An Bord Pleanala has just approved the planning scheme for the Docklands Strategic Development Zone (SDZ).
We posted a while back about the SDZ, the purpose of which is to introduce ‘fast track planning’ in the North Lotts and Grand Canal Dock because the Dept. of the Environment, Dublin City Council and NAMA all believe that this particular part of the city is ideal for rebooting office construction. Local community groups, however, recommended that An Bord Pleanala reject the planning scheme, as did An Taisce.
Since we first posted about this, we’ve been doing a bit of digging around to see what folks on the ground make of this new twist in the Docklands saga. The City Council’s Draft Planning Scheme states that without widespread ‘civic support’ the scheme won’t work. You don’t have to dig very deep to discover that there is no such civic support.
Community organisations on the south and north side of the Docklands SDZ are opposed to the Draft Planning Scheme. Their submissions to An Bord Pleanala raise a number of key problems.
First of all, under the current Dublin Dockland’s Development Authority (DDDA) Master Plan, due to be phased out to make way for the SDZ, 20% of residential development must be dedicated to social and affordable housing. As Seanie Lambe, local activist and community representative made clear, the new planning scheme makes no clear commitment to the provision of social housing. Moreover, some of the developments which are already in place, such as Spencer Dock, never delivered on their social housing commitments and the new scheme makes no attempt to remedy this. Local community organisers, some of whom have represented the community under the DDDA for over ten years, argue that without social housing vibrant and inclusive communities cannot be created and the displacement of working class families from Dublin’s city centre will continue.
The question of community participation is another key bone of contention, raised by community activist and former member of the DDDA council Frances Corr when we spoke to her last month. Where the DDDA was successful in delivering holistic social, economic and physical development it was largely down to the community participation structures – with seven community representatives sitting on the Docklands council and a dedicated community liaison committee. Under the SDZ there are no such community participation mechanisms – yet another indication that lessons are being forgotten rather than learned.
The historic working class communities of the area have largely been excluded by the way in which the boundaries of the SDZ have been drawn – the residential areas of Sheriff St., Ringsend, Westland Row and East Wall have all been ‘gerrymandered’ out of the process.
While the traditional local communities have recommended that the SDZ Planning Scheme be rejected, DIY urbanism is also being undermined by the SDZ process. Mabos, a collectively run art, culture and civic space in Grand Canal Dock is a clear indication of what’s to come. This thriving project of grassroots urban development has been running for around two years. Despite its clear fit with the SDZ ‘vision’ (in terms of enhancing cultural hubs and creative use of space), the building in which Mabos is located was recently sold to a consortium led by the gigantic financial institution Oaktree Capital. We’re not sure at this stage, but the consortium seems to be the South Docks Fund which includes NAMA.
The new landlords refused to renew the lease last December, leaving the space on a very precarious rolling monthly lease which seems to signal the beginning of the end. Similarly, readers may have heard about the difficulties facing the Factory, a space supporting Irish film which is also located on Grand Canal Dock.
Given that the whole purpose of the SDZ is to attract international financial capital to reboot the property game, these developments are a sign of what’s to come.