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O'Devaney Gardens: Fresh plans in doubt as Minister raises concerns over funding and legal issues

Bartra has been contracted to build 768 houses and apartments on the site.

O'Devaney Gardens, Dublin 7
O'Devaney Gardens, Dublin 7
Image: Mark Stedman via RollingNews.ie

Updated Nov 18th 2019, 11:00 AM

FRESH PLANS BY Dublin City councillors for the redevelopment of O’Devaney Gardens are now doubt as Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy raised concerns over funding and legal issues.

Last month, TheJournal.ie reported that Barta is prepared to give over units which are intended for private housing at the redevelopment for affordable-rental housing instead.

Then, speaking on 4 November, Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe confirmed a new agreement had been reached with the developer after councillors agreed to postpone a decision on the redevelopment earlier this month. 

Bartra has been contracted to build 768 houses and apartments on the site. Currently, 50% of the scheme – 411 units – has been earmarked for private housing.

A further 30% has been ring fenced for social housing, with another 20% set to become affordable housing.

Councillors said on 4 November that they had “secured a commitment” from Bartra that 30% of the total units will be purchased from the developer and offered as “affordable-rental”. 

The new deal with Bartra would mean that more units at the site will have rents that are based on the cost of building and maintaining their development, rather than being set at a rate that maximises profit.

turning the sod 822_90548749 Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy speaking at O'Devaney Gardens, Dublin Source: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

However, it has now been revealed that Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy said the council’s statement was made “without any prior engagement” with himself or the Department of Housing. 

In a letter to Lord Mayor Paul McAuliffe, Murphy said that “no funding source” has been identified for the rental units and that it is unclear whether the Council sought legal advice to determine if the whether the purchase of private units would compromise the procurement process. 

Murphy’s letter to McAuliffe was obtained by Sinn Féin’s housing spokesperson Eoin Ó Broin TD under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Minister went on to say “it is far from clear” as to how the arrangements set out by the council “could or would work in practice for the O’Devaney Gardens development”. 

Murphy said purchase of the homes would require “very significant capital funding”.

“In order to repay the required financing, the rental levels would likely have to be set at, or close to, market rates,” Murphy said. 

This would effectively negate the concept of providing affordable homes for rent.

“Without a clear and sustainable position on the legal basis, funding, and operation of the suggested plan, it seems highly unlikely that the purchase of private units from the developer as outlined by the Dublin Agreement Group can deliver its intended goal of affordable rental,” Murphy said. 

The Minister said that he has discussed the proposal with some council members who were “under the impression that a new deal or agreement had been reached, was legally binding, and that cost rental or affordable rental would now be delivered”. 

He continued:

This is not the case – there has been no new agreement between Dublin City Council and Bartra. 

Reaction

Ó Broin has said that the letter “shows clearly that no affordable rental accommodation has been secured for this development”. 

He added that Sinn Féin is opposed to the proposed deal because “it delivered now affordable housing” and that the “the developer is set to make excessive profits with little return to the local community”. 

“Sinn Féin will be seeing legal advice on the matter and will be raising this at the next available city council meeting,” Ó Broin said.

Sinn Féin is also calling for a special meeting of Dublin City Council to discuss the issue. 

“Sinn Féin will be contacting other parties to discuss holding a special meeting of Dublin City Council to discuss these revelations,” councillor Daithí Doolan said. 

Meanwhile, Labour Party councillor Joe Costello has said Murphy’s questioning of the deal is unacceptable. 

“Contrary to what the Minister states, it is perfectly legal and possible for this deal to proceed,” Costello said. 

Plans to redevelop the O’Devaney Gardens site have been in place for more than a decade, before the sod was turned on the first phase in the regeneration development last year, with 56 units of social housing expected to be ready at the site in 2020. 

The proposed development was the subject of controversy ahead of last month’s meeting, after a council report revealed that ‘affordable’ homes at the site would cost an average of €300,000, with some three-bedroom apartments priced at €420,000.

With reporting by Cónal Thomas

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