Council Briefs: Selling Council Property at Gulistan Terrace and Abbey St, and Saying No to “Vulture Funds”

A Land Swap

Councillors voted on Monday night to sell part of the former council depot site at Gulistan Terrace in Rathmines for the equivalent of €5.5 million to the HSE to develop a primary care centre.

It’s the first step in a proposal to redevelop the 2.8 acre site, which sits behind the Swan Shopping Centre in Rathmines.

A draft plan for the site shows a new primary healthcare centre, a community space and cost-rental and age-friendly housing.

Dublin city councillors, at their monthly meeting, said the council was selling part of the site to the HSE and keeping the bit where housing is planned.

According to a council report, for payment, the council will do a land swap with the HSE, for another site – this one at St Michael’s Estate in Inchicore, where the swapped HSE land will be included in a development of social and cost-rental homes that the council is calling the Emmet Road Urban Quarter.

The HSE will transfer its “fee simple” ownership of the “health centre site” at Emmet Road, which is valued at €3.5 million, and will pay another €2 million to the council, says the report.

Councillors mostly welcomed the plans as being good for both parts of the city, with Rathmines getting a health centre and Inchicore getting public homes.

Fine Gael Councillor James Geoghegan said the primary care centre will include adult and children’s mental-health services, primary care, breastfeeding clinics, dental services and speech and language therapy.

“Services that Rathmines is crying out for,” he said at the meeting.

Independent Councillor Mannix Flynn said some people in Rathmines were “really concerned”. The vote should be deferred, he said.

The HSE will transfer the land to a private developer and then rent back the primary care centre once it is built, Flynn said.

Sinn Féin Councillor Daniel Céitinn said he shared the concerns about the way the HSE develops its land. But “we have to look at the community gain here”, he said.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Conroy said there were also concerns that the development would bring additional traffic into the area.

Several councillors said the plans had taken five years to get to this stage.

“It is good sustainable development of the kind we want to see more of in the city,” said Green Party Councillor Carolyn Moore.

Fears about traffic appear to be unfounded, Moore said. The area is well serviced by public transport and there is a large car park in the Swan Centre, she said.

Several councillors said there will be an opportunity for public consultation on the housing development at a later stage.

In the end, the council backed the plan to sell the Gulistan Terrace site to the HSE, with 57 councillors voting for it, and three – Flynn, Lord Mayor Hazel Chu of the Green Party, and Green Party Councillor Donna Cooney – voting against.

On “Vulture Funds”

Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party and Sinn Féin all put forward their own emergency motions, calling on the central government to roll out measures to stop investment funds from buying up entire housing developments.

In theirs, the 11 Fianna Fáil councillors called on the central government to take measures to stop “vulture funds” and “cuckoo funds” from buying up too many homes and “from purchasing residential property to the detriment of individual purchasers”.

Fianna Fáil is currently the largest party on the council and the largest party in the coalition running the central government, and holds both the housing portfolio and the Taoiseach’s office.

Fianna Fáil Councillor Deirdre Heney said that the policy of encouraging investment funds to invest in housing here was introduced for good reasons back in 2013 but it has continued for too long.

Now, she says, “everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet”, and the ministers for housing Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien and finance Fine Gael’s Paschal Donohoe should implement the necessary changes.

Councillors who spoke all favoured measures to stop funds buying whole estates of homes, including more regulation of the funds, while many said that increased taxation of the sector is key.

Social Democrats Councillor Catherine Stocker asked why the government was happy enough when the vast majority of apartments in Dublin city were being sold to funds.

But they then shed “crocodile tears” as soon as the funds started buying up houses in the suburbs, she said. “We all knew, every single councillor knew. If you didn’t know, you were absolutely asleep at the wheel.”

Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam said Fine Gael does not support funds buying up housing estates that have already been built, but funds do have a role in bringing in finance to build new homes, he said.

“The state and government can’t fund them all,” said McAdam. He welcomed the commitments the government has made to examine the tax code for homes that have already been built.

To Sell or Not

Council official Richard Shakespeare wants councillors to agree to sell two rundown buildings in the city centre – but councillors aren’t too sure, they said, at Monday’s meeting.

The two buildings at 28 Abbey Street and 109 Marlborough Street were bought as part of the council’s drive to tackle vacancy and dereliction, says a report by Shakespeare, the council’s assistant chief executive.

The council paid €800,000 for the buildings in 2017, has undertaken “significant works” and wants to sell them for €550,000 now, say council reports. The buildings are still only accessible wearing full PPE, one report says.

“Since its acquisition and despite the interventions … the properties have continued to deteriorate,” the report says.

The successful bidders, Robert McCarthy and Michael McCarthy, have said they will refurbish the properties into shops and apartments.

Under the proposed deal, the council would have the first option to buy at market rate or lease back any apartments in the redeveloped buildings.

Shakespeare said in his report that he recognised that the sale would mean a net loss.

But “I believe that this will be outweighed by the restoration of these buildings and the rejuvenation of this high profile location”, he wrote.

The council bought the properties in 2017 under its Active Land Management Initiative.

Under the initiative, the council buys up derelict properties for redevelopment, identifies strategic acquisition opportunities and enforces the derelict sites and vacant sites legislation, he says.

This is done using a revolving fund, so the sale of these properties allows the council to buy more run-down buildings and continue to tackle dereliction in the city, he said.

In the report, Shakespeare wrote that if councillors didn’t support the deal, he would have to stop buying up properties like this.

“And direct the Active Land Management Unit to concentrate solely on its other remit – the implementation of the Derelict and Vacant sites legislation,” he said.

Local area councillors still have questions about the sale of the land so it was referred back to the Central Area Committee for more debate.

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Laoise Neylon: Laoise Neylon is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. You can reach her at [email protected]

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