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Dublin: 13 °C Friday 22 February, 2019
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Opinion: There is space for 15,000 homes within walking distance of Dublin's O'Connell Street

There are vast tracts of underutilised lands close to the city centre, they should be used to build high-quality apartment blocks with generous courtyards and play areas, writes Ciaran Cuffe.

Ciarán Cuffe Chair, Dublin City Council’s Transportation Strategic Policy Committee

WHAT IF THERE was a magic wand that could deliver thousands of new homes in Dublin and it was hidden right under our noses?

Well, if we look closely at Dublin City there are hundreds of hectares of land close to the city centre that could deliver the homes we need to tackle the housing crisis. What’s more, much of these lands are owned or controlled by the State making it easy to repurpose them for housing and related uses.

Back in the 1990s the then Minister for Finance, Ruairi Quinn TD, looked at lands beside the River Liffey and saw the development potential of storage yards, surface car parks and single-storey buildings.

He set up the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, which took over lands owned by the ESB, Bord Gáis and others and delivered thousands of jobs and apartments overlooking Dublin’s Quayside and canal basins. It transformed that area.

Today we need a similar vision to look at lands located in or close to the inner city that are currently inappropriately used.

Under-used

It is simply wrong that Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann use vast swathes of land for parking buses and bus drivers’ cars close to the city centre. These bus depots should be moved outside the M50 freeing up city centre sites for public housing.

The same goes for the Department of Defence which maintains a vast but underused army barracks beside the Grand Canal at Richmond Barracks between Rathmines and Harold’s Cross.

Of course, the army should maintain a presence in the city, but McKee Barracks already provides that function. Just as Clancy and Beggar’s Bush Barracks were repurposed, the need for a massive military presence in the city is no longer needed and the lands and buildings should be better used.

In recent months the Dublin Diocese announced that they are working with the GAA to develop plans for the vast church-controlled lands off Clonliffe Road next to Drumcondra.

This massive seventeen-hectare site could provide over a thousand homes as well as retaining the Protected Structures such as the Archbishop’s Palace. Plans could include a riverside walk beside the Tolka, with walking and cycling routes connecting the surrounding communities.

Hopefully, the Archbishop will seek public input into these plans.

Meanwhile just up the road lies the Dublin Industrial Estate, a vast forty-five-hectare site adjoining the new cross-city Luas terminus at Broombridge. Much of it consists of single storey distribution warehouses. 

Re-zone 

In preparing the current Dublin City Development Plan I suggested that we rezone these lands to allow for building the homes but the planners didn’t agree at the time. Now given the gravity of the housing crisis we should re-examine this and redevelop those lands with high-quality apartments. It’s crazy that these lands are so underused.

Plans for the former Irish Glass Bottle Lands at Ringsend are awaiting a decision from an Bord Pleanála, and hopefully, the green light will be given for high-density homes overlooking Dublin Bay in the coming year.

As well as these high-profile sites, there are lots of smaller land holdings in the city that could be redeveloped for housing if the will was there, including Dublin City Council lands.

If Minister Eoghan Murphy wants to take radical action on the housing crisis he needs to develop the surprising amount of underused lands close to Dublin City Centre.

With generous courtyards, parks and play areas at even a modest five floors high, they could deliver fifteen thousand homes or more. That’s a conservative estimate, but an impressive figure for lands so close to the city centre.

There’s more than enough land in and close to the inner city to build many of the homes that Dublin so desperately needs, without consigning an entire generation of young people to long commutes from the Midlands of Ireland to jobs in Dublin.

With carefully prepared masterplans and a commitment to the right social and affordable mix, we can deliver tens of thousands of energy-efficient new homes within walking distance of O’Connell Bridge in a few years.

This should be the very first task of the new Land Development Agency that was announced last year. All it takes is political will. Over to you Minister Murphy.

Ciarán Cuffe lectures in Urban Regeneration at Dublin Institute of Technology and is a Green Party City Councillor.

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About the author:

Ciarán Cuffe  / Chair, Dublin City Council’s Transportation Strategic Policy Committee

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