Is Castlelands plan in the spirit of Our Balbriggan Strategy?

Joe O'Brien at the Green field Castlelands site 2


The advent of the Our Balbriggan strategy has certainly seen a new optimism in the town and the planned €22m investment is something that can make a real difference if used well. The Council have convincingly said that they are going to treat Balbriggan differently now and there has been recognition of the past poor planning, sprawling development, lack of proper infrastructure and neglect of the town centre. The real litmus test for the strategy and the stated change of approach is the way Fingal are going to manage the next housing development in the town. This is Castlelands. Back in August last year in my initial submission on the Castlelands plan I made the below set of points including the request that the Castlelands plan would be central to the Our Balbriggan strategy and not parallel to it and in a manner akin to the previous way of doing housing development in Balbriggan.

From what little detail I can see so far of the plans there is a lot that looks like the old way of doing business but to be fair some welcome characteristics too – most notably the swimming pool. However this is still a very large, high density, multi-storey development on the edge of the town on a green field site.  A lot has to be thrashed out in terms of the specifics of what this development will finally look like but I would urge the residents of Balbriggan to have their say in the upcoming consultation process and ask themselves the question – is this just the same old story of housing development in Balbriggan or is it a new way of doing things? My answer is that its not too late to ensure this is a new way of doing things but indications are that it will require quite a force of public opinion to influence these plans  for the better

I can’t help feel a little disappointed aswell that the Castlelands plan was not spoken about more by the Council during the Our Balbriggan strategy. It almost feels as if we were being softened up with the €22m strategy to ease the surprise of the scale of the plans for Castlelands. The Our Balbriggan strategy for me was really giving Balbriggan what it deserved decades ago. It shouldn’t be about softening us up to facilitate further large scale high density sprawl.

It’s a bit disappointing too that the information provided to Councillors last week was not immediately posted on the Our Balbriggan website for all to see in a new spirit and transparency and trust that I like to believe has been developing.

I had concerns last year that the Council would aim to squeeze as many units as possible into the site and asked them to prioritise quality of life over density. Sadly this does not look like its going to be the case. I am for apartment based living but not in the usual way that we have done apartments in Ireland. We should have apartments in Castlelands of ample size that a family would be happy to grow up in and spend their life in, not the shoes boxes that are so prolific in urban environments across the country.

I think we all need to look very closely at the plans to be published in May to see if this is the direction we want Balbriggan to go in. I reserve judgement until I see more detailed plans which I ask all residents to read.


I made the following short set of initial suggestions to the consultation last year on the Castlelands Masterplans:

In the process of formulating a Masterplan for Castlelands I strongly urge the Council to:

  • Ensure that this will be an exceptional development, with high spec housing (including A energy rating) and unparalleled amenities and infrastructure
  • Prioritise quality of life for residents over number of units that can be squeezed into the assigned area
  • A mix of housing should be provided including supported housing for older people. The masterplan should be conducted with the Fingal Age Friendly strategy in mind
  • Ensure that he development of Castlelands is central to the new high-level socio-economic plan for Balbriggan and happens as part of the high level plan not just in parallel to it
  • Dramatically increase the size and number of green areas in the current map. At the moment what is visible is one single limited green area surrounded by potentially very dense levels of housing
  • Inclusion of a community centre, all weather pitches and assigned locations for several grass playing pitches for GAA, soccer and rugby
  • Cycle lanes and walkways to be given priority over vehicles in the development especially re connections to local schools
  • Ensure the new development has easy access to Ardgillan Demense via a footbridge and cycletrack over the rail line and the R127. This bridge and connection with Ardgillan would also connect with the Ladys Stairs and thus would facilitate direct beach access for Castlelands.

Green solution to 27 empty homes for every person in emergency accommodation

“It’s very hard to stomach walking past a perfect boarded up house in my estate for the last 12 months while hearing homeless figures climb and rents rising. The Green Party is trying to introduce legislation that will help bring properties like this back to life

“It is absolute madness that we have a situation in Ireland where we have 27 empty homes for every one person in emergency accommodation. We also have significant issues with dereliction, and land hoarding by developers. This needs to change, and change fast.

“We have almost 5,000 of empty houses here in Fingal, with 198,358 empty nationwide, according to the CSO. This number doesn’t include derelict buildings, and doesn’t measure the potential housing units that could be developed on vacant land in city and town centres.

“We need to start bringing life back to our towns, villages and estates. Through installing units above shops, refurbishing derelict buildings, and tackling land hoarding. That’s what we’re trying to do with the Living Cities Bill.

Living Cities photo“The aims of this Bill are simple, and have the potential to instigate meaningful change. The bill aims to remove the minimum site size from the current vacancy legislation, which is currently set at larger than a basketball court, which rules out a huge number of sites. This would bring far more vacant and derelict sites under the scope of the legislation. There is a real opportunity here. The country is full of empty buildings and vacant sites. These dwellings are pre-existing infrastructure and returning them back to a usable condition would go a long way not just towards providing more cost effective solutions to tackle the crisis, but would also be of benefit in terms of reinvigorating communities.”

O’Brien selected by Greens for election (Fingal Independent, 7 Nov 2017, Page8)

O’brien selected by Greens for election
Fingal Independent
7 Nov 2017

THE Green Party is preparing early for the next General Election with the selection of local party representative, Joe O’brien as the party’s candidate in Dublin Fingal. Joe O’brien went up against constituency colleague, Mark Henry in the party’s…read more…

My comments after being selected as General Election 2018-21 candidate for Green Party in Dublin Fingal

Fingal needs progressive, hardworking representatives that are constructive and are not duped by empty spin that seems to be increasingly mistaken for good government. This government which is effectively a Fine Gael and Fianna Fail coalition is a very stagnant one that is largely unwilling and unable to tackle to big core issues that are facing the country and Fingal. It is a government of stagnation which is being spun as stability. It is a government of fear and reticence being spun as prudent and careful.

JoeConvention2017 (2)

Two of the big issues that underline this approach are the governments decisions on the big issues of the housing and homelessness crisis and the climate change challenge which the government has been totally incapable of seeing for its huge economic and social potentials. The world via the Paris Agreement has decided to move on from the inaction phase and restructure economic, energy and transport systems but curiously government is looking backwards on this issue rather than forwards. From an economic point of view this is infuriating and tragic. Adaptation to new systems as mentioned is a huge opportunity for developed economies like Ireland but there is a failure of political vision in this respect and unfortunately the new Taoiseach is confirming the old saying of ‘all style and no substance’ with no big decisions being made to move Ireland in a different direction in the recent budget, despite previous positive soundings.

It’s the housing crisis that really has shown that this government is incapable of making the decisions needed to bring the change we are all looking for. The ‘Rebuilding Ireland’ plan is already proving to be wholly inadequate, but it is reflective of a government that has made a clear policy decision and choice when it comes to the housing and homelessness crisis. This government has left the housing and homelessness crisis largely to the markets in an unacceptable ‘wait and see approach’, which is primarily benefitting developers. This is not the only approach and is not an acceptable approach when the lives of thousands of children are being damaged for a longer and longer period of time as this crisis grows ever longer and ever larger. There is denial about the scale and depth of the problem and denial about the ineffectiveness of the so-called solutions being relied on. In any other field the people tasked with solving this problem would have been shown the door.

It is very difficult for people in Fingal to have faith in government when they continue to see the same mistakes being made over and over again. There are housing developments and areas all over Fingal poorly served by the Celtic Tiger era that are still suffering from inadequate transport, community and educational infrastructure. Now we see further poorly planned and supported development often in areas where these infrastructure issues have not been resolved.

Connected to this shallow and disingenuous approach is an over emphasis on image and the appearance of change – this has been crystallised is the €5m spin office in the Department of the Taoiseach. In short, we have a vain and fearful government that is more interested in tweeting to improve image and only tweaking policy as it is afraid to make the big decisions that this country needs.

The Green Party is growing again, and our three parliamentarians have seriously punched above their weight. With minority government and coalition government the reality for the foreseeable future the Green Party is in an increasingly strong position to be a positive and progressive influence in the direction the country needs to go. I commit to being a tireless and progressive voice for Dublin Fingal and a representative that will not be sucked in by the spin and complacency of this government. 

Public must have a say in local budget (Fingal Independent, 3 Oct 2017, Page8)

Public must have a say in local budget
Fingal Independent
3 Oct 2017

IN the run up to the Fingal County Council budgeting process Green Party representative for north Fingal, Joe O’brien has called on the Chief Executive to allow the public to get more involved in the spending decisions of the council. At the national…read more…

Green Party calls for more heritage funding for Fingal (Fingal Independent, 29 Aug 2017, Page30)

Green Party calls for more heritage funding for Fingal

Fingal Independent
29 Aug 2017

DURING National Heritage week, Green Party representative for Balbriggan, Skerries, Rush, Lusk and Rural Fingal called on Minister Heather Humphreys and Fingal County Council to â€�fully recognise and support the untapped social and economic capital of…read more…