Friday 23 March 2018

Deprivation and crime in community planners forgot

Demolition work at Joseph Plunkett Tower in Ballymun, Dublin, in September 2015. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Demolition work at Joseph Plunkett Tower in Ballymun, Dublin, in September 2015. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

Modern Ballymun is just over 50 years old - but much of its history has been linked with deprivation, drugs and crime.

Its beginnings stem from the housing crisis of the 1960s, when hundreds of low-income families were housed in tenements across Dublin city centre.

But in the summer of 1963, two elderly residents died on Bolton Street when their home collapsed. Two weeks later, two girls walking on Fenian Street died when two other homes fell. More than 1,000 families were moved out of dangerous buildings in the weeks that followed, and in May 1964, the Department of Local Government recommended the Ballymun housing scheme to Dublin Corporation.

More than 3,000 homes were planned, the bulk of which were in high-rise towers up to 15 storeys high, along with shops, schools, play areas and more than 30 acres of parkland, to be delivered at a cost of IR£10m, equivalent to around €220m today.

By August 1966, the first families had moved in, and while delighted with their new homes, there were concerns about the lack of amenities and basic services. The lack of a town centre prompted concerns about development of serious social problems, while a swimming pool and parklands were shelved due to a lack of money.

"By 1969, an entire community had been created miles from Dublin city with none of the amenities necessary to satisfactorily conduct their daily lives. For three years considerable hardships and inconveniences were imposed on the new residents," Dr Robert Somerville-Woodward says in 'Ballymun, A History'.

Problems with lifts and the central heating systems were among the reasons that more affluent tenants began to leave from the 1970s. By the 1980s, the area was rife with high unemployment, a growing heroin and crime problem, and a transient population. Local paper the 'Ballymun Echo' noted in June 1987 that Ballymun was treated as a dumping ground for people with social problems, and tenants in a position to refuse allocations to the area did so.

Dublin City Council began to regenerate the area from the late 1990s, which included demolition of the tower blocks and provision of thousands of new homes. But much remains to be done. A promised replacement for the old town centre has yet to materialise. According to the Ballymun Jobs Centre, the unemployment rate is higher than the rest of the city, as is the number of unskilled workers. Levels of educational attainment are lower. Plans for Metro North have been shelved, and house prices are among the lowest in the city.

But there have been successes, including the development of the Axis Arts Centre, refurbishment of the swimming pool and provision of new homes. Children are staying in school for longer and going on to higher education. Unemployment is falling, and incidents of recorded crime are also down.

While Dublin City Council has proposed a new plan for Ballymun, which includes more homes, services and employment opportunities, it's not the first time the community has heard similar promises. The 'Evening Herald' noted in December 1971 that there was a dearth of crèche spaces, playgrounds and other basics to facilitate development of a sustainable community.

"Until these services are provided there can be no stability of population...tenants will come and go like a simultaneous blood transfusion and haemorrhage and Ballymun will become a limbo where some rest for a time before passing to a better place," it said. "People have human needs as well as housing needs. That is what the planners forgot."

Irish Independent

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