Residents Successfully Challenge Tower– and Launch New Group

If not for concerned residents, the tower would have been a dominating 15 storeys

Peter McNamara

Ringsend community members have successfully prevented the expansion of a proposed tower development on York Road. The developer, Melville Properties, was given permission to build a seven-storey tower in March 2020, on the site currently occupied by Dynorod. They made a subsequent application last June to extend their permission to 15 storeys. This second application caught the attention of local residents, who organised a campaign to resist the ‘out of character’ development. 
The 15-storey proposal has since been rejected by Dublin City Council and An Bord Pleanála.
Shay Connolly, a key activist in the area, says residents are energised. “It was a shock when the first application was granted. We organised to stop the further expansion, but people didn’t really expect to get anything. Everyone is enthused with the news.”
It’s an important victory for those who have long been campaigning to protect Ringsend and the surrounding areas from gentrification. Gentrification is the commercial development of a previously disinvested area; it can strip an entire area of its culture, heritage and its people in a short period of time. Commercial development can be beneficial, if the characteristics of the area are maintained, and its people are included in its planning stage. 
According to Connelly, no such structured engagement has taken place.
“Our objective is to change that. As a community we are supportive of a planned, balanced and equitable approach to new development to ensure the character, scale, density and mix of housing is in character with Ringsend and its environs. However, as a united community, we will continue to challenge any and all development which impacts the character of our Village and surrounding areas.”
The group lodged over a hundred such objection observations to the plans development proposal with the Council and An Bord Pleanála. Because these observations carry a prohibitive cost of €20 and €50 respectively, activists organised street collections to raise money. 
Two issues have arisen from this situation. Now that irrevocable permission has been granted for a seven storey development, this tower will stand as an imposing structure, out of character with the locality. Added to that, this development also marks the latest instance of a significant development in the area with no social housing provision. Because Melville Properties are building on a ground level site that is less than 0.1 Hectare (1000 m2), it doesn’t have to make any provision for social or affordable housing. This exemption from the legislated 10% provision is allowed for under Part V, Section 97 (3) of the Planning and Development Act 2000.
According to Connolly, Melville Properties didn’t actually have their exemption certificate at the time of making their planning application – such is clear on the Council website. 
“It’s a technicality,” he says, “but we’ve lodged an observation with the Council. If an error is seen to be made, they will most likely just re-apply for permission. But all the same, we’re staying vigilant.”

Raytown – not ‘Google Town’

The Part V, Section 97 (3) social housing exemption raises a serious concern that in future developers will creatively parcel up their building sites and proposals, and use the 1000 m2 rule to avoid including any social housing allocation at all.
 Sinn Féin has introduced a bill to close this ‘loophole.’ If passed, their Planning and Development (Protect Social Housing) Bill 2020 will repeal section 97 subsection (3B). 
The Bill is said to be making good progress towards becoming law. 
Although it should have positive impacts for housing policy in general, according to Connolly such legal changes will make little difference to Ringsend.
 “We’re stuck in a double bind. The Council won’t build social housing in this area because the land is too valuable. And they won’t buy social housing from developers because the units are always too expensive.”
For Connolly, the writing is on the wall.
“We need to be pro-active and not re-active about our future. Ringsend is a proud community, with a strong identity and a rich history. We’re not Google Town. We’re not the Silicon Docks. But the way things are going, you could turn around in 20 years and wonder – what happened to us? Where did our community go?”
When raising issues around planning and housing, and giving local people access to affordable housing in the area, activists are usually told that the Irish Glass Bottle site and the SDZ will resolve all problems. 
“The IGB is the supposed to be panacea,” says Connolly. “But that’s been going for 15 years, and there’s still no agreement signed with the developer. We’re still not certain what kind of social and affordable allocation there will be.”
Sale of Dry Docks to Private Developer 

Along with the lack of provision in the York Road tower, it seems that another opportunity for affordable local housing has been missed with the sale of the Dry Docks – a site that formed part of the Glass Bottle SDZ – to a private developer. 
Waterways Ireland is drawing up plans to sell the heritage, ‘graving docks’, part of the Grand Canal Docks in Dublin, on the open market.
 These docks are an area into which ships can be sailed, allowing work on parts of a vessel that would have been inaccessible while afloat. Opened in 1796 on the completion of the Grand Canal from the Shannon to the Liffey, there were originally three graving docks built parallel to each other at the eastern end of the Grand Canal Dock. One has since been filled in and become home to the Viking Splash Tours; a second graving dock is home to the former passenger ship the Naomh Éanna, which belonged to CIE, a former owner of the waterway.
 These docks are part of the Docklands Strategic Development Zone (SDZ) where they are known as ‘City Block 19’. Under the SDZ masterplan the triangular-shaped parcel containing the graving docks is to be used for residential, commercial and community use.
At a recent meeting of the Docklands Oversight and Consultative Forum, a representative of Waterways Ireland said it was now planning to “dispose” of the property.
Michael Ingle, who represents the Grand Canal Dock Residents Association on the statutory Docklands Consultative and Oversight Forum, is “outraged” at the sale. He said the land needed to be in public ownership “to get the community gain from docklands redevelopment schemes that we have been promised for the last 25 years.”
Reg McCabe of the Inland Waterways Association of Ireland, which was formed in the 1950s to campaign for the preservation of waterways infrastructure, said the waterways community was “greatly saddened and disappointed” that the State entity responsible for this unique industrial heritage asset “has reneged on previous assurances regarding its restoration as a community benefit.” He is calling on the Government to give an undertaking that the site will be retained on public ownership.
The Ringsend Community Development Group 

Coming as it did at the start of the pandemic last year, residents were caught unawares of the initial York Road tower application. In that regard, Connolly is somewhat critical of local councillors. “There’s a mobile app they can download that alerts them of any new developments in their area. Someone should have seen this coming. That said,” he adds, “it was great that they came on board and made ‘observations’ about the proposal.”
Residents have now started their own ‘Build Watch’ group to try to keep this from happening again. In fact, on the back of their latest success, a new organisation has been established: the Ringsend Community Development Group. This group might be the last line of defence against the gentrification of Ringsend and the surrounding areas. 
The Ringsend Community Development Group (RCDG) wants to work collaboratively with Dublin City Council on any future plans for their area. Their first objective is to launch a round of engagement with the community on a sustainable urban development plan. The RCDG will engage with architects, urban planners, and the Council to lay out a more balanced road map for future development. This new community group will draw on a unique skill set from the area. United by a common cause, knowledgeable long-time residents are working with those new professionals who have put down roots in the area – many of whom work in planning, engineering, and construction. 
Shay Connolly is optimistic. “DCC are calling for sustainable development in their own publications. But their decisions up to this point are leading to the opposite of what they themselves propose. We are going to provide a plan driven by the community.”  
The Ringsend Community Development Group have recently submitted detailed proposals for the Village of Ringsend and environs as part of the Public Consultation process for the new Dublin City Development Plan 2022-2028. 
Their submissions to DCC include recognition of Ringsend as a “Coastal Village”, where its rich natural and built heritage can be protected and enhanced. Ringsend’s unique maritime heritage and its location at the confluence of the Dodder and the Liffey offers DCC an opportunity to develop heritage themes and integrate open spaces and green corridors within and around the Village and environs as part of DCCs green infrastructure.
The second objective of the Ringsend Community Development Group will be to ensure their sustainable plan gets Local Area Plan (LAP) Status. Effectively, this means that decisions cannot be taken by the Council without engaging with informed residents first.
 On their website, the Council states that “the function of a local area plan is to take a detailed look at a specific area, particularly areas which require urban renewal or where large scale development is expected” – which seems a fitting description of Ringsend. These LAPs identify and analyse the various issues of relevance, before establishing and setting out principles for the future development of the area. They also set out objectives for the proper planning and sustainable development of a specific area and are consistent with the provisions of the Dublin City Development Plan.
LAP status has already been granted to numerous areas of Dublin, including the Liberties, George’s Quay, Clongriffin and Ashtown.

History, Health, Identity
and Education
The new Ringsend Community Development Group will draw upon the diverse knowledge and talent of the locality. At present, activists are doing an ‘audit’ of services, skills, and facilities, to see what they have and what they need. 
Along with the sustainable development plan, and the Build Watch, members are in the process of establishing a local history group, a local mental health group, and a past pupils union for Ringsend College, which is seemingly long overdue. There’s even a project to decorate Ringsend with colourful murals. Each one will be dedicated to a different aspect of the area’s folklore and history, be it a famous sports star, a skiff rower, a political hero, or a bottle blower from the Irish Glass Bottle Company, where generations of Ringsenders plied their skills. 
“The murals are to remind people of the uniqueness of their home,” says Shay Connolly, one of the people involved in the new community group. “Not everyone lives in a place so steeped in culture and tradition. We can’t take that sense of identity for granted – we need to protect it. When you lose your sense of identity, a host of social and personal problems follow.” 
Connolly believes that in the longer term, a new form of STEM education (i.e. science, technology, engineering, mathematics) is needed for the next generation in the area. 
“Our local schools are teaching children on an older system. This template was sufficient for the old industries of Ringsend. But things have changed. The world has gone digital. Computer expertise, coding skills are what’s needed. We need to give the next generation the skills that will get them the jobs that will enable them to earn the wages to compete for the more expensive houses. We need Ringsenders working in those big tech giants at our doorstep.” 
Buoyed by the York Road win, Connolly and the other activists are getting busy. With a professional grade Sustainable Urban Development Plan in the pipeline, and the real possibility of LAP status with Dublin City Council, all might not be lost for Ringsend in the fight against gentrification. Raytown may be set to shine for some time to come. 

If you are concerned about the future of Ringsend, search “Ringsend Community Development Group” on Facebook to get involved. New members are always welcome.