Ballymun: Recent History
The Building of High Rise Ballymun
Ballymun was built between 1966 and 1969 by the National Building Agency which was established specifically for the task. The estate comprised seven 15-storey towers, nineteen 8-storey spine or deck access blocks, ten 4-storey walk-ups and 400 single family houses. Over half the 2,814 flats had three bedrooms and the population was projected to reach between 15,000 and 20,000 people.
In 1966 the first tenants moved in, frequently from slum clearance areas or poor inner city terraced housing. The estate was ultra-modern with 73 lifts, a district heating system and nearly 500 acres of open grass areas. It had good transport links, was near Dublin Airport and had a brand new shopping centre, a golf course and swimming pool.
The Origins of Ballymun's Problems
In the 1970s 1,400 houses were added to Dublin City Council's housing stock in Ballymun. Many of these later houses were rented by tenants of the flat blocks and in turn were purchased by them. From the beginning the management of the estate was a problem. Very soon this experiment with modernity experienced problems including an above average turnover and vacancy rate. Flats could not be purchased and soon were seen as an inferior option for tenants who could purchase houses and receive generous discounts off the purchase price. In addition the Government pursued a policy of providing incentives to those vacating local authority dwellings in an effort to increase the number of units available to those on housing waiting lists. For all these reasons by 1985 the turnover had reached crisis proportions. There were 1,171 new lettings to flats in that year out of a total of 2,814. There was also a lack of employment opportunities in the area.
Working towards Solutions
In 1984 Dublin City Council set up a Special Committee to monitor and implement proposals to tackle the problems being experienced in Ballymun. Dublin City Council adopted a radical new management approach and in 1985 it set up a local office in Ballymun working directly with tenants, this included a role for tenants in screening applicants to bring about a more balanced community. "Tenants were therefore successful in stopping the policy of indiscriminate rehousing of single and homeless people." (Estates on the Edge by Anne Power)
The success of the first initiatives in tenant involvement brought about new interest in tenant associations and by 1987 there were 32 officially recognised tenants associations. The Ballymun Community Coalition decided to run a community candidate for the national elections to bring pressure on government. It then set up a special Task Force to develop a housing plan for Ballymun. The Task Force consisted of members of the local community, the Area Health Board and elected members of government.
The Ballymun Housing Task Force set itself three main goals:
- Upgrade the physical environment
- Increase security
- Establish social stability
Refurbishment of High Rise Flats Phase 1 (1991 - 1993)
A major remedial works programme for Ballymun was announced in 1988 at a time when 175 flats on the estate were empty. The problems were so immense and required such a high level of investment that the improvement plan proposed was to be phased over 10 years. The first phase was selected by tenants in an estate wide consultation. The works proposed were ambitious and expensive costing €25,400 per unit for 280 units with a final cost of €7.62 million. The most important aim was to create an atmosphere of security and to give individual tenants control over access to their homes, while improving the visible appearance and environment of the blocks. Phase 1 of the remedial works was delayed for 2 years while financing was organised and eventually the improvements were carried out between 1991 and 1993.
Refurbishment of High Rise Flats Phase 2
Phase 2 was delayed pending an independent evaluation of Phase 1 and assessment of the cost of further upgrading. The evaluation showed success in terms of enhancing security but a more limited impact on structural and design deficiencies. The consultants recommended selective demolition and high investment in roof and cladding repairs externally and more comprehensive internal works. The cost of later phases was estimated at €43,200 per unit (Craig Gardner 1993). The most serious visual oversight was the failure to upgrade the stairwells and replace the lifts. The common areas even in the improved blocks continued to be bleak. In 1994 Dublin City Council responded to the evaluation report by proposing the demolition of 560 units in six of the seven tower blocks (ie. all except the refurbished one) and their replacement with alternative housing for existing residents.
New Solutions - Ballymun Regeneration Ltd
In March 1997 the Government announced that it was setting aside €228.5 million for the regeneration of Ballymun including the demolition of all the 15 and 8 storey blocks. Dublin City Council formed a company, limited by guarantee - Ballymun Regeneration Ltd., to work with the community to develop and implement a Masterplan for Ballymun. Ciarán Murray was appointed as Managing Director and a voluntary Board of Directors was established. This board comprises local councillors, tenants, and representatives from the Housing Task Force and Ballymun Partnership, community representatives, Health Board, private sector, gardaí, local authority and local womens' groups and chaired by Dr. Daniel O'Hare former president of (DCU) Dublin City University. The board meet once a month and works closely with the local community. The Ballymun Housing Task Force was appointed as the official liaison group for the project overall.
The Masterplan which was accompanied by an Integrated Area Plan was prepared and presented to Government on 31st March 1998. The aims and objectives of the Masterplan were welcomed by the local community, by Central Government and by Dublin City Council and implementation is well underway. The first demolitions will take place in 2003.
As Ballymun's social problems increased, so too, paradoxically did its community spirit. Today there are many voluntary and community organisations active in Ballymun and they are very involved in the regeneration process, as are individuals who want to continue living in Ballymun and who want to make sure that the new town will contain all the facilities and programs that are needed.