In Harold’s Cross, Residents and the Climate-Concerned Wonder If Knocking Homes to Rebuild More

Fiona Callaghan rests an elbow on her car roof. She wouldn’t say it would be better to demolish the existing houses behind her and build more densely, she says. “Because I don’t want to move. But that’s obviously a selfish thing.”

Her roommate, Orla Lynch, stands at the foot of the stairs leading to her flat in Harold’s Bridge Court, in a group of four semi-detached houses off Harold’s Cross Road.

“It’s such a nice apartment complex, I think,” says Lynch. “It would be really hard to like, let it be. I think that would be the worst thing.”

On July 21, the Adroit Company Limited applied for planning permission to demolish the semi-detached houses where Callaghan, Lynch and others live and the handful of other houses on the site — 53 houses in all — as well as a warehouse housing the MART artist studios in housed in Greenmount Lane, and auxiliary structures.

On the one-hectare site, 194 apartments are to be built in four blocks with two to nine floors, plus a room for a day-care center, common rooms for residents, a retail space, 22 artist studios and an exhibition space.

On Monday, September 12, the Council’s Lead Planner, Eileen Buck, made a presentation to local councilors at a meeting of the Council’s South Central Area Committee on the planned demolition and development.

Councilors said they don’t think demolishing buildings is good for the climate and that building could be too tall.

Carolyn Moore, a Green Party councillor, said: “I’m disappointed that there wasn’t a more imaginative and sustainability-focused approach to bringing more density to this site.”

what are the plans

The four semi-detached houses in Harold’s Bridge Court are three stories high, with a number of parking spaces in front of each and a shed to the side for storing bicycles.

There is a small green space to the west where behind a fence is the warehouse housing the MART artist studios.

Companies with similar names have been unsuccessful in three building applications since 1993, when Adroit Ltd received planning permission to build Harold’s Bridge Court.

In 2000, Adroit & Co Ltd. refused permission to build a four storey block and add a duplex apartment block and pedestrian entrance from Limekiln Lane to Harold’s Bridge Court.

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In 2005, an application by The Adroit Company to build five apartment blocks, ranging in height from four to six stories, adjacent to Harold’s Bridge Court was rejected by An Bord Pleanála, who said the height would make them “visually intrusive” and an over-development of the area represent .

In 2016, The Adroit Company was unsuccessful in a similar proposal to demolish the semi-detached houses, the Clare Villas houses and the MART studios warehouse to construct six three- and four-story apartment buildings on the same site.

The Camp and Clare Villas. Photo by Claudia Dalby.

At last Monday’s area committee meeting, Deirdre Conroy, a Fianna Fáil councilwoman, criticized the level of the new proposal.

“Frankly, this nine-story building in a historic district overlooking the Grand Canal is unacceptable,” she said.

Moore, the Green Party councillor, said the developer rejected an earlier planning application for high-rise apartment buildings.

“That application was rejected in 2017 because of its height and the impact it had on the landscape, and I just think it’s crazy that a few years later they came back with something even taller, even denser,” she said.

Construction is too dense for Harold’s Cross as there is no local area plan yet, she said.

Adroit Company Ltd did not respond to inquiries sent on Friday seeking a response to criticism that the proposed building was too tall.

knocking houses

Tara Deacy, a Social Democrat councilwoman, said it would be crazy to slash so many apartments.

“If someone from space were to look at our current housing crisis in Dublin and hear that this level of housing is going to be hit, they would probably ask if we’ve completely lost our minds,” she said.

The planner’s presentation ignored the fact that people would be displaced, said Pat Dunne, a council member with Independents 4 Change.

“Because of this desire for more density on the site, are we going to end up with over 200 homeless people?” he said.

The Residential Tenancies Board register contains 13 entries for tenancies at either Harold’s Bridge Court or Harolds Bridge Court and 63 entries for tenancies at Harold Bridge Court.

On Thursday, Callaghan, a resident of Harold’s Bridge Court, said it’s difficult to find something new because you just don’t hear about new places. “So imagine that everyone here is looking for a place at the exact same time. That is shocking.”

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Bigger buildings on the site would mean more people would be housed in them, she said, and there’s obviously a demand for housing in the city. “Well I mean, a few extra, yeah, great. But it ends up throwing us on our noses.”

Her apartment is more affordable than others she’s seen out there, she says. Callaghan and her roommates pay between 650 and 750 euros for their rooms.

Agustin Pellegri, who also lives in Harold’s Bridge Court, says he pays €1,540 a month for a two-bedroom apartment. “It’s spacious.”

The city needs more apartments, he says. But help should be offered to those currently living there, he says. “They must provide them with other accommodation in the meantime or whatever.”

Adroit Company Ltd did not respond to inquiries as to whether it would find alternative accommodation for current tenants if the application to demolish their homes is approved and they are evicted.

Greener building

Green Party councilwoman Moore said at the meeting that she couldn’t get over the developer’s suggestion that the houses be tapped.

“In a site that is well placed for higher density development, actually demolishing 50 homes is not consistent with our climate goals or our sustainability goals,” she said.

Pat Barry, chief executive of the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC), says new buildings could be more energy efficient than the houses there today.

But they might not be energy efficient enough to offset the carbon loss from demolition and rebuilding, he says.

According to IGBC’s 2021 Carbon Roadmap for the Built Environment in Ireland, construction-related activities account for around 11 per cent of Ireland’s carbon emissions.

“Mainly producing materials, transporting them, building them into the building,” Barry said, and that doesn’t include the energy used to run the building itself, which accounts for 24 per cent of Ireland’s carbon emissions.

When a building is built to the latest standards, it takes as much energy to construct it as it does to run it for 50 years, he says.

Callaghan, looking up at her apartment in Harold’s Bridge Court, says the maisonettes really need an update.

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Heat from storage heaters in each room quickly escapes through poor insulation, she says. “They’re like Class E or something, they’re that bad.”

Lynch says they could be refurbished and maybe fitted with solar panels instead of tapping them.

“There wouldn’t have to be a whole tap and rebuild. But I suppose they might want to rebrand and raise the prices,” she said.

Adroit Company Ltd did not respond to questions about whether it had considered refurbishing or upgrading the apartments at Harold’s Bridge Court when they were demolished, nor to questions about its response to comments that the demolition was not in line with climate reduction targets would emissions.

Barry says that in some cases it could be more climate friendly to refurbish buildings to high standards than demolish and rebuild.

“Even though it’s a little less efficient than a new building, it’s going to be extremely difficult to recapture the carbon that you put into building it,” he says.

But if more housing is needed, ultimately less carbon could be used to build higher-density housing in places with good transport links, says Barry.

“You could triple the density and it’s somewhere with very good public transport. Well, then in that case it might make sense to demolish the buildings and rebuild them,” he says, because you save on the CO2 that people use for transportation.

Declan Meenagh, a Labor Party councilor, said for the forthcoming urban development plan, which is the planning framework for the city, he would advocate a motion against the demolition of buildings less than 30 years old.

“This requirement is intended to encourage people to build 200-year buildings instead of 30-year buildings,” he said.

However, the council’s chief executive said there are already guidelines in the development plan that provide significant support for this.

Namely, guideline CA5, which aims to “encourage and support the retrofitting and reuse of existing buildings, rather than their demolition and reconstruction where possible”.

Meenagh said he still would like his application included in the development plan. “I took the manager’s advice that what was there was strong enough.”

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