Activists fight York Road tower

One of the socially-distanced meetings, attended by residents and local representatives.

Peter McNamara

Ringsend community activists are working to prevent a tower development proposal on York Road from being more than doubled in height.

Melville Properties have submitted a proposal to Dublin City Council to extend permission that was previously granted in early March. If the revision is approved, this soon-to-be-built development will rise from seven to 15 storeys – almost as tall as Liberty Hall.

It’s the latest move in a peculiarly quiet and hasty process.According to members of the York Road Development Community Group, two issues have arisen from this situation. Not only will this tower stand as an intrusive structure, out of character with the locality, it also marks the latest instance of a significant development in the area being given approval without any social housing provision.

After seeing the allocation for the exclusive Capital Dock building being relocated off-site to Rialto, and after a long fight to retain the basic legislated and negotiated provision at the Glass Bottle SDZ, residents are frustrated.

Melville Properties made their first application for seven storeys in January, which was accepted a few weeks later. They further applied for an exemption to their 10% Social and Affordable housing provision on the basis that the ground level site is less than 0.1 Hectare (1,000 square metres) – the ground level site is 0.073 hectares. This controversial exemption is allowed for under Part V, Section 97 (3) of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

Their request for an exemption was soon granted in June. Coming at the height of the COVID outbreak, when people were locked-down and attention was elsewhere, many residents were left totally unaware of what was taking place in their locality.

According to Shay Connelly, a key member of the York Road Development Community Group, it came out of the blue. “Nobody seemed to know anything about it. There were only two objections on the first planning application. We didn’t have any chance to have our say. We’re not anti-development – not at all. But we want to see things done in a balanced and sustainable way.”

In July a notice appeared on the wall of the Dyno-Rod building, outlining Melville Property’s latest application: a request to extend their initial planning grant from seven to 15 storeys. The company has also applied for the exemption of social and affordable homes to be extended to these 15 storeys, and are expecting a decision from the Council on this matter in the coming weeks.

When this July notice appeared on the Dyno-Rod building, local people were alarmed. Most were only learning about the successful application for the seven storey building – which could not be reversed – and were now faced with that tower doubling in size.

Dublin City Council gave the public until 20th of August to make objections, which they have renamed to the more passive “observations”. Word spread about the matter, and locals organised. Two socially-distanced public meetings were held, attended by dozens of residents and several local politicians. After facing only two objections in their January application this time Melville Properties were met with 113, from residents, organisations, councillors, senators and TDs.

“Out of character”

It seems that Melville Properties bought the site on York Road from the long time private owner. Dyno-Rod, the present occupiers, have a lease on the site until February 2021.

The site currently consists of a number of one and two storey buildings that would be demolished to make way for the tower containing 48 apartments. The plans say the new building will be a “high quality” development that will also include “a communal winter garden and landscaped green roof”. The building would contain one, two and three-bedroomed apartments.

The application notes that the building, at 49.6 metres tall, would be in excess of the 28 metres allowed for city centre residential developments but that this “is justifiable” in the context of the need for taller buildings in some locations under the SDZ Planning Scheme.

The application also states the proposed building “will have no significant adverse impacts on neighbouring properties in terms of overshadowing.”

The site on York Road is adjacent to residential housing on one side and the East Link Toll Plaza on the other. At community meetings, locals raised concerns about schools and homes being overshadowed and loomed upon. Others noted there would be increased pres-sure on already scarce parking.

Far from being “justifiable”, resident Ali Robertson blasted the plans as being totally out of step with the area, and in violation of the Council’s own guidelines.

“On York Road the aver-age height is four storeys. On Thorncastle Street the average height is also four storeys. Cambridge Road, Pembroke Cottages and Irishtown Cottages all consist of semi-detached and terraced houses. A 15-storey tower would be to-tally out of character with the local area and in direct contravention of the building height guidelines.”

In the observations lodged with the Council, residents raised fears about increasing already high levels of congestion, putting further pressure on local amenities, and about the increasing establishment of a two-tier society in Ringsend.

A computer mock-up of what the 15-storey tower on York Road would look like.

Social Housing loopholes

At a community meeting in August, all local representatives for Ringsend pledged to support an amendment to the provision that allows developers to apply for an exemption on having to provide 10% social and affordable housing on ground space less than 1,000 square metres (Act 97 (3)).

After seeing another local development avoiding any social housing responsibilities, Shay Connolly is frustrated.

“We’re struggling to keep our population and to guard against gentrification. People who lived here, young couples who aspire to get married, have to live outside the area. Or they’re forced to move back into already crowded homes. We are experiencing umteen examples of three generations living under the same roof.”

For members of the York Road Development Community Group, not only is there an immediate threat to the locality, this situation could also set a dangerous precedent for future projects, here and else-where in Dublin.

Using the 1,000 square metres rule, developers might creatively parcel up their building sites and proposals, and there-by avoid including any social housing allocation at all.

Opinions of local representatives

Green Party Cllr. Claire Byrne has come out strongly against the current legislation. “It should never have been reduced from 20% to 10%. And now there are simply too many loopholes. Developers are getting away with not building them at all, or building them off-site. We need to look at this urgently.”

Sinn Féin’s Dublin Bay South TD Chris Andrews says allowing the plan to proceed as planned would set a bad precedent for the city.

“Now that the cap on heights is gone, the 1,000 square metres exemption is now being used for very tall buildings. And there’s no reason why a developer couldn’t divide up a particular site and build a number of 15 storey units in it, getting around the exemption.” Andrews added the exception’s use for such tall buildings “is not in the spirit of the legislation.”

Sustainable Urban Development Plan

At the time of writing, there has been no decision on Melville Property’s application to increase the height of the York Road development. They have permission for seven storeys, but their 15-storey extension has yet to be granted.

Shay Connelly reckons that, whatever happens, the decision will most likely be appealed to An Bord Pleanála.

“If we get the additional height stopped, they will most likely appeal it. And if they manage to get away with it, even after the tide of observations, you can be sure we will take to An Bord.”

He is eager to engage with the Council in a more meaningful way.

“The thing we need to do is to force the Council to talk with us and try to lay out a sustainable urban development plan. A plan like that is exactly what the Council have been calling for themselves, in their own publications, for the last number of years.”

According to Connelly, DCC decisions up to this point are leading to the opposite of what they themselves are proposing. “I’ve engaged with architects and planners who will come in and help put this thing together. We want to develop. We need to develop. But for the sake of the next generation, and the spirit of Ringsend, let’s do it right.”