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The redevelopment of the St. Teresa’s Gardens, Player Wills and Bailey Gibson’s sites has been on the agenda for some time but concrete plans for delivery of homes date back to the 2017 Masterplan.

An integrated 2017 Masterplan for the three sites was signed off on and endorsed by Local Councillors at the time. This would see the St. Teresa’s Garden portion of the site developed for public housing and the other two sites developed privately by Hines Real Estate. Crucially, the delivery of a full-size all-weather multi-use sports pitch for local sports teams was to be included in the St. Teresa’s phase of the development. A compromise was reached which would see heights of up to 15 storeys across the three sites.

Brief Background

Without delving into the ins and outs of everything that has happened since then, here is a quick summary:

In 2018, Ministerial guidelines brought forward by then-Fine Gael Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy removed height restrictions, effectively giving the green light to developers to contravene local authority development plans. A 2020 ‘Revised Masterplan’ emerged following engagement between the Dublin City Council Executive and Hines – this was not endorsed by Local Councillors. The new plans saw heights significantly jump across the three sites. For example, in the Bailey Gibson’s portion, which backs onto the narrow and low-rise Rehoboth Place, heights were set to reach a maximum of 8 storeys as set out in the 2017 Masterplan. Under the 2020 Revised Masterplan, this doubled to 16 storeys. Likewise, heights on the St. Teresa’s site jumped from 15 storeys to 22 storeys.

Due to the Strategic Housing Development (SHD) process, developers were able to go directly to An Bord Pleanála (ABP), bypassing local authorities. This is what happened when it came to Bailey Gibson. In spite of ABP’s own inspector arguing the proposed development constituted a “gross overdevelopment” of the site, ABP granted planning permission for the plans on the basis of the 2020 Revised Masterplan. Hines then brought forward their plans for Player Wills, which despite containing an outlawed form of housing, co-living, was also granted permission ABP.

With nowhere to appeal ABP’s decisions, the only avenue available for local residents was the courts. A judicial review brought before the High Court resulted in a referral to the Court of Justice of the EU. One of the grounds on which the case was referred to the CJEU was whether or not a democratically endorsed Masterplan, i.e. the 2017 version, could be overridden and revised without the endorsement of Local Councillors. It was estimated that it could take up to three years to hear back from the CJEU.

What then?

Throughout 2021, the Land Development Agency (LDA), which is developing the St. Teresa’s Garden site on behalf of DCC, held a series of public consultation engagements online with the local community in Dublin 8. In briefing sessions with Local Councillors, I made it clear that the consultation sessions were useless unless they were actually willing to listen and take on board the feedback they were bound to receive regarding the heights and the unsustainability of the proposed development.

At community consultation sessions and through various communication methods with the LDA, it was made abundantly clear that local residents could not be supportive of the redevelopment unless and until the heights were dropped.

Significant scale back

On 17 January 2022, the LDA confirmed it had now revised its proposals for the St. Teresa’s Garden site to bring it back in line with what was previously envisaged in the 2017 Masterplan. The maximum height would now revert to 15 storeys, with the plans for a 22 storey tower scrapped.

The LDA will hold a public information session to talk through the plans with local residents on Wednesday, 26 January via Zoom.

A victory for local residents, but time wasted

While this should be seen as a victory for the residents and community groups who have worked tirelessly over the last number of years to persist with their campaign for a more sustainable development of these sites, it also should never have come to this point.

Not a brick has been laid on either of these three prime locations because of an ideology which attempted to bludgeon housing projects through our planning system.

Five years later and we’re back to where we started: the 2017 Masterplan. What a gigantic waste of everybody’s time, energy and effort in the middle of a housing crisis. All eyes on Hines in the hope that they too climb down and revert to the 2017 Masterplan.