Donnybrook’s High rise fears

The image on is a wide angle montage, which greatly reduces the appearance of size of the proposed building in relation to the foreground.

Eoin Meegan

Donnybrook village could change irrevocably if two new sky-scrapers, a 12-storey complex on the junction of Eglinton Road and Donnybrook Road, and a seven-storey co-living space on the former site of Kiely’s pub, are allowed to go ahead.

Avestus Capital Partners, based in Embassy House, Ballsbridge, in association with The Donnybrook Partner-ship, are behind the Eglinton Road project. The complex will consist of 148 apartments some which will have a price tag of €1 million each.

The plan is made up of 72 one-bedroom apartments, 57 two-bedroom apartments, 10 three-bedroom units and nine two-bed duplex units.

Fourteen of the 148 apartments have been earmarked to be sold to the council for public housing. However, with an asking price of €762,916 on each of the nine two-bedroom apartments, and €469,177 on the five one-bedroom apartments, this puts them well out of the range of most people, and makes the whole concept of social and affordable housing largely meaningless.

The proposed structure, if permitted to go ahead, would be three times what Dublin City Council permits for the area, and would involve the demolition of six period houses and gardens currently on Eglinton Road. The Department of Culture and Heritage described this as ‘monolithic’, pointing out how it will impact negatively on Donnybrook Church and the historic village.

Entrance to the basement parking, and for all refuse collections, will be via Brookvale Road opposite the tennis club, which may result in consider-able traffic chaos, and perhaps pose a risk to pedestrians and cyclists. Brookvale Road is frequented by children going to school, as well as residents needing to gain access to Beaver Row and Beech Hill. It is also used by the Donnybrook Fire Service as a quick egress.

Consultants for the developers argued that “the proposal seeks to make the most of its proximity to a public transport corridor” (one ponders how many of the people who can afford to live here will actually use public transport?) as justification for contravening these regulations.

Considering a similar plan had already been rejected earlier this year to replace the current Jefferson House (deemed by many to be one of the ugliest buildings in Dublin) with an 11-storey building by Silver Bloom developers, citing “an unacceptable negative visual impact on this prominent site within a designated conservation area” as the reason, it completely boggles the mind that An Bord Pleanála can now turn about and grant permission for an even bigger monstrosity just across the road! Their own inspector Rachel Gleave O’Connor declared she finds the new proposal, including height and bulk, ‘acceptable’.

Speaking about the appeals system, Chairperson of the Eglinton Residents’ Association Robin Mandal told NewsFour: “As well as being determined by an under-resourced Appeals Board, without the requisite knowledge to determine these applications, there is a serious democratic deficit in the process. The idea that Dublin City Council should pay a private developer/speculator over €12,000 per square metre for social housing is a scandal.”

In a statement to NewsFour local councillor Dermot Lacey said: “Recent planning developments in Donnybrook and elsewhere have sadly high-lighted the real problems by the decision of the former Minister Eoghan Murphy to encourage An Bord Pleanála to allow higher rise buildings. The City Development Plan, painstakingly put together over two years by Councillors, provided for a general height of five storeys. The Planners can now simply ignore that. That is lousy planning and anti-democratic.”

Fellow councillors on SEAC (South East Area Committee) concurred, with Paddy McCartan declaring: “I fundamentally diverge from the conclusions of the APB [An Bord Pleanála] inspector on this development. To me it is a monolithic monstrosity.”

Together with his Fine Gael colleague James Geoghegan he called for “a statutory Village Improvement Plan as part of the next Dublin City Development” for Donnybrook.

The worrying factor, however, is that planning decisions around large developments such as these are no longer in the hands of the local authorities, or elected public representatives, but are made directly by An Bord Pleanála. This is clearly wrong and undemocratic and something will have to be done. But just what?

Robin Mandal suggests: “I am considering a Judicial Review, on two bases – the first that the “material contravention” of the development plan approved by the Board is illegal; and secondly that the inspector’s commentary that the density figures of 385 UPH are irrelevant, because they will not increase the over-all density of Dublin is patent nonsense. It is the equivalent of stating that severe local pollution in Dublin Bay does not increase the toxicity of the bay.”

Many residents of Eglinton Road are incensed, including local film director, writer, historian and long-time Donnybrook resident Glenda Cimino. She told NewsFour: “It is appalling that An Bord Pleanála can make a decision which overrides overwhelming local neighbourhood and city council opposition and imposes an entirely out-of-scale and inappropriate monstrosity on Donnybrook. The height and density of this build are excessive and out of proportion. The exorbitant prices for the apartments may fill developers’ pockets, but will be out of reach for most people.”

It never rains but it pours!

Another clamour of opposition has arisen against the proposal of a second high-density building, this being the seven-storey co-living space that is pro-posed for the former site of Kiely’s pub right in the heart of the village.

People who have lived there all their lives say it will block out the light to existing residences on Pembroke Cottages, as well as altering the whole character of the village. The co-living model was one propagated by the previous government, and nothing apparently has changed. The new Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien should immediately reverse the decision made by Eoghan Murphy on heights.

Chris Andrews TD also expressed his opposition to the plan: “Sinn Féin through both myself and our Housing Spokesperson, Eoin O’Broin, have consistently opposed co-Living developments across Dublin Bay South. The concept is flawed at the best of times, and during a pandemic is a petri dish for pandemics. Donnybrook Tidy Towns have done an amazing amount of work over the years to enhance Donnybrook as a unique urban village, this development is a slap in the face to that work.”

Again Councillor Lacey denounced it:

“The proposed seven storeys height for Kiely’s site will tower over one-storey houses on Pembroke Cottages is wrong in height and wrong in content – we do not need another 100 effectively co-living spaces in Donnybrook – we need homes. I will be vigorously opposing this and encourage residents to do likewise.”

In recent days the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr Hazel Chu has joined in the criticism of the plan saying: “In the midst of a dangerous pandemic where we are being asked to socially distance ourselves, the planned proposal is also unduly hasty and poses serious health concerns.”

She continues, “this number of people living in such close proximity creates conditions that spread disease, which will become further exacerbated if someone becomes ill and can’t self isolate because they share kitchens, bed-rooms and lifts.”

Her views were echoed by Labour Senator Ivana Bacik who said it was not a credible plan in the context of a pandemic. She pointed out that “100 adults living in single rooms with shared basic amenities during a pandemic does not evoke visions of sustainable communities”.

In this paper some time back I wrote that Donnybrook village was dying with so many businesses closing down. Unfortunately, Covid-19 hasn’t helped and more have closed their doors since then.

However, the greatest threat now seems to come from a cavalier approach to development, profiteering at the expense of community, and failing to take into concern the innate nature of village life. This is extremely short-sighted and dangerous. We need to disabuse ourselves of the fallacy that vulture funds and absentee investment landlordism will solve the housing problem in Ireland.

Both these proposals are entirely out of scale and inappropriate and cannot be allowed to go ahead. Nobody is against progress, and we recognise there is a place for high density: just not in the centre of a town or village! As stated in the previous article, a thriving village is not just somewhere to live in, but a home, a community, driven by local entrepreneurial spirit and family businesses; in short somewhere where the inhabitants have a sense of place and belonging.

In recent times much effort has gone into creating this very kind of living space, particularly by the aforementioned Donnybrook Tidy Towns, who only last year won the Best Urban Village award. It’s a shame that so much of their labour, given voluntarily and with such pride, is to be so blithely cast aside. And with Covid-19 likely to be with us for some time the quick-fix solution that is co-living, would, as deputy Andrews points out, be a natural breeding ground for any virus.

In a recent article in the Irish Times Robin Mandal wrote: “We are about to unleash a seismographic change that, I believe, will destroy the spatial, visual and communal qualities of the places we live. We are about to build the wrong homes in the wrong places at the wrong price, at an enormous future cost.” (The Irish Times, July 24th, 2020)

This should be the clarion call for all concerned, residents, councillors, and politicians to get together and put a stop to this disaster before it’s too late.