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'It's really heartbreaking': Dublin apartment owners vow to fight demolition of their homes for Metrolink

70 city centre apartments are set to be acquired as part of the plans.

The College Gate apartment complex on Townsend Street
The College Gate apartment complex on Townsend Street
Image: Google Street View

WHEN DETAILS OF the ‘Preferred Route’ for Dublin’s Metrolink project were announced last week, locals on both sides of the Liffey breathed a sigh of relief.

In Ranelagh, where the line will now terminate, residents welcomed the news that a crucial junction at Dunville Avenue and Beechwood Road would not be closed, a proposal that had been likened to the opening of Checkpoint Charlie on the Berlin Wall.

Meanwhile, southside commuters could rest easy knowing that the new plan meant that services on the Luas Green Line would not be disrupted for up to four years after all.

Across the city in Glasnevin, members of Na Fianna GAA club on Mobhi Road also rejoiced.

As part of the initial proposal for the line, they were set to lose their pitch for between three and six years to facilitate a boring site, a move which would have put the very existence of the club in jeopardy.

But following a campaign which saw public objections raised by Fine Gael TD Noel Rock, celebrity architect Dermot Bannon and even Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, the local community won out: there would be no takeover.

Just down the road at Hart’s Corner, there was greater – if not as widely publicised – relief near the site of the proposed Glasnevin Station.

There, up to 40 residents at an apartment building discovered that the National Transport Authority (NTA) would not demolish their homes to build the station, regarded as a crucial part of the entire Metrolink project.

But amid the noise of suburban celebrations, disquiet was rumbling in the south inner city.

High-quality homes

Gordon Rose has been living in the College Gate apartment complex on the corner of Townsend Street and Luke Street since 2013.

The complex contains 70 high-quality apartments which house around 150 people – a mixture of rental tenants and owner-occupiers – as well as the Dublin City Council-operated Markievicz Leisure Centre.

However, as part of the NTA’s plans to build an underground station at nearby Tara Street beside the existing DART station, the building is set to be acquired and demolished, along with a number of council-owned duplexes and a vacant site.

According to the NTA, the station is forecast to be the busiest on the MetroLink route, with almost 12,000 passengers expected to board and alight there during morning rush hour by 2057.

Tara2 A map showing the location of the proposed Tara Street Metrolink station Source: Metrolink/National Transport Authority

Tara3 Source: Metrolink/National Transport Authority

While the site would be available for new development once the station is complete, the loss of the complex has inevitably led to concerns among those who live there.

Rose says he is not against the Metrolink itself, but is unimpressed with the NTA’s proposals to demolish the College Gate apartments.

“None of us are against the plans, but they’re destroying high-quality apartments in the city centre at the time of a housing crisis,” he tells TheJournal.ie.

“When I was looking for a house six years ago, it took me 18 months to find somewhere, and in a lot of places I looked, it was obvious that they weren’t built to be homes.

“This place is built to be lived in.”

Accessible pool

But it’s not just homeowners and tenants who’ll be discommoded if the proposals go ahead as planned.

Hundreds of members of the Markievicz Leisure Centre on the ground floor of the building will also be affected, many of whom require the use of its accessible swimming pool, the only such facility in the city centre.

John Dean of the Save Markievicz Pool and Gym campaign also points out that it’s not just those with membership to the centre who’ll lose out.

“It’ll really be everyone in the city centre, because you don’t need to be a member to use it,” he says.

“Anyone can walk in at any time, and it’s the only pool in the area that’s regularly open to the public.”

metro 94_90567744 (L-R) Greta Tumiatti, Aurora Armelao, Sean D Burca and John Dean of the Save Markievicz Pool and Gym campaign outside the centre Source: Sam Boal/Rollingnews.ie

Like Rose, Dean says the group is not against the Metrolink project, but instead wants a solution that doesn’t involve the destruction of a significant city centre facility.

And although the Save Markievicz Pool and Gym campaign has plenty of questions, they feel they are being left without answers.

Last week, a spokesman for the NTA claimed that Dublin City Council was seeking out an alternative city centre location for a new accessible pool.

But Dean says the council has so far been quiet on this, and queries to the local authority from TheJournal.ie were not answered by the time of publication.

Other options

For Aizhan Sultanova, another College Gate resident, the NTA’s plans simply don’t add up.

She describes the decision to acquire and demolish the complex as “a colossal waste of money”, suggesting that a number of feasible alternatives had been put forward.

“There was talk of moving the station further south, but they’ve given an excuse about a sewage pipe,” she says. “But we’ve had planners involved who say it is possible.”

Like those in Ranelagh and Glasnevin, residents on Townsend Street objected to the initial plans that were published by the NTA in March 2018 during the public consultation phase.

To address their concerns, the authority consulted with US engineering group Jacobs and Spanish company IDOM to look at eight alternatives, including three options submitted by residents of College Gate.

They included the relocation of the station underneath nearby Hawkins House on Hawkins Street, Ashford House on Tara Street, or predominantly beneath Townsend Street.

Other alternatives were to re-align the metro east of Tara Street DART station.

Tara4 Option 3, which proposed to move the station south, was ruled out because it would impact on sewers in the area Source: Metrolink/National Transport Authority

However, the Jacobs/IDOM report noted that while each of these options would avoid the demolition of College Gate, they would require the demolition of other buildings and remove the close proximity of the proposed station to the existing DART station.

“In addition, during construction, there would be closure of city streets to traffic and under some options diversion of large sewers, critical to Dublin’s drainage network, affected by station construction activities,” the report added.

Another option to mine beneath College Gate in a way that wouldn’t require the demolition of the building was also ruled out, with the report claiming that doing this would bring too much additional risk to construction workers, as well as cost increases.

Tara5 Option 4, which would have removed the need to demolish the apartments, was also ruled out Source: Metrolink/National Transport Authority

Given these issues, the report concluded that the original proposal remained the most feasible and safest option for the construction of the Tara Street station.

Local community

For its part, the NTA has offered to assist residents living at College Gate as they attempt to find somewhere else to live.

Rental tenants will reportedly be paid up to a year’s rent, while owners say they have been offered market value for their home on top of any costs associated with their search, as well as the payment of stamp duty and legal fees for their new home.

But despite this, Sultanova and Rose both outline how trading their homes isn’t just a like-for-like process.

While Rose appreciates the efforts being made by the NTA to ease the acquisition of his home, he says the offer isn’t enough.

“We’re still losing out here,” he says. “It takes a long time to find a home in Dublin. I spent 18 months looking for my home now.

I expect to pay at least 30% more than what this is worth. Even if they give us market value, the fact is the time it’ll take us to find somewhere means we’ll also have to rent.

He also describes how it takes years to build up good relationships with neighbours and how easy it is to meet people, neither of which are a given if residents are forced to move elsewhere.

The loss of a local community is also described as “devastating” by Sultanova.

“I’m in a community, and we’re all affected because we all feel like a family,” Sultanova says.

“My whole family is working in the city centre, so it’s easy for us to commute and get around.

“My mother is a music teacher in the city centre, so she feels like she gives back to the community, and my three year-old nephew has lived here his whole life. It’s just really heartbreaking.”

Both say they will continue to object to the plans as much as possible, with a public consultation process on the Metrolink set to take place in the coming weeks.

An application for planning approval for the scheme is expected to be made to An Bord Pleanála next year and construction on the line is projected to begin soon afterwards.

As it stands, those living at College Gate are quickly running out of track as they attempt to stay in their homes.

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