September 28, 2022

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Plans for a retirement community and affordable housing on protected lands in the picturesque Dublin suburb of Howth have been set back following a council move to block rezoning.

However, Tetrarch, the property investor that purchased 470 acres of land around Howth Castle in 2019, has commissioned market research on local demand for housing which it is now using in an attempt to win over local councillors.

The company, which also plans to refurbish the castle and replace an existing hotel, is proposing 150 affordable homes — priced under €300,000 — for local residents via a housing agency alongside a retirement community across a total of 16.5 acres.

Some politicians have resisted those ambitions, adamant the lands remain undeveloped in accordance with existing zoning for the benefit of public use, and claiming there is scant local support for the proposals.

Fingal County Council’s primary objective over successive development plans has been to limit housing construction in such high-amenity areas and there is no indication that will change.

“The rezoning of these lands is not considered acceptable and is contrary to proper planning and sustainable development of the area,” Fingal County Council chief executive AnnMarie Farrelly said in her report, referencing several rezoning submissions in the area.

Ms Farrelly said there was already an “extensive provision” for housing suitable for an older population, permitted in principle on existing zoned land.

Her report further notes that Howth’s high-amenity zoning specifically excludes retirement villages and residential care homes.

Its special amenity area order (SAAO) and surrounding “buffer zone” are specifically designated to protect the area from residential development “intended to meet urban-generated demand”.

“The council is fully committed to the continued protection of the Howth SAAO and high-amenity landscape,” Ms Farrelly wrote.

Regarding a proposed special local objective for social and affordable homes, she said a related change in zoning would represent a “piecemeal, uncoordinated” approach “for which there is no evidence-based need”.

Howth Green Party councillor David Healy said the need to protect the open spaces remained paramount.

“There is enormous demand for housing in Howth but there is also a great need to protect the land, which is a great amenity for the city,” he said. “We have significant residential development under construction in Howth at the moment.”

While the decision appears to sound the death knell for Tetrarch’s plans, the developer remains determined. RedC polling it commissioned in the locality showed “very strong” interest across all age groups in affordable homes such as those it has proposed at a price of €300,000.

More than 90 per cent of people trying to buy their first home feel they will ultimately be forced out of the area due to market conditions, the survey found.

Based on 312 face-to-face interviews conducted locally in June, RedC also reported strong interest for a senior living development, with most people believing there was a lack of suitable accommodation.

The polling did not specifically reference the need to rezone high-amenity land for development.

Tetrarch principal Michael McElligott said its proposals would deliver on local demands, with housing for 150 families at a price “less than half what a typical family home would cost in the area”.

“The chief executive’s opposition to our senior living plans is also very disappointing given the research also provides clear evidence of the acute need for such housing,” he said.

“Howth and Sutton have among the country’s most ageing populations and yet there are no clear or meaningful plans to provide appropriate housing in the new Fingal development plan.”

The company is appealing to local councillors for support in the hope of keeping its zoning ambitions alive. In a letter it sought a meeting to address concerns and said it would soon update the community on its plans.

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