People Before Profit Dublin City Councillor, Tina MacVeigh, reports on how the City Council is misusing public land for private profit.
Two years ago a proposal was put to the members of the Dublin City Council Housing Policy Committee. A number of large sites, vacant, owned by the Council were to be developed for housing. Management were asking for approval from the Councillors to seek ‘Expressions of Interest’. The reason, they said, was that they wanted to get a sense of who would be interested in developing these sites.
A number of us immediately responded to this proposal suggesting that the Council should develop these lands for council housing. An obvious counter proposal considering the extent of the housing and homelessness crisis, which we all know has only deepened in the two years since.
Despite opposition, it was agreed that a) This was just a feeling exercise, see what’s out there, see what comes back; b) Nothing would proceed without the full knowledge and consent of the Council; c) Council Management would prepare a plan for how the Council itself could develop the site; d) Councillors would have a say in how plans for the sites developed.
Some time later, at another Housing Policy Committee we were presented with a document, ‘Housing Land Initiative’, in which vague plans were put forward for the development of the sites in question – essentially to sell to private developers who would provide the requisite 10% council housing. We immediately asked of the request that was made of management to prepare a plan for how the Council could develop these lands. We were given the brush off. We asked who had expressed interest. We were brushed off again. We asked what role we would play in shaping this ‘Housing Land Initiative’ plan. Another brush off.
We put down motions, we asked council questions in an attempt to find out who they were talking to. Nothing. It was commercially sensitive. We also got wind at the time that one of the larger Approved Housing Bodies had put a proposal in to the Council which would see them developing only 10% of the site for private housing, while still retaining ownership of the land. They were being ignored. We have continued to try and get answers from the Management, we have put in FOI requests and got the same response: can’t give you the information as it is commercially sensitive!
Disgracefully, a motion was tabled by Sinn Fein calling for 30% of the housing on the site to be ring-fenced as council housing. We argued that only public housing should be built on public land. Their argument? That in an ideal world of course we could do that, but we needed to be ‘practical’. This was all we were likely to get. So what Sinn Fein have done is essentially rubber stamp Council Management’s plans for wholesale privatization of public land. In doing so they are also shaping the future of the city’s public housing policy as there could be no public land left to build public housing on. All in the name of being practical. Practical? James Connolly described it as selling out.
Those who call for “practical” policies, those who work within the system and are essentially happy to manage capitalism are precisely the ones incapable of making any real change. Change will come from those who take a radical position, like People Before Profit does. And most importantly, from those who have principles and who stick to them. We will continue to work in the Council and with our communities to demand access to public housing for all.