Comfort Ibitoye is sitting in a small hair salon at the back of a shop on Moore Street. Hair extensions line one wall. At the front, people behind a counter sell phone accessories.
She’s been doing hair here for 16 years, but thinks she won’t be for much longer.
For years now, British property developer Hammerson has been pushing forward towards redeveloping parts of Moore Street.
There’s been an occupation by protestors worried about preserving the 1916 Rising-linked site, a government intervention, and the creation of a broad system for consultation with parties involved, including street traders.
Now the Irish Times reported earlier this month that Hammerson plans to abandon its existing planning permission for a shopping complex on the Moore Street site in favour of a mixed-use development complete with two civic squares, shops, offices, apartments, a hotel, a metro station, and a pedestrian link between O’Connell and Moore Streets.
The plans aren’t official yet, though, and Hammerson hasn’t applied for planning permission for the new scheme yet.
Ibitoye hadn’t heard about this latest scene in this long-running drama. But over time, she, like other small business owners along Moore Street, have come to believe that finally, the redevelopment is nearly here – and, with it, the loss of the places they’ve done business in for years.
“I feel it’s going to happen now … Now, I think they mean it,” she says.
Ibitoye first heard of plans to redevelop the area about 10 years ago. She even moved her salon for a short time back then.
“I rented a shop on Dorset Street, but business was not good. This is the main street where business is,” she says.
Ibitoye says she’s worried about losing her salon, but she’s pragmatic. If she has to leave, she has to leave. But if there weren’t any plans to develop the area, she would stay.
“Of course, if they can help us get another place, we’ll be happy. There’s nowhere to go anymore,” she says.
Other people working in small businesses along Moore Street say similar things.
Fatima Obansere works in another salon a few doors down, at the back of a shop that sells all kinds of things – phones, fresh produce, and clothes. She’s been there for over 10 years now.
“African people have more opportunity here than in other parts of the city,” she says.
“I’m sure if they demolish the street, there will be a lot of jobless people. There is a lot of business going on,” she says.
Obansere says she hopes business owners get their shops back after any redevelopment that takes place.
“If they actually want to refurbish, if they want to do something like that, close the shop for one month, and give it back to the shop owner. Do it quickly, and let them come back,” she says.
A Long Wait
A spokesperson who handles PR for Hammerson said the company hadn’t yet applied for planning permission for a new version of the Moore Street development. The company also hasn’t officially released its plans for the area.
Hammerson is engaging with “a wide range of stakeholders on an on-going basis regarding the future development of the Moore Street area, ahead of a wider public consultation”, they said by email.
The company “seeks to protect and enhance” the area’s “unique heritage, including its market and connections with 1916, while at the same time delivering clear economic benefits and employment opportunities locally”, the statement said.
It also said Hammerson’s architect for the project – Acme – is working with TU Dublin’s School of Architecture, which was commissioned by the Moore Street Advisory Group, “to develop a historically-sensitive vision for the area that is acceptable to all stakeholders”.
Vicky Mehta, who runs a supermarket on Moore Street, says he’s traded on the street for the past 15 years, in two different locations.
Mehta says he has a yearly licence with his landlord.
He’s heard a little bit about the new plans – that shops might be removed, and a monument put up – from protestors from the Save Moore Street Campaign. But he doesn’t know the specifics. He says he’s worried for his business.
But, Mehta says, something needs to be done to regenerate the street. “It used to be so busy, but it stopped after the recession.”
Many of the business owners on Moore Street say they have short-term lease agreements with their landlords.
When it comes to notice periods, anything can be agreed between a landlord and a tenant, says Declan Bagnall, director of Bagnall Doyle MacMahon, which advises tenants and developers of commercial property.
Bagnall, who’s also chair of the Commercial Agency Division of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, said he couldn’t comment on specific cases, just commercial leases in general.
“In theory, [notice periods could be] anything from one day to 100 years. Generally speaking, they tend to be a few months. It all depends on the specifics of the deal,” he says.
When a commercial tenant occupies a property continuously for five years, the tenant accrues rights to renew the lease under the Landlord and Tenant (Amendment) Act 1980, he says.
But there’s an exception to that, and it’s called a “deed of renunciation”. Bagnall says it’s basically a document that both the landlord and tenant sign that says the tenant agrees to renounce his right to renew under the act.
“In that instance, someone could have a 10- or 15-year lease, and under normal circumstances, they would be granted landlord and tenant renewal rights,” Bagnall says. But if they sign a deed of renunciation, that removes the landlord’s obligation to renew the lease at the end of the term.
If a tenant has accrued a right to renew under the act, and that’s not honoured by the landlord, a tenant could claim for relief under the the act, Bagnall says.
“There are circumstances whereby if a landlord has planning permission to redevelop, and a tenant’s lease expires, [the landlord] can refuse the right to renewal on the basis of redevelopment,” Bagnall says.
The tenant could then fight for compensation in the courts.
Danielle Paul is minding her mother’s hair salon on Moore Street. She’s heard there’s a new plan but doesn’t know when it’s happening.
“I just know they’re taking down the whole place. That’s all I know. They’ve said this for so many years. Our landlord says he doesn’t know either,” says Paul.
She compares the redevelopment plans to climate change. Traders have been hearing about various plans for so long, they’re desensitised to it, or “in denial”.
Paul says everyone should get compensated by landlords if they get kicked out, but she doubts they will. She also says small businesses should get help to find new premises in the city’s tough rental market.
Her mum has had the shop for nine years. Paul says if they need to, then “it’s time to move on”.
“I feel like if they want to close it down, people around here didn’t do anything about it … so they should prepare themselves for what’s coming. Just like Judgment Day, you never know what’s going to happen.”
She says business owners should have fought more, but many of them didn’t think redevelopment plans would actually go through.
“If it’s happening, the landlords should say it now”, instead of traders having to rely on newspaper reports, she says.
In the meantime, Paul says, her mother needs to sell some of her stock. Just in case they have to move.