regard to circulation vs usable space. The applicant is also requested to clarify sufficient storage can be provided within each bedroom.

The planning officer also expressed concerns about the usability and quality of the kitchen spaces, and how the accommodation would be managed. 

After requesting additional information from the applicants, Dublin City Council was satisfied the issues it had had been addressed and granted permission for the development.

Opposition

The original planning application was met with opposition from a number of locals in the area.

Local Labour councillor Joe Costello voiced his support with locals in a submission to the council.

“A development of houses for families would be much more appropriate to this site,” he said, adding that he had concerns the development could become a “short-term letting hub” for Airbnb and similar platforms. 

He added: “Such a co-living development would set a very unwelcome precedent for planning in the area.”

A number of parties have now appealed the matter to An Bord Pleanála.

One of them is the Blend Residents Association and one of its members Pauline Cadell told TheJournal.ie that many of the points that were raised by those objecting to the plan were not considered by Dublin City Council. 

She pointed to concerns raised by Eadaoin Kelly, a principal at St Mary’s Primary School which is right next to the development. In her submission to DCC, Kelly said: “The new building with its own large windows would mean that occupants would be clearly visible to children and vice versa. There are worrying implications for privacy, child protection and safeguarding with this closeness.”

Cadell said that local residents aren’t opposed to developments on the site, but were taking issue with they referred to as a “substandard development”. 

“[On the ground floor], it’s 17 people sharing one kitchen,” she said. “Even before Covid, we thought that was appalling.”

Cadell said that Covid-19 had emphasised the need to avoid such developments, and said the developers should be able to demonstrate the accommodation will adhere to all the public health requirements around social distance and hygiene now it has reached the stage of an appeal to An Bord Pleanála.

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She and the other residents also raised the upcoming review of co-living by the government as further putting further doubt on such developments. 

“We’ve love to see apartments or houses for people to live in, for families to live in, on that corner,” she added. “We’d welcome a quality development [...] but An Bord Pleanála have been unpredictable in their decision in recent years.”

An Bord Pleanála is due to make its decision in mid-November. 

Co-living future

As indicated, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien has said a review will be conducted into co-living. 

He told the Dáil last week that – to date – not one co-living development has been built, although planning permission has been granted to a number of developments.

cabinet 262 Minister for Housing Darragh O'Brien Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

“That said, I am aware of applications that have come in quite recently in the co-living space,” he said.

I want to make sure, through the review, that there is no impact on or any unintended consequences for purpose-built student accommodation or other things. I have started that review and I do not intend it go on forever. My intention is to come back to the House on it in the autumn and to work in consultation with the joint Oireachtas committee on housing, whenever that is established.

In response, Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that while this review is in the works, developers are continuing to submit plans for approval to build such developments.

“If the review and government action are swift, we will avoid the construction of a significant number of co-living accommodation units with which we would then have to contend,” Ó Ríordáin said.

“In light of the possibility of a second wave or having to deal with Covid for several years, it would be absolutely irresponsible to suggest that anybody should live in this way. It was a bad idea before Covid because it is not an ethical housing policy. There is no dignity attached to it.”

Sinn Féin’s Ó Broin also told the Dáil that the minister had the power to “walk into the Custom House and abolish this bonkers policy right now”. He said the review would incentivise developers to “rush in applications to jack up the price of the land”. 

O’Brien replied that the review will “not go on forever”, a significant amount had already been done and he expected the work to be done “by early autumn, probably in September”. 

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Sean Murray

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